An hour before the Denver Nuggets went to battle against the Houston Rockets, the most worrisome aspect of the game was whether or not James Harden was going to play.

Just 30 minutes later, the National Basketball Association was leveled by the news that Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others had tragically died in a helicopter accident.

“This is one of those things where when I was growing up, your parents would tell you, ‘I remember when and where I was when John F. Kennedy got shot and when Dr. King got shot’,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone stated after the game. “Our players will always remember this day because of that news and losing somebody like that way before we should have lost them.”

The moment the news broke, Nuggets and Rockets players alike began looking at their phones in disbelief. Even after the game, nearly every Nuggets player who spoke to the media noted that they were unable to wrap their heads around Bryant’s death.

“To be honest, I couldn’t believe it,” Nikola Jokic said as he tried to find the words to explain the emotions he was feeling. “I had goosebumps. I was like ‘is this really happening?’ It is a huge loss for everybody and especially his family. It is a tragedy for sure. I don’t even know what to say.”

“We all look up to him,” Michael Porter Jr. said with tears welling in his eyes in front of his locker after the game. “I didn’t think it was real.”

“We were all in here and we just did not believe it at first,” Torrey Craig said when explaining his reaction. “We were all like, ‘no way, no way’. I was looking to try and see it was true or not. Once we realized it was true, it was just rough. It was devastating and a shock to everyone.”

“Just so in shock,” Will Barton III, who idolized Bryant growing up, told reporters. “I didn’t even believe it was true at first. I got a call from someone I knew that confirmed it and it’s heartbreaking.”

“I talked to him just two weeks ago so that makes it even more crazy,” Malik Beasley explained. “I don’t know what to say really.”

The inability to find the correct words to convey their emotions was a trend that was unable to be ignored in the Nuggets locker room after the game. Seemingly every member of Denver’s roster idolized Bryant so when the news of his passing came to light, the collective shock was overwhelming.

“All of the players in our locker room, Kobe is a guy that they all looked up to growing up,” Malone said after Denver’s 117-110 win over the Rockets. “Before the game, you could feel the shock and the sadness from the tragic news of him dying in that helicopter crash.”

It seemed impossible that Bryant had passed away so suddenly. He was a mutant among men; the type of individual who could not be stopped by anyone from reaching his goals no matter how lofty. Still, despite his otherworldly ways, Bryant was still human just like everyone else which meant that Bryant would eventually die just like anyone else, but for him to pass at the young age of 41 in such an unpredictable way was something that no one saw coming; let alone the absolutely horrific fact that his daughter Gianna was only 13 years old and will never get the chance of living out her dreams of playing in the WNBA.

“I think the way he was with his daughters and the way he was starting to get on that side, people were starting to see the impact he had in that situation with her playing ball and how good she was growing to be,” Monte Morris stated when discussing Gianna Bryant. “It’s a tough moment.”

Because of that legacy left behind by Bryant, the Nuggets made it a point to do what Kobe would do; battle with everything they had to find a way to win despite the chaos surrounding the matchup.

That was exactly Malone’s message to his team before they took the court to tip off against the Rockets.

“When you are hit by news like that, it kind of knocks you back,” Malone explained. “That was one of my challenges and I said that to our players. We have to find a way to get past that. We have to find a way to do our jobs. I give our guys credit because they were able to do that. I think once the game got going, we kind of forgot about it. We got back to doing our jobs. But it is such a tragic loss; I think we all feel that.”

Malone then went on to say, “I just challenged our guys to go out there and, if you want to pay tribute to Kobe Bryant, play the game the right way and play it hard — the way he approached every game of his illustrious career.”

That is exactly what Malone’s team did. Despite some very sloppy moments and the heartbreak that was felt by so many on both teams, Denver battled for all four quarters and escaped with their 32nd win of the season.

“We wanted to go out there and, since we had a game, just play hard, because we know that’s what he would do every game,” Barton explained.

“To be honest, when you think about Kobe, it is no excuses,” Jokic explained unflinchingly. “Nothing can put your mind away from what you love to do. That is the Mamba Mentality for sure.”

By the time the final buzzer mercifully sounded, the Nuggets beat the Rockets at Pepsi Center, but the game itself was meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Nine lives were lost on Sunday afternoon and while the world keeps on turning, it served as a reminder to hold loved ones a bit closer.

Honestly, don’t take my word for it. Just let Malik Beasley explain.

“You have to be thankful for the people you love,” Beasley stated. “I texted all my family members — from my son to my great great grandfather — ‘I love you’. And you have to be thankful for that.”