His death happened the day after LeBron James passed Bryant on the NBA’s all-time scoring list in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Lakers were on an East Coast swing with stops in New York to play the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks, in Boston to play the Celtics, and in Philly. The Lakers were supposed to fly back following the Sixers’ game, but they didn’t leave the arena until after midnight.
“We ain’t going home tonight, we’re going home tomorrow,” I overheard LeBron James yell in the Wells Fargo Center’s visiting locker room following their 108-91 loss to the Sixers.
James finished that game with 29 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists.
When the Lakers returned to the hotel, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant spoke on the phone and exchanged pleasantries in what would be their last phone conversation.
The Lakers flew home from Philadelphia on Sunday, January 26, the day of Bryant’s death. When TMZ broke the news of Bryant’s death, members of the Lakers were 30,000 feet in the air.
The Lakers were away from LA for ten days on the East Coast. Jet lagged and all, most were asleep on the plane.
If it wasn’t for WiFi access on the team plane, the Lakers wouldn’t have known about Bryant’s death until they landed.
Lakers guard Troy Daniels told me that Dwight Howard shouted on the team plane what the world was discussing 30,000 feet below: Kobe Bryant was dead.
In between hosting an in-store fashion function at Neiman Marcus Michigan Avenue in Chicago during NBA All-Star Weekend, Daniels recounted the story from the Lakers’ private jet.
Check out our discussion below:
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: The day Kobe passed. Was a Saturday. I remember I saw you at the Philly game. When the news came out, I texted KCP and I was asking what are you —- what’s going on? … You guys were on a plane. I’m very fascinated like, what was the plane like? Like what was said, how did the chain of command come down, how did you guys find out what was going on from the trip from Philly?
Troy Daniels: Regular trip. Chillin’. Literally everyone was asleep. All the shades were down, it was dark so everyone was asleep, and something just woke me up. Dwight says, “Hey y’all Kobe died.” And we’re looking like there’s no way and I’m like, “Shut up man, go back to sleep.” And he said it again and was like ‘I’m serious bro’. Right here it’s saying blah blah blah, and that’s when everybody woke up and Vogel was walking down the aisle and touched each one of our shoulders and that’s when everybody got on their phones because we have Wi-Fi on the plane so we got on the phone and started checking and we couldn’t believe it until you see it on CNN and then ‘Bron brought everybody in and we just prayed. Brought the whole team in and just prayed man. Obviously it didn’t hit you yet, obviously, he died but it hit you. And we didn’t know about his daughter until we were about to land. We really didn’t know and then we landed and that day, I’ve been in L.A. for six months. That day was foggy. You couldn’t even see. When we landed, we couldn’t even see. The visibility was crazy. So we landed, that’s when I think it hit everybody. As soon as we landed, that’s when the president came on the plane and told us about everything and I’m going to honest with you bro: It was heartbreaking bro. I spent two or three days where I didn’t even leave the room. I was literally crying because it hits a little different obviously when you’re a part of something that he was a part of. It hits very differently. He was my idol, as well as LeBron’s. I was telling people not to take away from Kobe, but I was telling my teammates because me and him are around the same age and like bro, let’s be honest. This guy sitting right here, he’s an idol too. Let’s not take for granted what we have in our presence right now. I know Kobe is gone, let’s not take for granted the idol sitting right here in front of us. And it was powerful. It really hurt.
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: I was with you guys at the Philly game when LeBron broke the record. It seems like two years has passed since then. Do you think there’s a pressure that you guys have to win I guess to complete the cycle to win a championship? You guys were already a championship-contending team, do you put that on you guys?
Troy Daniels: I thought that when that happened. I thought that we were going to feel like we gotta, we have to win or we gotta win a championship. I didn’t feel it. I didn’t feel it at all. I just felt for his family, I felt for the organization’s legacy, but once all the stuff passed a little bit, we’re back to trying to focus on our goal for the season. Sure obviously he’s in our minds at all times but at the end of the day, we just try to focus on what we set our focus on in the beginning of the season which is taking it one game at a time, we know obviously we’re going to get to the playoffs, have a chance at winning a championship but let’s take it one game at a time.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly referenced the date of the helicopter crash that killed nine people, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. The crash took place on Sunday, January 26, not Saturday, January 25.