After he learned of Kobe Bryant’s death, Kyrie Irving left Madison Square Garden, missing the game between the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks, according to a Yahoo! Sports report. The team announced that number 11 would miss the game about an hour before tipoff, citing “personal reasons.” However, before the game, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson noted that the team had a player who was close to the late Los Angeles Lakers star.
“I was with him. I’ll keep [the scene] private, but they were very close,” Atkinson said of Irving, according to a New York Post report. “Tough, tough, tough, tough times.”
The Brooklyn Nets point guard and Kobe had a special friendship. Where Kobe was Michael Jordan’s mentee, he named Kyrie as his mentee in an interview with Sirius XM in March 2019. During that discussion, Kobe recounted how he accepted a FaceTime call from Kyrie after the Cleveland Cavaliers came back to win the national championship — after being down three games to one — over the Golden State Warriors.
“I remember sitting on the couch at home after Cleveland came back from that 3-1 deficit and beat Golden State,” Bryant said. “We’re watching the game, me and Gianna are just there, hanging out. And my phone rings. And it’s a FaceTime call. It’s Kyrie. I pick it up. And Kyrie’s in the locker room celebrating on FaceTime. Like, ‘Dude! It worked! Your advice worked!'”
During that celebratory call, Kyrie also said hello to Kobe’s daughter Gianna, whom he called Gigi. Gianna is among the other eight people who died alongside Kobe in yesterday’s helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. The group was on its way to The Mamba Academy for basketball.
The New York Post reported that Sunday night’s game was supposed to be Kyrie’s first with the Nets at Madison Square Garden. The Nets lost the game 110 to 97 after the difficult day for the entire NBA.
Last August, Kyrie trained with Kobe at the invitation-only Mamba Pro Invitational. The younger player relied on his mentor for advice during his career. Growing up in West Orange, New Jersey, Kyrie looked up to Kobe as one of his basketball idols. The younger man used to watch YouTube videos of the NBA great as Kyrie worked on his game in his youth.
There is no word yet on when Kyrie will be on the court with the Nets. Also, details about a funeral and memorial for Kobe, Gianna, and the others who perished in the crash haven’t been announced at this time.