Lakers Coach Frank Vogel Says the Team's Bond 'Has Strengthened' After Kobe Bryant's Tragic Death
"And that will continue to be the case," Frank Vogel told PEOPLE
As the world of basketball continues to mourn the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, are coming together in his honor.
At a press conference ahead of their game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday, head coach Frank Vogel opened up about how the dynamic among the players on the team has changed.
When asked to name a time within the last few days that he felt the team’s bond and spirit was exemplified, Vogel told PEOPLE, “I think the first time we came together on Wednesday.”
“[We] put some shooting work in then we spent time together upstairs with our lunch. Really, each day that we’ve gotten together the bond has strengthened and that will continue to be the case,” Vogel said.
It was also at this lunch, according to multiple outlets, that LeBron James offered words of support to his teammates, saying, “God gave me wide shoulders for a reason,” The Bleacher Report and Slam Online reported.
Vogel made his first public comment on Wednesday, revealing how the team found out about Bryant’s death. The NBA legend was 41.
He said the last two days have been “extremely emotional.”
“I’m around the people closest with Kobe throughout his time here,” he said. “It’s been just a deeply saddening time for all of us.”
Drafted by the NBA at 17 in 1996, Bryant spent his entire 20-year career with the Lakers where he led the team to five NBA championships and became the youngest player to score 30,000 points.
Vogel recalled pulling aside each player on his team during a flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles to inform them of Bryant’s passing, describing the process as a “daunting task” to take on as a coach.
“Some of them had seen the reports and some had not,” he remembered. “It was a daunting task of grabbing each guy one-on-one and letting them know.”
RELATED: Lakers Coach Frank Vogel Describes How the Team Found Out About Kobe Bryant’s DeathAs PEOPLE previously reported, the NBA postponed the Lakers’ game against the L.A. Clippers that was initially scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 28 out of respect for those grieving.
Instead of practicing, the Lakers gathered that day for some “therapeutically beneficial” teamwork.
“I wanted our guys to come in mentally free,” Vogel said. “But to just sweat, touch the ball, to be around each other and then we had a lunch where we all spent time together and grieved together.”
He continued, “It’s just strengthened what we’ve felt all year about our current group.”
“We’ve become a family in a very short time. It’s something you talk about in the NBA with your teams. But this group in particular has really grown to love each other very rapidly. We understand the importance and the opportunity that we have this year. This has just brought us closer together.”
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, a budding basketball star herself, were on their way to a youth basketball game in Thousand Oaks when their helicopter crashed into a California mountain.
Bryant is survived by wife Vanessa, 37, and their daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.
Vanessa broke her silence on Wednesday, writing on Instagram, “We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring husband, Kobe — the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet Gianna — a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to Natalia, Bianka, and Capri.”
“We are also devastated for the families who lost their loved ones on Sunday, and we share in their grief intimately. There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now,” she continued. “I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon.”