NBA

The longest flight in Los Angeles Lakers historical past

This story was initially printed on Feb. 24, 2020. Jan. 26 is the one-year anniversary of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others.

THE WEARY GROUP trudged throughout the tarmac and onto the workforce airplane at Philadelphia Worldwide Airport.

Awaiting the Los Angeles Lakers on the finish of their 10-day, five-game highway journey was a cross-country trek again to L.A., with an 11 a.m. ET departure time permitting for a 2:05 p.m. PT scheduled arrival time. This meant their Sunday was purported to be salvaged by some semblance of an off day in Southern California, after touring by means of Houston, Boston, New York and Philly amid the nippiness that comes with late January within the Northeast.

The touring get together filed in — broadcasters, media relations and workforce assist employees within the again; teaching employees, coaching employees and gamers in separate sections going from tail to cockpit. It was a type of flights the place these in window seats pulled the shades down as quickly as they sat down, trying to go to sleep earlier than the airplane even took off.

However not everybody may sleep.

Just a few hours into the flight, because the airplane hovered above the Midwest, Lakers coach Frank Vogel’s face was lit by the glow of a display screen as he pored over recreation tape from the workforce’s 108-91 loss to the 76ers the night time earlier than.

The poor efficiency had soured an evening during which LeBron James had eclipsed Kobe Bryant for No. Three on the all-time NBA scoring listing — in Bryant’s hometown, no much less.

As Vogel watched clip after clip of the Sixers dismantling his squad, he was approached by Lakers director of media relations Alison Bogli. She had seen a information report on her cellphone: Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter accident.

“There was that uncomfortable time, feeling like, ‘This can be a loopy report,'” Vogel says. “Like, ‘This isn’t true. There isn’t any method.’ My expectation was to listen to that it was a false report.”

Bogli, whose Lakers profession dates again to the late 1990s, was texting with workforce personnel again in California, making an attempt to collect data. It wasn’t lengthy, sources say, earlier than Lakers controlling proprietor and president Jeanie Buss replied. It was true. Kobe was gone.

“That is after I determined if it is 100 % true, then [the players are] all seeing stories and questioning,” Vogel says. “I felt like, as their coach, as their chief, I simply instinctually felt like they need to hear it from me instantly.”

MORE: Stories from those close to Kobe


ANTHONY DAVIS WAS one other stressed passenger.

“I can not sleep on planes, and I am watching my iPad,” Davis says.

Out of the nook of his eye, the Lakers’ star massive man noticed a cellphone display screen flash in one of many rows surrounding him — an indication of exercise amid the slumbering basketball squad, however nothing noteworthy sufficient to name his consideration away from “Avengers: Endgame.”

Solely the exercise grew.

When Davis subsequent glanced away from his display screen, his eyes centered on Dwight Howard and DeMarcus Cousins, waving their arms in his course, their urgency muted by Davis’ noise-canceling headphones.

“So I take away one in all my headphones, and I look,” Davis says. “And Dwight tells me, ‘Man, Kobe died.’ And me considering as invincible as Kobe Bryant is, I am like, ‘Kobe who?’ As a result of I am like, that is not — it isn’t Kobe Bryant.

“And he was like, ‘Kobe.’ And I used to be like, ‘OK. Kobe who? I am undecided who you are speaking about.’ And he was like, ‘Kobe Bryant.’ And right now, Bron continues to be asleep. So I used to be like, ‘Wait, what? How? Like, I want particulars, like, inform me.’ And he was like, ‘Man, helicopter crash.'”

Davis jostled the resting James.

“And I identical to, begin shaking Bron, like, ‘Get up! Get up!'”

The gamers part, quiet moments in the past, started to stir, members of the workforce scrambling to go browsing to the in-flight Wi-Fi.

“By this time, all of the gamers have woken up,” Davis says. “Everyone’s making an attempt to get to the web to get on their cellphone and see what is going on on. ‘Is it true?’ Or, ‘What is going on on?'”

“It did not hit me. So I turned my Wi-Fi on simply to see,” Lakers guard Quinn Cook stated on the Contained in the Inexperienced Room podcast, hosted by fellow L.A. guard Danny Green. “I obtained 200 messages. Twitter is simply going loopy.”

Jared Dudley, from the air, grew to become the primary member of the group to touch upon the tragedy.

In the meantime, James, like Davis and Vogel earlier than him, couldn’t settle for what he was listening to.

“I bear in mind the very first thing Bron stated to me was, ‘Man, y’all cease playin — like, cease taking part in with me,'” Davis says. “And I am making an attempt to get on the web. And Dwight, like, you’ll be able to see him begin crying. He was like, ‘It is true.'”

For Howard, whose first stint taking part in for the Lakers had been marred by a rocky relationship with Bryant, the feelings got here swift and arduous.

