Clippers coach Doc Rivers breaks down talking about Kobe Bryant: 'We're all Lakers today'

Scott Gleeson
USA TODAY

Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers was one of Kobe Bryant's fiercest rivals, facing his Lakers in two NBA Finals when Rivers coached the Boston Celtics. 

On Sunday, though, an emotional Rivers made one thing clear: "We're all Lakers today." 

"People think because you compete against each other that you don't have a relationship and you don't like them," Rivers told reporters, expressing the respect he had for Bryant on and off the court. "I think it's the exact opposite. Sometimes the more you compete, the more respect you have for the opponent. That's the way I felt with Kobe." 

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The Clippers were among the 16 teams in action Sunday following the news of Bryant's tragic death from a helicopter accident. In his interview with reporters before the game, Rivers broke down several times.

"I have to go talk to a team before a game and tell them to play before a game," Rivers said, voice cracking. 

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Bryant's Lakers defeated Rivers' Celtics in a seven-game series for the NBA title in 2010, which served as revenge for 2008's Finals when the Celtics beat the Lakers in six games. 

"I'm lucky that I got to coach and compete against him," Rivers said. "The news is just devastating to everybody who knew him — have known him a long time. You know he means a lot to me obviously. He was such a great opponent. It’s what you want in sports. He had that DNA that very few athletes can ever have — the Tiger Woods, the Michael Jordans. I was getting to know him since he retired. This is a tough one."

Rivers reflected on his last memory with Bryant.

"We were at a function 3-4 weeks ago and we sat and talked for 45 minutes," Rivers said. "We always liked to reminisce. We would always laugh at our versions of our losses. When we won in 2008 he had his version. Then when they won in 2010 I had my version. We would laugh at how different we looked at the games.

Rivers noted how Bryant's legacy was far greater than the rivalry, and how the 6-6 guard transcended the sport to inspire so many in the younger generation of today's game. 

"Looking at my young players and seeing how emotional they are — they didn’t even know him," Rivers said. "It just tells you have far his reach was. This is just shocking news for all of us."

Rivers said his coaching staff, which includes former Bryant teammate Tyronn Lue, and his players, notably Kawhi Leonard, were deeply close to Bryant.

"This is a great loss for the league," Rivers said. "I thought he had so much more left to do. He was starting to do it. Never seen him happier. He meant a lot of good for our league, especially the competitive part.

"Sometimes things don't make sense. Sometimes you should just feel sad. We all have to be strong. We laughed and joked about the Mamba Mentality. We're all gonna need it now." 

Rivers wasn't the only coach who broke down in talking about Bryant.

Former Lakers associate head coach Brian Shaw, who won three NBA titles as one of Bryant's teammates and coached Bryant in the twilight of his career mourned his friend Sunday night on NBA TV

"I'm 53 years old. I've dealt with a lot death in my time," Shaw began. "One of the things that has helped me. ... My family died in a car accident in 1993. One of the things that kept me going is that while we were here, we lived. We made a lot of memories together. When they're gone, that's all that you have — are the memories that you made while you were here.

“For those Kobe fans that are out there, that are feeling like I feel right now, just try and think of all the joy that he brought you.”