Clippers keep the lights on Kobe Bryant as tribute to NBA legend

LOS ANGELES – For once, the Los Angeles Clippers left Kobe Bryant’s No. 8 and No. 24 retired jerseys uncovered. Instead, a purple and gold light illuminated the jerseys hanging on the arena rafters.

The Clippers had long resented living in the Los Angeles Lakers’ shadow and even covered the Lakers' championship banners during home games. But with Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter (Gianna) and seven others dying in a helicopter crash on Sunday, the Clippers won’t cover up Bryant’s influence. They want to illuminate it. For the rest of the season, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said the team plans to leave Bryant’s jerseys uncovered. 

Before they hosted the Sacramento Kings on Thursday at Staples Center, the Clippers held a 24-second moment of silence in reference to the number he wore for the second half of his 20-year career. They then played a nearly two-minute long tribute video that Clippers forward Paul George narrated.

“We gather tonight in the house that Kobe Bryant built to honor him and them,” George said of the victims. “Kobe was as synonymous with Southern California as the sunshine. He touched every inch of it.”

𝐑𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐦𝐛𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐊𝐨𝐛𝐞 𝐁𝐫𝐲𝐚𝐧𝐭

Narrated by @Yg_Trecepic.twitter.com/Bu8Jz6hVHE

The Clippers approached George to narrate the video for obvious reasons. He grew up in nearby Palmdale idolizing the Lakers’ star. Bryant helped George with support after he fractured his right leg with the U.S. national team in 2014. And George had attended Bryant’s sports academy last fall for more pointers. George conceded he has considered switching his jersey from No. 13 to 24 in honor of Bryant. So when the Clippers asked George for a favor, he simply thought, “Why would I turn that down?”

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“The best way if you want to honor Kobe,” Rivers said, “is to go win. Not just win tonight, but win it.”

In that sense, the Clippers did not exactly do a good job of honoring Bryant on the floor. They labored through a 124-103 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Thursday at Staples Center. They allowed the Kings to shoot 21-of-41 from 3-point range. And they hardly showed the kind of intensity that Bryant usually displayed.

Kobe Bryant's Lakers jerseys remain illuminated during Thursday's Clippers game at Staples Center. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports)

“Kobe is a competitor. Kobe is somebody who comes to work everyday,” Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell said. “It’s not an excuse. We came here tonight and we weren’t prepared. We let them get comfortable. We let them come in here and shoot lights out in the gym. We beat ourselves.”

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard unexpectedly missed Thursday’s game after feeling back pain during his pre-game warmup. George, Patrick Beverley and Landry Shamet all have minutes restrictions after recent injuries. The team has had 22 different starting lineups as players have missed a combined 90 games due to various ailments.

“I really like where we are as a team. I’d just really like to get everyone on the floor at the same time with no restrictions,” Rivers said. “That day will come.”

Still, the Clippers have won eight of their last 10 and are ranked third place in the Western Conference behind the Los Angeles Lakers (36-10) and Denver Nuggets (33-15).

“I’m not going to debate with you. We’re just fine,” Clippers guard Lou Williams said. “I’m sick of the chemistry stuff and all the stuff we hear. We’re fine. We’re right in the mix with everybody else. We’re a great basketball team.”

Bryant only considered his teams great if they won in June. So after congratulating Rivers when the Celtics defeated Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals, Bryant vowed he would return and win at Rivers’ expense. That prediction actually became true two years later.

The Clippers will continuously be reminded of Bryant’s presence amid their mourning. It will also happen now that Bryant’s jerseys will cast a shadow during all of their home games. The Clippers might have done a good job in honoring Bryant with tributes. The next step entails doing so on the court.

“It’s always going to be tough,” George said. “Every time we enter this arena, we’re being reminded of him being in the rafter. You always have a reminder, but we have to move on.”

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. 

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