LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel said on Wednesday his heartbroken team would aim to honor the memory of Kobe Bryant, who died along with his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash on Sunday.
“We want to represent what Kobe was about more than anything,” Vogel told reporters after a team practice at the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo.
“We’ve always wanted to make him proud and that’s not going to be any different.”
The cause of the crash in the hilly terrain just outside Calabasas, California, was unknown and an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board could take months.
Foggy weather was likely to figure prominently in the crash investigation.
Vogel said the tragedy was bringing the Western Conference-leading Lakers, an already tight-knit group, even closer together and credited team leaders LeBron James and Anthony Davis with helping the players manage their emotions.
“We’ve become a family in a very short time,” he said.
“That’s something you talk about in the NBA with your teams but this group in particular has grown to love each other very rapidly.
“This has just brought us closer together.”
Bryant, who played 20 seasons for the Lakers, 18 as an all-star forward, and won five NBA championships, was known as a fierce competitor on the court and a loving father to his four daughters off of it.
The 41-year-old Bryant died alongside one of those daughters, 13-year-old Gianna, which Vogel said had hit home.
“It’s been something that has touched my family, being the father of daughters,” he said.
“It’s been very emotional and something that brings us together, as well as the Lakers’ family.
“I’m around the people that were closest to Kobe throughout his time here and it’s been a deeply saddening time for all of us.”
Vogel, who coached teams playing against Bryant before the ‘Black Mamba’ retired in 2016, said his legacy was secure.
“He was the most feared man in the league for an entire generation,” he said.
“The influence is profound — league-wide, basketball community-wide, worldwide, Lakers family-wide.
“His influence will be felt forever.”
The Lakers will return to the court for the first time since Bryant’s death on Friday when they host the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center in what is sure to be an emotional game.
Trail Blazers forward and long-time Bryant friend Carmelo Anthony said on Sunday that Bryant had told him he had planned on attending Friday’s game.