Quinn Cook stood inside a quiet Lakers locker room late Friday with his head down, his voice at times barely above a whisper when answering questions about dealing with the death of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash in Calabasas.
As the questions continued to come his way, Cook patiently talked with ease until he was asked about the black T-shirt he was wearing that had an image of Bryant holding Gianna when she was little.
Cook dropped his head, shook his head and then answered.
“Um, I mean,” the point guard started before pausing a few seconds.
His voice began to crack. Tears slowly ran down his face.
“I don’t know, man,” Cook said. “I wish I didn’t have it on. I wish they were still here.”
Cook and his teammates had spent all week trying to make sense of it all.
But first, they all stood and watched an emotional and moving tribute the Lakers had for Bryant and all the other victims of the crash.
The Staples Center court was supposed to be their place of solace now, but the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night was not one of the Lakers’ better moments this season. They lost, 127-119.
“It’s tough, man,” shooting guard Danny Green said. “There are just so many things coming into play, so many factors. You try to stay focused, try to stay locked in on the game, not get too emotional, but you want to embrace the moment. You want to just live in it. If you shed tears, you shed tears. That guy deserved every emotion he got out of us tonight because he gave all of that to the game. He gave it all to us as a kid growing up.
“But then you try to stay locked in and focused on Portland, try to play them how we’re going to guard them. You’re also trying to get your body right, your mind right, get your legs back. We hadn’t played in a week. We were sitting for a little while, watching everything on the Jumbotron. Trying to get warm, trying to get back into it, trying to get your body back into it.
“The more important thing is to honor him and celebrate him and realize how important family, togetherness and our brotherhood here is, staying together through the wins and losses. Obviously, you want to win and compete, but things like this make you realize the bigger picture.”
The Lakers were flying back from Philadelphia on Sunday when they heard the news that Bryant had perished.
When they landed, Cook said he went to the team’s practice facility in El Segundo. But when he saw fans on TV down at Staples Center and L.A. Live leaving flowers, candles, basketballs, cards and just paying their respect, Cook decided to go there as well.
“I’m a fan first, so I saw on TV that they were doing it and my brother just took me out there,” Cook said. “He dropped me off. I was a nobody. I just wanted to pay my respects. It was just an instant thing. I was crying all day, and I got out there and the fans let me mourn. Fans always gave me some encouragement. It was rough, but I’m happy I did it. It was something I felt I needed to do.”
Dwight Howard is the only player on the Lakers’ current roster who played with Bryant.
The two had a contentious relationship during the 2012-13 season.
But once Howard returned this season, he and Bryant made up and were on friendly terms.
Naturally the media waited to talk to Howard after the game Friday night.
But as Howard placed his head in his left hand and gazed at his cellphone, he never looked at the reporters around him. He slowly pulled on his pants, got up and walked away and then came back wearing a Bryant No. 8 jersey.
A few seconds later, a Lakers representative said Howard wasn’t talking.
Meanwhile, Kyle Kuzma, who had developed a relationship with Bryant, shared how he felt about not having Bryant to talk to anymore.
“This week I kind of cried a lot, laughed a lot,” Kuzma said. “I probably cried so much I didn’t really have that many more tears. I was just really thinking about what he really stood for and what he meant to the game, and tonight I just tried to be fearless and plain and simple. I just tried to play my heart out.”