The Raptors 905 were on a plane en route to their game in Westchester when Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crashed, claiming the lives of all nine passengers on board, including Bryant, his 13-year old daughter Gianna, and seven other mothers, fathers, daughters and coaches. When the team touched down, they found out the tragic news together. Head coach Jama Mahlalela cancelled practice, and convened his team for an emotional meeting of prayer and remembrance.
After Wednesday’s home game I asked four 905 players the same four questions about Bryant. Their responses were heartfelt.
The interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.
Michael Bathea, guard: I was just really sad. It wasn’t just him. It was him, his daughter and a lot of other people. So I was just really sad. That’s like one of the saddest things I heard in a long time, if not the saddest thing. That’s it. I was lost for words.
Paul Watson, guard: I actually found out on the plane. I got an alert on my phone, somehow on the plane. I was in a lot of disbelief. I saw it and I was just like nah, no way. I put my phone down, and after a good five minutes I picked it back up. I got on Twitter. Honestly my heart fell in my stomach. I felt like a part of my childhood was gone. That was really hard for me to deal with. I fought back tears on the flight. Once I finally got to the hotel, I sat in the room for a little bit. That was really hard for me. I cried a little bit. I’m still in a lot of disbelief. It feels like a bad dream. It’s really unfortunate. My heart and my thoughts and my prayers go out to him, Gianna and his family.
Matt Morgan, guard: My immediate reaction was – there’s no way this is real, because everyone saw him as someone that was invincible. He played through every type of injury you can think of. But once we landed, we saw social media, notifications that this was real, and then after that to hear that his daughter was on the helicopter too. And then as more came in there were more people on the helicopter. It was just a terrible feeling that we all were just trying to process, but it wasn’t easy.
Duane Notice, guard: Just sad. My initial reaction was we didn’t believe it. We kind of all got service around the same time landing into Westchester, and we all kind of popped our heads up on the plane, looked at each other. We all thought it was a joke. When we found out it was real we all were just like – just a rush of emotions. I think all of us were emotional. Most of us cried. We cancelled practice and had a very emotional meeting. Just talked about Kobe stories and what he meant to us, and to the game of basketball.
If it took extra internal strength to play vs Westchester
Bathea: It took a lot of strength. Because this summer I lost my mom, and I’m from New York City. She would always come to my games when I would come back to New York. So when I went back, I seen my family. So I had to play with the loss of my mom and the loss of Kobe, somebody that I looked up to. I wanted to have a clear mind. It was tough though, when we did the 24 second shot clock I started tearing up a little bit, because again, that’s just really crazy and sad. But I got through it. I wish we would have got the win, but it happens.
Watson: It did. Just like everybody else around here I woke up the next day, and it was still there. You look at the TV, it’s there. Phone. Everything. Social media. It was hard.
Morgan: It took a little bit from everybody, because everyone looked up to him. He’s our Jordan. It took a little bit of strength, but he would want us to go out there and be competitive just like he was. He didn’t take any days off, so I’m pretty sure that’s what he would have wanted – for us to continue fighting, continue moving forward, and play in his honour.
Notice: Yeah it did. Especially in the social media era. You can’t go anywhere without seeing it. It’s a constant reminder. It just puts into perspective about life. Even though it’s been a couple days it’s still heavy on my heart. Heavy on my mind.
Your iconic Kobe moment
Bathea: When he made the buzzer beater off one leg fading to the middle, I think it was against D-Wade. It was a tough shot. I remember watching that game. I know Kobe’s made a lot of buzzer beaters. I told myself – he gon’ make this shot. I remember that when I was a kid, and he made it. It was a tough shot. It was crazy.
Watson: Probably his last performance. That’s a story book ending, the way he did that. You couldn’t paint a better picture. You couldn’t write a better story. That was amazing to watch and see. I was emotional watching it. It was hard to watch him leave. But definitely his last game.
Morgan: The one that sticks out to me the most is actually after he retired. After his last game, how he embraced his family. Became more of a father to his kids, coaching Gigi, being around his kids. The story about why he flew in the helicopter – is because he missed a school play. You wouldn’t think that would be the reason, but that’s something I’m gonna remember the most. Because one day I want to have a family and I want to emulate what he did with his family.
Notice: For sure it has to be the 81 points, especially against the Raptors. Growing up a die hard Raptors fan, I remember watching that game. It was crazy to me how much he played, and how well he played and how aggressive he was. I guess his last game too. I was telling somebody, him knocking out Steve Nash, hitting the game tying shot then hitting the game winning shot in the Western Conference Finals, to me, was pretty cool.
Were you a “Kobe guy” growing up?
Bathea: For sure. I always watched Kobe, man. I remember when I was in North Carolina. His games used to come on, I used to be in the living room imitating his moves and stuff like that. Imitating his facial expressions after he would score. Just stuff like that, man. I looked up to Kobe. He was one of the greatest to ever play the game. It’s just a sad situation.
(I forgot to ask Watson this question)
Morgan: Kobe was our Michael Jordan. Watching him, from his rookie year in 1996, all the way until now. To do what he did with the Lakers for all those years. The championships with Shaq, back to back with Pau and all those guys. He was our Jordan. A lot of kids wanted to grow up and be like him.
Notice: Kobe was kind of the guy where it was like you watched his career progress from a rookie to when he was done playing. For him he just had motivation. He dealt with adversity on and off the court. That was big for us. Just his resilience. His ability to win championships with different players. For me what was most important is the way he handled himself off the court, after what he did, in his retirement. It was really cool and it showed me that there’s life after basketball.