NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 26: A moment of silence is held for former Los Angeles Laker great Kobe Bryant before the game between the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets at Madison Square Garden on January 26, 2020 in New York City.Bryant died in a helicopter crash early this morning.NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

An entertaining game between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets was overshadowed by the impact of Kobe Bryant’s untimely death.

Danny Small

NEW YORK, NY—Basketball will never be the same. Even though Kobe Bryant would never play another game in the NBA, his influence over a league he once dominated is unmistakable. It takes a lot to silence Madison Square Garden. Kobe had done it more than his fair share of times during his career and on Sunday evening, he did it one more time.

When the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets took the floor, the game felt like background noise while an entire arena of basketball fans tried to come to grips with the gut-wrenching news.

In a vacuum, the Knicks and Nets put on a show for the fans. Spencer Dinwiddie and Marcus Morris Sr. traded buckets, leading their teams with 23 and 21 points, respectively.

The youth showed out for both sides. Mitchell Robinson threw down a few highlight-reel dunks while Jarrett Allen turned away shot after shot in the paint. Rodions Kurucs was at his very best, coming up with timely buckets on cuts, threes, and drives en route to 12 points. Frank Ntilikina’s 11 points on 5-for-9 shooting off the bench may be a sign that he’s finally working his way out of his offensive slump.

Unfortunately, life does not take place in a vacuum and everything that happened on the Garden floor felt different than usual. The budding rivalry between the Nets and Knicks took a backseat to the gravity of the moment.

For one, Kyrie Irving, who was incredibly close with Bryant, left the arena after learning the news. Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson spoke to media prior to tip-off and didn’t mention Irving by name, but it’s clear who he was referring to in his pregame comments. This loss is hitting Irving especially hard.

“As an organization, we’re devastated, our players are devastated,” Atkinson said. “We have a player that was very close to Kobe and our thoughts and prayers are with him also. It’s just a tough time for the NBA, for all of us. That’s really all I have to say.”

The game began with touching tributes for Bryant, who wore Nos. 8 and 24 during his days with the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a 24-second moment of silence in honor of the basketball icon and chants of “Kobe, Kobe” echoed throughout MSG.

Each team took a 24-second violation to begin the game. That type of tribute was commonplace around the league after the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors started the trend. Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks took an eight-second backcourt violation.

The Knicks held a nine-point lead going into the fourth quarter and coasted to a 110-97 victory. But despite the 13-point win for the Knicks, Bryant’s record-setting night in MSG nearly 11 years ago couldn’t escape my mind.

His 61 points on 31 field goals and a perfect 20-for-20 from the charity stripe made for one of the best moments of his career and it took place in the World’s Most Famous Arena. Carmelo Anthony would later break his MSG-scoring record with a 62-point performance, but Bryant’s name will live on in MSG lore forever.

The NBA will never be able to replace Kobe Bryant, but it can celebrate the legacy of one of the league’s all-time greats. The passing of Bryant comes not long after the league lost commissioner emeritus David Stern, another giant of the sport. The basketball and NBA worlds will never be the same.

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