Tiger, Federer, Gretzky, Messi, LeBron, Kobe. Athletes who reach the pinnacle of their sport are often known by one name worldwide. Their influence transcends the world of athletic competition and empowers them to become pop culture icons. Even for those who don’t follow sports, the few syllables by which they identify are impossible to mistake.
Sunday morning, the basketball community lost one of the greatest players to ever grace the hardwood as Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other passengers passed away in a tragic helicopter accident. The news broke midday, and the impact of his death left the hearts of fans, coaches, and players alike heavy with grief.
Although rumors of the NBA canceling games swirled around social media, the league elected to proceed with the scheduled contests. While that decision upset several people, in a certain way, it felt like the right move to honor a man who embodied Mamba Mentality. A man who went to the free-throw line with a torn Achilles, played through the pain of a dislocated finger, and scored 60 points in the swan song of his career.
The loss of Kobe Bryant was surreal because he was larger than life character who the very superstars we idolize revered with the utmost respect and admiration. He reminded us of our own mortality and how precious those close to us should be. And though it was far from the most important event of the day, a 3:00 PM basketball game happened, and we learned a few lessons along the way, even if some of them had nothing to do with putting the little orange sphere in a basket.
- The contest started with a sincerely heartfelt gesture from the Spurs and Raptors as both squads purposefully allowed the 24-second shot clock to expire in honor of the number 24 Kobe Bryant wore during the second half of his 20-year career. On the possession immediately following the violations, Toronto swung the ball to Kyle Lowry, who bricked a corner three that got stuck on top of the backboard. Then, Fox Sports Southwest color commentator Bill Land spoke a few words that left me teary-eyed. “It’s like the ball paying tribute...Kobe’s like, wait a minute, that’s my possession.”
Right after the Raptors&Spurs honored Kobe by running out the shot clock, the ball got stuck on the backboard. Sean Elliott & Bill Land made a light-hearted joke that it was Kobe's possession. Trey Lyles of the Spurs helped bring the ball down. He wears #41 -- Kobe's age. Chills. pic.twitter.com/2iz1tKxeb4— g (@hashtag_gracy) January 27, 2020
- Tim Duncan, Becky Hammon, and Sean Elliot shed tears before the contest, but perhaps no one in attendance was more directly affected than DeMar DeRozan. The All-Star guard is a lead ambassador of Kobe’s signature shoe line, and he molded his game after the legendary scorer. He was understandably sluggish out of the gates and tallied just 6 points through three quarters. Demar came alive in the last three minutes, but his efforts weren’t enough to carry San Antonio to victory. His emotional postgame comments were touching, and they showed how much Kobe Bryant meant to him as a role model.
"Take Kobe away I wouldn't be here..."— John Elizondo (@johndelizondo) January 26, 2020
L.A. native DeMar DeRozan talks about the impact Kobe Bryant had on him, and how both teams came up with the 24-second violation tribute. pic.twitter.com/I6ex1flXPC
- ”Good game. Tough loss. Who cares?” Those were the first words from head coach Gregg Popovich after the game, and I wholeheartedly agree. The Silver and Black had an opportunity to win on Sunday afternoon, but familiarly they were plagued by a slow start and a weak finish. San Antonio trailed by as many as 19 points in the first half and led by 8 points in the final frame. It was their second straight failed comeback attempt, and it cost them another game in the standings. You can be upset, or you can be understanding. Sure, every player on the floor had to endure the pain of losing an NBA legend, but no one grieves in the same manner. It was a lot to ask the players to perform so soon after the report was released, and many thanks should be headed their direction for fulfilling their contractual obligation to our entertainment despite the circumstances.
“Good game, tough loss, who cares.” - Popovich— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) January 27, 2020
- Kobe Bryant was never my favorite player. It wasn’t because I hated the way he played, I just dreaded seeing the Black Mamba share the floor with the Spurs. You knew he was liable to torch San Antonio’s defense every time he touched the rock. And when it came to the playoffs, the Lakers and Spurs dynasties took turns stealing titles from one another. The two franchises put together some of the best postseason battles I’ve ever witnessed, and Kobe’s 45 points in Game 1 of the 2001 Western Conference Finals set a tone that enabled Los Angeles to sweep the series. Though Kobe made me grit my teeth and pound my fists with rage, I wouldn’t be the Spurs fan I am today without the heartbreak he caused. Thank you, Kobe Bean Bryant, for every memorable basketball moment you procured in Purple and Gold. Even the ones that came at the expense of the Silver and Black.