NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 02: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers walks down the court against the New York Knicks on February 2, 2009 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. 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 Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant’s tragic death still doesn’t feel real. One year later, I reflect on the day he passed and the emotional moments that followed.

Danny Small

It didn’t feel real at the time. It still doesn’t feel real one year later. The world packed plenty of hardship into 2020 and Kobe Bryant’s death in January hit the NBA family like a ton of bricks.

It was one of those moments that you don’t expect. Reports of Kobe Bryant passing away in a helicopter crash began flooding Twitter on Jan. 26, 2020, but there had to be some sort of mistake. Kobe Bryant was larger than life.

I was on the train to Madison Square Garden to cover Kyrie Irving’s first game against the New York Knicks in MSG as a member of the Brooklyn Nets. Unfortunately, Irving would not play on that fateful Sunday. There were heavy hearts all throughout MSG. From the players and coaching staffs to the fans and media covering the game.

Again, surreal is the only word that can accurately describe the events that took place that day. Here are a few moments from that day that still stick out one year later:

Kenny Atkinson’s emotional pregame press conference kicked things off. Atkinson alluded to Irving, who was extremely close with Kobe, and shortly after this presser, reporters were told that Irving would not be playing in the game.

Even after this moment, whether or not the game would go on was unclear. Locker rooms were closed to media, players were not going through their normal pregame routines, and everyone in the building was in a funk.

Both teams decided to forge ahead with the game, but it was hardly your normal Sunday NBA matinee. The arena observed 24 seconds of silence to honor Bryant, who famously wore No. 24 for much of his career. Both teams decided to take 24-second violations to start the game as well.

The game itself was as forgettable as any NBA game can be. I couldn’t tell you who played well or who looked off and I needed to do a quick check on Basketball-Reference just to remind myself that the Knicks won.

After the game was when things really started to get heavy. The locker rooms were open to the media, but it was impossible to focus on anything other than Bryant’s tragic and untimely end. Players spoke to the impact Bryant had on their careers and reflected on his all-time great career.

To members of Spencer Dinwiddie’s generation, Kobe was Michael Jordan. Ironically enough, Dinwiddie and I were born three weeks apart from one another on completely different sides of the country, but we both grew up idolizing Kobe.

It was a dream come true for Dinwiddie when Kobe told him he was an All-Star in his book early in the 2019-20 season. To him, a kid from Los Angeles, that meant more than making the All-Star Game ever could.

The details of that day are still a bit hazy for me. There were a few moments that stick with me, like Atkinson and Dinwiddie’s media availability.

Shock turned to numbness. It was impossible to wrap my brain around the fact that the player who helped kickstart my love of basketball, and indirectly pushed me towards a career as a basketball writer, was gone.