Carmelo Anthony, eyes wet, choked back emotion once … twice … and then eventually he had to stop talking, because it was all too much.
While the basketball world lost one of its legends Sunday when Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash, Anthony lost a friend.
“Our friendship and relationship was deeper than basketball. It was family. It was friendship,” Anthony said. “Basketball was the last piece of connective tissue between us two.”
They had grown close playing on two Olympic teams, 2008 and 2012, and Anthony has said that nobody can understand the bonds that are formed when you are overseas together for months, working toward the same goal.
They had just dined in New York together on New Year’s Eve, and a couple days ago had a conversation about connecting on Thursday when the Trail Blazers would be in Los Angeles for a Friday game against the Lakers.
“It’s tough. Tough. He was going to come to the game and support,” Anthony said. “But our friendship is deeper than telling stories and basketball. Deeper than that.”
So when he was in bed Sunday morning in Portland with his 12-year-old son, and his wife LaLa called crying, and delivering the news that stunned the world, it was hard for Anthony to think about that night’s game against Indiana.
“At that point, everything went numb, dark,” Anthony said. “Basketball for me was the furthest thing on my mind today.”
At the arena, he struggled, and he wasn’t the only one. Trevor Ariza, in his second game in Portland, was crushed. Ariza won an NBA title with Bryant in Los Angeles.
Both started, and Anthony had 14 points and eight rebounds in 33 minutes. Ariza seven points and four rebounds in 32 minutes.
When each sat on the bench, they seemed to drift to far away places. Ariza stared into his hands for long stretches. And Anthony pulled his hood over his head and sometimes buried his face in a towel.
“This probably was the hardest game I ever had to play,” Anthony said. “Just uh … I don’t know … whoooo. It was tough. It was tough.”
Anthony said in those moments on the bench, it seemed like he wasn’t present.
“I had to pull myself back in and check back in emotionally,” Anthony said. “Because I wasn’t there.”