The LA Clippers coach was one of many NBA legends, All-Stars and coaching luminaries on hand Monday for the Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant. While the packed Staples Center crowd cried and sniffled through the ceremony, Rivers said he thought it was the first time that family, friends and the city could start to move from grieving to celebrating Bryant's life.
"It's just been a very heavy month. It's everywhere," Rivers said of Los Angeles, which has been grieving since the helicopter crash that killed Kobe and Gianna Bryant and seven others on Jan. 26. "There's days you get away from it -- like, the games are great now because you're focused on the games -- but you know, it's just ... it's broken or just brokenhearted.
"It's been a brokenhearted city. Probably something I've never seen before, ever, anywhere, and it's still there a little bit, for sure. But today will help."
Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davisand aHouston Rocketstrio ofJames Harden,Russell Westbrookand P.J. Tucker were among the many former and current NBA stars who attended the celebration.
"This morning was beautiful," said Rivers, who remained at Staples Center for the Clippers' game against the Memphis Grizzlies. "It was emotional ... you know, what was interesting as you just looked around at all those people -- it just brought people together. You can want to beat someone's brains out and still respect them, and you saw that today. You saw all these adversaries all through the arena. Heck, theKingswere sitting right behind me after they just beat us the other night."
Like so many others, Rivers was in awe of Vanessa Bryant's words about her husband and daughter and an emotional Jordan giving the world a glimpse into his relationship with Kobe Bryant.
"I don't know how Vanessa did it," said Rivers, who had dinner with Kobe Bryant, his friend and former adversary, in January. "I don't know how that was possible. I thought Michael, like, if you could pick one representation of Kobe, they picked a perfect ... he may have been the only choice, when you think about it. And his delivery was amazing, so there were so many good things."
After the celebration, Rivers said he and the VIP guests caught up for about an hour.
"I talked to people in the NBA that I hadn't seen in forever or people that I've competed against, coaches, Phil [Jackson] and Pop [Gregg Popovich]," Rivers said. "It was just a great day. It really was. And it was more of a celebration, and I think that's where I feel like we're at now. We can start celebrating his life, and that was good."
Harden, Westbrook and Tucker attended the ceremony, then flew back to Houston for a game Monday against theNew York Knicks, arriving a little more than an hour before tipoff. Harden, who scored 37 points in a 123-112 victory, said it was important to him to be at the memorial.
"Obviously, it's a tough time for them, the entire world," Harden said, "So it was a must that I be there, show my respects."
Harden then described how some of what he learned from Bryant helped carry him through the day.
"Numerous times [Bryant] talked about your path and the road that you're on, and there's always going to be tough times, times when you don't want to work hard, and you just don't feel like it," Harden said. "Those are the times you just have to push through.
"Obviously, the journey is one thing, but the steps you have to take to get to that journey is another thing. That's what makes you a champion. That's what binds you. That's why he was put on this earth."
Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker, who was in Utah for a game against theJazz, attended the memorial earlier in the day and said it inspired him.
"All of those people in one building because of that man. It was very important for all of us. I wouldn't say closure because we're all missing a piece of us for the rest of our lives, but seeing Vanessa speak and seeing the girls there helped a lot of people," Booker said.
Bryant would tell Booker to be legendary, he said, and that's what will motivate him as his career unfolds.
"When you are out there emulating the same moves, same approach, same mindset that he passed on to us, that sticks with you," Booker said. "But it's not just basketball. 'Be legendary' is a message for life."
The Clippers' Kawhi Leonard and Paul George grew up looking up to Bryant and then getting to know him. Although they did not attend the memorial, they watched it. Leonard said he caught some of it on TV after he got in some shooting in the morning. George said he watched the entire memorial on TV.
"I'm not good with that kind of stuff, so I didn't go, but I watched every second of it on TV," said George, who grew up outside of Los Angeles and credits Bryant as the reason he started playing basketball. "... He's a Californian and Los Angeleno. [I'm] a byproduct of him being here."
"I was definitely affected by it when it first happened, and I was affected again today, watching it, again," George said. "It's something that's never gonna seem real, but the reality of it, it did happen. And I'm forever moved by it, and I think so many people are, too."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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