Las Vegas basketball coach talks about day Kobe Bryant killed in helicopter crash

Posted at 1:48 PM, Jan 26, 2021

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the seven other people in the helicopter were on their way to a basketball tournament in Southern California.

Other teams in the same tournament got the tragic news, as they were in the middle of games, including one local team playing in the tournament.

“It’s one of those things that you don’t forget,” said Erin Thorn, former WNBA player and coach for the Erin Thorn Elite Basketball Club.

Jan. 26, 2020, will always be a tough day for Thorn and her Erin Thorn Elite team.

“It’s not that it’s 9/11, but it’s a 9/11-type of event where you remember exactly where you were, what you said, what was done, who you were with. It’s one of those defining moments,” said Thorn.

The day certainly didn’t start out that way.

Coach Thorn’s team was on the court competing for a championship at the Mamba Cup Tournament Series in Calabasas, California.

All action was about to come to a standstill.

“One of my parents came over and sat down on my bench next to me on my right-hand side,” said Thorn. “It was like, ‘coach, coach.’ And I was like, ‘what the heck is this parent doing on my bench?’”

“I just went to sit next to her and showed her the phone,” said Maria Martinez, whose daughter plays for the ETE basketball club. “I didn’t want to tell her, so I just showed her the phone and she turned pale.”

The game stopped. Both coaches decided it just didn’t matter at that moment.

Coach Thorn then had to give the news to her team.

“Just having to break the news of something like that to teenage girls, and be responsible and not phrase it the wrong way… it’s one of those moments where you have to be careful about how you put it out there,” said Thorn.

Players, parents and coaches were all in tears hugging each other, following the news.

“You could see all the kids crying, parents crying, coaches crying and hugging each other,” said Martinez. “It was very, very sad.”

Everyone joined in a huddle, kneeling while holding a moment of silence.

The games took a clear second to the fragility of life. Every player and coach came together no matter the color of the jersey they wore that day.

“We were hugging girls and coaches that weren’t even on our team,” said Thorn. “Just trying to make sure everybody was good.”

Parent Maria Martinez said her daughter struggled with accepting what happened.

“I don’t think she could process it really well at that moment,” she said. “They were just all confused, and basically, I just hugged her and we talked about it on our way back.”

In the days and weeks that followed, the ETE ball club took some time to remember and honor those who died, but also reflected on the situation.

As a teacher and coach of young girls, coach Thorn was grateful for what Kobe Bryant did for girls and women’s basketball.

She hopes everyone can continue to advocate for the importance of girls sports.