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Wolves pay tribute to Kobe Bryant in 1st game since his death

Bryant, 41, was killed in a helicopter crash Sunday near Los Angeles.
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In their first game since the tragic, unexpected death of Kobe Bryant, the Timberwolves paid homage to the NBA great before and during Monday night's game against the Sacramento Kings at Target Center. 

"Our hearts and condolences are with their families, of everyone involved in the tragedy," said Karl-Anthony Towns in an address to the crowd before a video tribute was played inside the arena. "Thank you so much for being here with us in the time of all of us mourning as a brotherhood."

To start the game, Wolves guard Andrew Wiggins set the basketball down at the free-throw line and accepted an 8-second violation, honoring the No. 8 Bryant wore for the Lakers. The ball was purposely placed at the free-throw line inside Target Center, precisely wear Bryant made a free throw in a 2014 game to pass Michael Jordan on the NBA's all-time scoring list. 

Sacramento then took the ball suit by accepting a 24-second shot-clock violation, serving as a tribute to the No. 24 Bryant also wore. 

Additionally, Towns and Robert Covington wore Nos. 24 and 8, respectively, during the pregame tribute. 

Bryant, 41, died Sunday along with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, when his private helicopter crashed in foggy conditions in the hills of Calabasas, approximately 30 miles from Los Angeles. 

In 64 career regular-season games against Minnesota, Bryant averaged 24.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists. The memory most diehard Wolves fans will recall, however, is when a 25-year-old Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal ended the best season in Minnesota franchise history when they eliminated the Wolves from the 2003-04 Western Conference Finals in six games. 

Bryant averaged 24.3 points, four rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.5 steals in the series to help the Lakers reach the NBA Finals, where they lost in five games to the Detroit Pistons. 

After learning of Bryant's death Sunday, Kevin Garnett paid tribute to his rival and friend on Instagram, writing, "I'M CRUSHED." 

"The news of your passing not only numbed my body, but everyone’s around me," Towns posted to on Instagram. "I grew up idolizing you and wanting to just have the chance to meet you. Never in my wildest dreams, did I think I would not only meet you but compete against you."

Similar sentiments came from Wiggins, who said he grew up admiring Bryant's style of play and felt it was an honor and privilege to "hear the way you spoke about me at a such a young age in my career." 

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