Fans scrolled through their phones. Some covered their mouths in shock. Pauley Pavilion ushers whispered under their breath: “Have you heard about Kobe?”
News broke of Kobe Bryant’s death about 30 minutes before UCLA tipped off at Pauley Pavilion against Washington State on Sunday. Players were already on the court. So while people followed updates of the Calabasas helicopter crash that killed nine, including the NBA legend and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, UCLA players were clueless during their 66-50 victory over Washington State.
During the game, only a few people on the UCLA bench knew, including director of operations Pam Walker and coach Cori Close. Close found out right after the national anthem. She broke the news to her players after the game, telling them how grateful she was to coach them and reminding them to cherish every day.
“There’s just no words,” Close said in her opening statement after the game. “There’s no words that make it any better. I’m just deeply saddened and it’s deeply affected these people and my response as a leader is to make sure that I cherish every day and relish every opportunity because the next one isn’t promised.”
Bryant has been a fervent supporter of women’s basketball and regularly attended NCAA women’s basketball games. The former Lakers star sat courtside for a UCLA game in 2017 with Gianna when the Bruins faced then-No. 1 Connecticut.
Former UCLA point guard Jordin Canada, who played 40 minutes and scored 15 points in the 78-60 UConn loss, sat courtside Sunday. She was shown on the big screen during the first half of UCLA’s win, but as fans cheered the return of a favorite UCLA daughter, Canada’s eyes were glued to her phone.
“Life is too short,” Canada wrote on Twitter during the game, adding that only two weeks ago, she met Bryant and Gianna. “This one hurts BAD. Prayers up to Vanessa and the family.”
Two weeks ago I got to meet and converse about life and basketball with one of my favorite players EVER. I got to watch and meet his daughter GiGi as well. Life is too short. This one hurts BAD. Prayers up to Vanessa and the family. 🙏🏾💔 pic.twitter.com/ZfVcUMwMAS— Jordin Canada ✨ (@jordin_canada) January 26, 2020
Forward Michaela Onyenwere and guard Charisma Osborne looked somber as they walked into the media room after the game, having just heard the news from Close minutes ago. Onyenwere said she was shocked to hear it. She still couldn’t wrap her head around it after repeating it over.
“It’s really devastating,” Onyenwere said. “He’s a basketball legend and he just encompassed what it meant to be a competitor, encompassed what it meant to fight, to fight for your teammates, fight for yourself and be the best version of yourself. … So prayers to his family, prayers to everybody involved. Prayers to the basketball family. It’s a really, really big loss.
“Hopefully we just keep things that he’s taught all of us,” Onyenwere continued, “work hard, believe in yourself, be your biggest competitor. Hopefully those things stay in people’s minds and are positive at this time.”