LAS VEGAS — A somber Magic Johnson implored fans to “come together” and not let “evil and hate” stop people from coming to Las Vegas before the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings tried to entertain fans and take their minds off the shooting that took place here last Sunday.
“This is a tough situation for all of us,” Johnson, the Lakers team president, said as he addressed the crowd at the T-Mobile Arena on Sunday night before the Lakers-Kings preseason game. “We play this game, from Sacramento as well as from Los Angeles, with heavy hearts… last Sunday 58 people lost their lives, hundreds more were injured. We want to pray for the families who lost a loved one and want to support those families. And we want to also remember that it could have been one of us.”
“We want to make sure that evil and hate don’t stop us from coming to Las Vegas because this is a great city and we live in a great country,” added Johnson, who thanked the first responders and asked fans to lock arms and say a prayer for the victims and their families. “It doesn’t matter the color of your skin, it doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican, we have to come together and support everybody who was involved so make sure that you continue to pray for those families. It is very, very important.”
Lakers coach Luke Walton initially wondered if the Lakers and Kings game would still be played after Stephen Paddock fired hundreds of bullets from a 32nd floor suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino down into a crowd of 22,000 people attending a music festival on the Las Vegas strip, killing 58 and injuring at least 489 concertgoers last Sunday.
The teams — along with T-Mobile Arena, AEG and MGM Resorts International — decided to donate the proceeds from the game to benefit victims, families and first responders impacted by the tragic shooting on Oct. 1.
“It’s definitely different than any other time I’ve been here,” Walton said of how it felt to be in Las Vegas this weekend. “… It’s definitely a little strange [walking around] after what happened. I think it kind of shows why our country is so amazing and why our country needs a lot of help at the same time. You see both sides of it.
“I think the people out here coming together and standing up and making it work has been pretty impressive being only a week out from that event.”
Both teams wore black shirts before the game that had “#VegasStrong” written on them with the city skyline under it. Walton held a team meeting the day after the shooting last Monday to have players discuss their feelings about what happened.
Walton said his “god-sister” was injured in the shooting but is recovering at home now.
“I call her my god-sister,” Walton said. “She has bullet fragments in her leg. Obviously in the South Bay there’s the school teacher that got shot, someone who worked in the police force over there. There’s all sorts of stories you hear, that you either know them or you know people who do know them. So it touched everybody.”
Center Stephen Zimmerman, who is in Lakers training camp, moved to Las Vegas when he was six, played at Bishop Gorman High School and for one year at UNLV.
“There were Instagram stories and stuff of [friends] running and hiding,” Zimmerman said. “It’s intimidating. It’s scary to think about that someone you know [experienced] something like that. It hurts.”
“I sat there with my girlfriend… we were talking about it for a second… it hurts,” Zimmerman added. “It feels way more personal. It’s one of those things that’s like you never know how it feels until it happens to you and it feels like it happened to me. It’s kind of hard to describe.”
Walton said the right thing to do was for the Lakers and Kings to play the game.
“At first, I didn’t know what we were going to do, if we were going to come play at all,” Walton said. “Is it not right to do? I think it’s important that when tragedy like this happens, you don’t live in fear. You’ve got to keep life going, I think a lot of people here love basketball… They love the Lakers here like it’s their home team. And for them to come in here and just get away for a couple hours is going to be great for them.”