With a heavy heart, former Kobe Bryant teammate Trevor Ariza took to the court for Friday’s matchup between the Trail Blazers and Lakers. The 34-year-old veteran, who played in 106 regular season games with the Lakers, turned in 39 minutes of work in the Blazers’ 127-119 victory.
Following the game, Ariza told ESPN’s Marc Spears that the pregame ceremony was overwhelming.
“I couldn’t even control it. I had to go to the back,” Ariza said. “I was a little emotional. After Usher sang, I just left. I came back right before the starting lineup.”
Spears went on to reveal that the Blazers offered Ariza and Carmelo Anthony the option to sit out Friday’s visit to Los Angeles.
Ariza, meanwhile, had the option of sitting out the game. Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey spoke to head coach Terry Stotts about the possibility of giving Ariza and Carmelo Anthony the game off in Los Angeles because of their close relationships with Bryant, a source told The Undefeated. Stotts agreed that it was a good idea to give the two Blazers starters the option.
“It was a classy gesture and heartfelt,” said Ariza, who decided to play and was in the Blazers’ starting lineup.
Anthony, who had plans to meet up with Bryant during the trip, made the personal decision to pass on suiting for Friday’s game. Both Damian Lillard and Ariza explained their understanding of Anthony’s decision.
“For everybody it’s a little bit different,” Lillard said. “Melo and [Bryant] were really cool. [Anthony] felt a different way than I felt and other guys feel. This is bigger than basketball. Somebody lost their life. His friend of his lost his life. So, we respect him not wanting to come here.”
Said Ariza: “He has the right to make that decision. This is a tough situation right here.”
Regardless of how tough it was, Ariza went on to explain that he was happy that he decided to play on Friday.
“I’m definitely glad I played,” said Ariza, who played a key role on defense and limited LeBron James to 1-of-7 shooting while guarding him Friday. “It wasn’t easy to get locked in because of everything that was going on. Kobe was like a brother to me, for sure. We spent every day together as teammates on and off the floor, nonstop. All the time. The fact that he was always there for me for advice, losing him is very tough.”
Locked into a matchup against LeBron James, Ariza recorded two points, the lowest point total of his four-game tenure with the Blazers. Since arriving in Portland from Sacramento, Ariza is averaging 12.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
You can read the full post from Spears at The Undefeated.