ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — Fred VanVleet never met Kobe Bryant, but Bryant made a big impact on VanVleet as VanVleet was growing up in Rockford. That’s why VanVleet was as stunned as anyone Sunday when he learned of Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash.
“I don’t want to speak for anyone, but I know how much I’m affected (by the news), and I never got a chance to meet Kobe or share that space with him, but I know how much he meant to me,” VanVleet told reporters after the Raptors-Spurs game Sunday afternoon.
VanVleet held a prominent role in the two teams paying tribute to Bryant. At the start of the game VanVleet held the ball for 24 seconds resulting in a shot-clock violation paying tribute to Bryant who wore jersey number 24 during a major part of his playing career with the Lakers.
The Spurs then did the same 24 second shot-clock violation in tribute of Bryant when they got the ball. VanVleet said the two teams agreed to the tribute before the game.
“Nurse (Raptors coach Nick Nurse) said something to me like right before we went out. Coach Nurse, he said something, asked me about it and said, ‘Sure’. It’s the least we could do. I think he talked to Pop (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich) and they talked about it and they did it.” “You just try to show your respects as best as you can.”
The Raptors won the game 110-106. VanVleet scored 13 points and he had seven assists. He made only 4 of 15 shots from the field. He admitted it wasn’t easy to focus on the game with everyone’s emotions being so raw, but as professionals they had to play through all of it.
“I think everybody had it in the back of their mind at some point throughout the game. You just kind of go out there and let your instincts take over and just try to get through it. I think that’s what we did.”
Some people say that the NBA should pay tribute to Bryant by retiring his jersey number 24. VanVleet says he would support that.
“For sure I’m with it. I’m with it. Any type of respect we can pay the family and what he meant to the game I think it’s a no-brainer.”