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Orlando Magic players and coaches react to the loss of Kobe Bryant

NBA Finals Game 5: Los Angeles Lakers v Orlando Magic Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

For many who were on the court for the Orlando Magic on Sunday, Kobe Bryant was an inspiration, a competitor, a hero.

Heroes are often viewed as having a certain invincibility. An indestructibility that makes the tragedy that took the life of Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other people, all the more unfathomable.

The magnitude of Bryant’s passing was felt around the world, including inside Amway Center, where the Magic hosted the Clippers. From the Bryant jerseys scattered around the stands, the pregame moment of silence, the opening sequence featuring an intentional 24-second violation by the Clippers and 8-second violation by the Magic, the arena’s spire adorned in purple and gold lighting, and the heavy hearts that players and coaches performed with.

“He means a lot to all of us, whether you knew him personally, had conversations with him, or just watched him growing up, he means a lot to a lot of people,” Michael Carter-Williams said on Sunday. “He gave us that drive when you felt like you waned to quit. He had that mamba mentality and he instilled that in all of us just though his hard work. So it was hard, It’s definitely a real tough loss for everyone.”

Added Evan Fournier: “Im not sure you can put any words on what he meant for all of us.”

California native Aaron Gordon went from being a Kobe fan to mentee. Gordon last summer was among the players invited to Bryant’s training facility, Mamba Sports Academy, for a mini-camp.

“Last summer, it really felt like he was beginning to develop a mentorship with me,” Gordon said on Sunday. And that was a beautiful thing. Just to get to experience some of the things he was teaching us about the game of basketball and about the game of life. He’s a very unique individual, a very fierce competitor. So it’s sad. Personally and selfishly, I don’t get to develop a relationship with him that I knew it was going to be something special. It’s just sad for him and his family, GiGi, as well.”

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A mentor and a friend. An idol and a legend. ♾ rip bean

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While the impact of the loss of Kobe was felt by fans and players who mostly admired him from afar, thoughts and concerns were primarily with the families of those affected.

“At the end of the day, (Bryant’s) wife lost her husband and her daughter,” Nikola Vucevic said. “Their other daughters lost a sister and father. Other people lost their people that were also in the helicopter. You can’t explain how to feel, for sure just terrible for them.”

There were debates as to whether the league should have postponed the slate of games following the tragedy. Many felt that Bryant, competitor that he was, would have wanted the games to go on as scheduled.

“When something like this happens it makes you want to just quit, not do anything,” Gordon said. “But the fierce competitor that he is, I know he would want us to go out and play, and give our heart to the game, not take it for granted. So we had to conjure up our own energy.”

Finding that energy under the circumstances wasn’t easy.

“There was no energy throughout the whole game, especially in the first quarter, on both sides really,” Fournier said. “Obviously it was a weird game.”

Added Carter-Williams: “It was tough. It was quiet. Before the game, it was hard to focus because of course it’s bigger than basketball what happened...We went out there and tried our best, tried to keep our minds off it, but it’s definitely hard.”

Steve Clifford, who spent one season working with Bryant as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2012-2013 season, said the game had a different feeling.

“It’s obviously shocking and tragic,” he said. “I just had a conversation with him (maybe about) three or three and half weeks ago. I don’t want to get into (what was said), but he was an incredibly brilliant man who was incredibly passionate about our game - driven. I’d have to say, it was an honor to be able to have been around him for one season.”

It was in Orlando that Bryant captured one of his five NBA championships, guiding the Lakers to a 4-1 series victory on the Magic’s home court in Game 5 of the 2009 NBA Finals. It was where he had some of his memorable duels with Tracy McGrady en route to reaching as high as third on the league’s all-time scoring list. It was where he posterized a babyfaced Dwight Howard for one of the many clips that will live on in the lengthy highlight reel of his legendary career.

“The news is just devastating for everybody who knew him for a long time,” Clippers coach, and former Magic coach, Doc Rivers, said. “He means a lot to me obviously, he was such a great opponent. You know, it’s what you want in sports. He had that DNA that very few athletes could ever have.”

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Love you bro

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