Monday night, the Brooklyn Nets hosted the Miami Heat at the Barclays Center in New York. Kyrie Irving was back in action for his team after previously missing some games for personal reasons, and he paid tribute to a late NBA icon before tipoff. Irving showed up to the arena wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey as the rest of America prepared for the first anniversary of a tragic helicopter crash in the Calabasas mountains that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others.
A video circulated on social media that showed Irving walking in with a Lakers jersey under his jacket. He spotted the camera and opened the coat to show that he was wearing No. 8 from Bryant's early years. "You know who I was rocking tonight," the NBA star said. "C'mon, stop it." The fans responded by saying that they loved the tribute, but they wanted Irving to play for a team with a "better defense."
“You know who I was rockin’ tonight.”
Kyrie paying tribute to Mamba 🐍🙏January 25, 2021
Irving had a very special relationship with Bryant during the early portions of his NBA career. The Lakers' player was his mentor and provided him with crucial information. When Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020, Irving immediately left Madison Square Garden and did not return for the scheduled game. He rejoined the team at a later date and helped them secure victory against the Detroit Pistons. Irving then broke his silence about Bryant's death.
"Out there on the court, I am not the only one that is hurting," Irving said after the game in his first public comments. "I don't want to make this about me and just our relationship because we all shared something really, really strong with him" He continued and provided some insight into how Bryant became a mentor to him.
"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear," he explained. "I had that mentorship relationship with him, where I was able to ask him almost anything. You know no matter how nervous I was or how fearful I was, he was just easy to approach with those type of questions about what goes on in the day-in and day-out basis of chasing something that's bigger than yourself and when you're trying to leave a legacy or something of a mark on a game."
One year later, Irving is paying tribute to Bryant once again. He is one of the many who will honor the late NBA icon one year after his death while wearing a Lakers jersey. Some will be No. 24 while others will be No. 8, but they will all have one thing in common — these jerseys will all have Bryant on the nameplate.