LOS ANGELES — Tyronn Lue put away all the framed photos he had of himself and Kobe Bryant in his home and the LA Clippers’ coach still is unable to get himself to decorate his office with cherished moments he shared with his old friend.
Nearly a year after Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020, Lue still is coping with the death of his former Los Angeles Lakers teammate. Seeing highlights of Bryant on TV or even fielding questions from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George about what Bryant was like is still painful.
Talking to a small group of reporters on Saturday, Lue opened up about Bryant’s death and revealed that he has tried coping by blocking out as much as he can. But Lue said he wants to try to start moving forward by doing things like putting up pictures of him and Bryant.
“Just being able to try to get past it,” Lue said. “I don’t really deal with death well. I always try to forget about it. It is just something that is tough for me, especially [with] someone I was so close to… I took down all the pictures in my room, in my house, I don’t have them in my office.”
Lue said that when he moved into the head coach’s office at the Clippers’ facility in Playa Vista, he was asked by his assistant and others about decorating and whether he wanted a picture of himself and Bryant. Lue politely said no.
“I got to get over it because [he’s] such a great guy, great person, you want to be able to celebrate him,” Lue said. “You want people to come in your office and say, ‘Oh man, how was it with Kobe?’ You want them to ask those questions so he can continue to live on, which he is going to do.”
When Bryant and his daughter Gianna died last year, the Clippers were in Orlando, Florida, to play the Magic. Lue, then an assistant coach on Doc Rivers’ staff, said he awoke from his routine game-day nap to find countless text messages and missed calls on his cellphone. Seven of the missed calls were from fellow assistant coach Sam Cassell. Lue called Cassell, who frantically asked if the news was true, that Bryant had died in a crash. Lue was in shock.
“I turned the TV on and it was all over the news stations and it just kind of had the fire, the fumes, just showing pictures of that [helicopter crash],” Lue said. “And on TMZ Sports, they were talking about it and I just broke down. It was hard, to fathom that, hard to see it.”
Rivers said at one point during the game against the Magic, he turned to look at Lue on the bench and saw his assistant “bawling.”
“Still to this day, just tough,” Lue said. “When you look and just watch clips when they are showing stuff from old games or commercials, it is just tough for me to see.”
Lue also said that his two stars, Leonard and George, ask about Bryant often. Leonard and George both grew up in Southern California, looking up to Bryant. The two All-Stars got to know Bryant as pros and tried to soak up as much knowledge as they could from the former Lakers great.
Lue said he didn’t talk about his time with Bryant or things he learned from the shooting guard while he was head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. But this season, Lue has found himself sharing insight to Bryant’s greatness with Leonard and George.
“They always want to know how Kobe was, what he did, how he worked, how would Kobe react to this,” Lue said. “They always ask those questions all the time. They just want to know so much about him. It’s tough sometimes talking about it but it’s good that those guys respect him and look up to what Kobe has done as a player, a person and a businessman.”
Lue spent his first three NBA seasons as a player from 1998 to 2001 on the Lakers with Bryant. After the Lakers beat the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Finals in 2000-2001, Bryant said something that will stay with Lue for the rest of his life.
“Kobe said, ‘You know, I don’t know if we would have been able to win that series without you,'” Lue recalled. “He said, ‘because I was getting worn out having to guard [Allen] Iverson, and the job you did on him really took a lot of pressure off me. So man, you just meant so much to this championship.'”
“It really meant a lot whether he was lying or not,” Lue said.
Lue said he is going to have to start being honest with himself by confronting the loss of Bryant instead of trying to bury it. One step forward is to put those pictures up again.
“I am going to just try to do it,” Lue said. “He is always going to live through me, through the NBA, through a lot of people. So just try to come to my office and seeing a picture of me and Kobe I think would be tough.
“But there’s got to be a point where I got to get through that, continue to celebrate his life and what he has meant to me and so many other people.”