“It was like a film scene when it occurred,” he says. “I used to be extraordinarily damage.”

Howard folded his 6-foot-10, 265-pound body into the nearest bathroom stall. And there the large man started to weep.


IN 2011, PHIL HANDY, a revered player-development coach, had joined the Lakers’ teaching employees after carving out a profession taking part in internationally. He had been a part of the workforce of trainers tasked with the job of protecting Bryant’s battered physique working by means of the top of his profession.

After working in comparable roles on the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ championship workforce alongside James in 2016 and with the Toronto Raptors‘ title workforce alongside Kawhi Leonard in 2019, Helpful was employed again by the Lakers final summer season as an assistant coach below Vogel — now not only a exercise guru, however a trusted voice in workforce technique.

Vogel woke Helpful up on the airplane to let him know what had occurred to Bryant.

“I checked out Frank, and I nearly fell out of my seat,” Helpful recalled on the Contained in the Inexperienced Room podcast. “It is a type of issues you’ll be able to by no means be ready for. It isn’t what you count on once you get up. Simply the very last thing; your thoughts is just not even there.

“I obtained up and went to the lavatory, and Kyrie [Irving] began calling me. He referred to as me about 10 instances, and I could not decide up the cellphone. I knew he was crushed.”

Even when Helpful had been in a position to maintain it collectively sufficient to speak to Irving — who thought-about Bryant a mentor and who was coached by Helpful in Cleveland — there was no use making an attempt to ring the Brooklyn Nets guard. When your airplane is almost 38,000 ft within the air, there is not any cell service to make a name.

With data nonetheless sparse and calls inconceivable, some members of the printed crew at the back of the airplane had logged on to the Delta app to stream dwell tv protection of the crash.

When a member of the workforce’s safety, who had labored with Bryant each when he was a participant and through his post-playing days, heard that the helicopter had come down in Calabasas, California, he considered the acquainted flight route from Bryant’s house in Newport Seashore to his Mamba Sports activities Academy in Thousand Oaks. His thoughts darted to Bryant’s daughter Gianna and her typical weekend video games on the facility, fearing the worst.

Vogel, by means of Bogli, knew the painful particulars when he approached the gamers: Kobe, Gigi and 7 different victims had been misplaced endlessly.


ONE BY ONE, the coach made his method by means of his gamers to ship the incomprehensible information.

“It was only a daunting activity of simply grabbing every man one-on-one and letting him know,” Vogel says.

Some gamers had already mentioned the report as Vogel got here to confirm it.

“Everyone was crying,” Davis says. “It was identical to one thing that we did not consider, one thing that was surprising to all of us. As a result of Kobe, he is touched so many, you understand — gamers on this workforce, employees members. You recognize, Judy [Seto], his coach; Rob [Pelinka, his] agent; Robert Lara, safety. He touched so many individuals.”

James, who had fielded a congratulatory cellphone name from Bryant that very morning earlier than boarding, gathered the gamers collectively.

In the identical spot on the airplane — among the many mismatched blue and maroon vinyl seats — the place the gamers had posed for a gaggle photograph after an ideal December highway journey had pushed their document to 20-3, the group embraced.

James, who had scribbled “Mamba four Life” on his sneakers the night time earlier than, led the workforce in prayer.

“It was simply off the highest off my head, simply off the cuff,” James says. “I believe it was wanted for us to return collectively and simply give due to the person above.

“Though at instances we query him and query why he do among the issues that he do, know that he is by no means made a mistake. And simply hope that he has his arms on high of Vanessa [Bryant] and the children at the moment, and hope that he continues to look at over all of us. So, I do not know, it wasn’t one thing I thought of. It was one thing that simply sort of got here to me, and I stated my piece.”


IF NOT FOR an emphasis on sleep science, the Lakers would have already been in L.A. and dispersed again to their particular person properties by the point Bryant’s helicopter went down. Solely lately has the workforce began staying in a single day on the finish of a highway journey.

And they also had been all along with greater than two hours of flight time to go as soon as the preliminary report had pinged on Bogli’s cellphone.

The rest of the journey was enveloped by what one passenger describes as “suffocating silence,” outdoors of the sounds of muffled tears.

Because the airplane continued west, Prepare dinner scrolled by means of his photograph archive, looking for snapshots of him and Bryant collectively. Helpful says he spent practically an hour within the toilet earlier than rising.

The ache was palpable for everybody on board. Some discovered goal in comforting others — significantly somebody like Seto, whose ties to Bryant ran deep.

However all they knew, for positive, was that they’d land right into a world that was irreversibly modified.

“We had been identical to, we simply have to get off this airplane,” Davis says. “We simply need to get off the airplane. And be along with your households and, you understand, simply get again house.”



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