Yesterday’s game between the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs was overshadowed, rightly, by the news that Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others had been killed in a helicopter crash.
I can’t imagine how hard it was for the players to play yesterday, but I can tell you that it was incredibly difficult to concentrate on the game and take the notes I normally would to make this column work.
So, let’s do it a little differently.
Eight thoughts on last night: Raptors 110, Spurs 106
1. This was so lovely. Things like this always get me:
I’m so glad these guys have each other and that the NBA is such a close-knit group.
2. Perfect tribute. The opening tribute — both teams allowing the 24-second clock to run down — was perfect. It was wonderful as well to see other teams do the same later in the day, and take 8-second violations as well.
3. How do we even judge this game? The Raptors let another double-digit lead slip away, but, is that because of bad habits, or the difficulty of playing at all yesterday? I think we can let it slide.
4. Aggressive Pascal is back. Seeing Pascal Siakam attack without hesitation in the first quarter was so welcome. And I don’t just mean attacking the hoop — I mean stepping into his shots with purpose, whereas all too often lately he looked indecisive before settling for a fall-away.
5. Not sure zone is the right call against the Spurs. People think San Anotonio isn’t a three-point shooting team because they employ DeMar DeRozan, but, the Spurs will take threes when the opportunity is there — and they’re pretty good shooters, too. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that they demolished Toronto’s zone in the third quarter with a barrage of threes.
6. Lowry-Siakam PnR? Yes please. Down the stretch the Raptors ran a couple of plays where Kyle Lowry screened for Pascal Siakam, something I definitely want to see Toronto do more of. Forcing teams to switch that seems like a no-brainer to me.
7. Speaking of Lowry screens. This was one of my favourite plays last night:
Lowry is wide open and instead of pouting about not getting a shot, or vacating, or getting into rebounding position... he tries to set a screen to get Serge Ibaka an open dunk.
8. Lowry time. How about Lowry’s winning play, knocking the ball away from Dejounte Murray in the final seconds to help the Raptors retain possession and seal the win. Lowry tries that all the time, and it rarely works, but now you know why he does it.
24 thoughts on Kobe Bryant
1. The show must go on. I think it would have been appropriate the cancel yesterday’s games, but I also understand how difficult that would be, especially those early games. I think the way the players and teams responded was perfect, and I give them a huge amount of credit for finding ways to both honor Kobe and find the strength to play.
2. Too young. Kobe was the first NBA player I watched who was younger than I was. In 1996, up to that point, every player was older, but now I was 19, and here was this 18-year old playing the NBA. When you’re a kid, the players are older — they’re grown-ups. When you’re my age now, they’re all kids. But there’s a point where it flips, and Kobe was that point for me. That makes it even harder to believe that he’s gone.
3. Only 13. It’s just so heartbreaking to me that the world should lose a 13-year-old this way, on her way to a game. Life truly is too short. RIP, Gianna.
4. No, really. So young. Of course we remember people how we last saw them, so Kobe is mostly older Kobe in my mind. But, seeing some of those Kobe highlights now, from that first game and first season, my God, Kobe is so young. He’s so small! I know it took him a couple seasons to find his game, but it’s incredible he was able to compete at all at that age.
5. 81. Just the other day, the anniversary of Kobe’s 81-point game, while the broadcast showed highlights, my wife incredulously asked — “did he really score 81 points? In one game?!” (She wasn’t an NBA fan back then.) It reminded me that, although we take such feats for granted (or try to ignore them because they happened against our team)... we really shouldn’t. Her reaction proves just how absolutely insane that number was, and remains. 81 points!
6. 40-point streak. The other thing I always think of right away with Kobe was the 40-pont game streak — when he scored 40+ nine games in a row in 2003. Again, I think we might be a bit numb to this now, because James Harden scores 40 regularly, but back then — pre-three point revolution — it was just incredible. This was before League Pass and Twitter and smartphones, when we only got a couple games a week on TV — and of course these were mostly West coast games — so I remember waking up and immediately logging on to my computer to check the box scores to see if... yes, he did it again!
7. Leave it out there. I think the other thing I’ll take away from Kobe is just how hard he played. It’s something else I think we take for granted; oh, these guys are paid millions to play 80 games, they should go hard every night. Well, it’s easy to say, but rarely do we see it... but we sure did with Kobe. That guy never stopped.
8. Work hard at what you love. I couldn’t stop thinking about this tweet from Woz:
Kobe Bryant was asked how he wanted to be remembered after his last game in Toronto back in 2016: pic.twitter.com/4I0BLmji9F— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) January 27, 2020
I think this idea of hard work is one that offers a mixed message. We’re told that if you work hard you can accomplish anything, which, ultimately, isn’t really true. But I think what Kobe is saying, or what I take from that quote at least, is that you should work hard not to accomplish something, but just for yourself, that the reward is in the hard work and the accomplishment is the internal pride and feeling that it gives you.
9. Do it for you. So I would say that, if you’re looking for a way to honor Kobe, find something you love and work at it. Don’t do it because you want to get a raise or a better title, or because your family expects it or to impress your friends or because Kobe Bryant says hard work matters... just do it for you. And take pride and joy in it.
10. Inspiration. I do think that “hard work” legacy was absolutely passed on to players during the 2008 Olympics. A number of players from that team have told stories of how hard Kobe worked and how it inspired them to work that much harder themselves. That seems a fitting legacy for a guy that never quit.
11. Oh, that Gold Medal game! That reminds me, that 2008 Gold Medal game against Spain was also another unforgettable Kobe performance. Spain just wouldn’t go away, and it looked the US was about to lose its focus, when Kobe came in and settled them down, drained a bunch of clutch Js, and ran away with the game in the final minutes. There wasn’t a dramatic game winner or anything, just a true pro coming in and winning.
12. Keep 24 (and 8). Some talk has already popped up of retiring Kobe’s number league-wide, and I don’t think the league should do that. For a number of reasons, but mostly because I think there are many current players, and future players, who wear 24 because Kobe inspires them. And I think that’s a better way of honouring Kobe — to let players play tribute to him by wearing his number — than saying no one can ever wear it again.
13. All-Star numbers. that said, I think this idea is perfect:
An idea the NBA should consider: Team LeBron should wear No. 8. Team Giannis, No. 24. All of them.— Chris Mannix (@SIChrisMannix) January 26, 2020
14. What if... Shaq and Kobe? Kobe’s career conjures a number of what-if scenarios. First and foremost, what if Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe had been able to play together and stay together? Would Kobe have six rings — and would we look at them the same, if he “only” did it with Shaq?
15. What if... Phil? Imagine if Phil Jackson hadn’t temporarily retired that first time, or retired again the second time? Even without Shaq, I don't think the Lakers would have had those aimless years they had before Phil came back (and the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol). Does Kobe have six then?
16. What if... Steve Nash? This one really gets me. Kobe never played with a great point guard. Maybe it never would have worked — Kobe liked having the ball —but I sure would have liked to have seen it. If a younger, healthier Steve Nash had been a Laker, or Kobe had gone to the Suns... heck, maybe it would have extended Kobe’s career, if he didn’t have to carry such a load.
17. What if... Kobe elsewhere? Along those lines, can you even imagine Kobe Bryant in a different uniform? There were near-trades and even a public trade request, plus a few free agency summers, so it’s not like it was impossible... but now, man, I can’t even picture Kobe in a Suns or Pistons uniform. Everything about Kobe just screams “Lakers” — and vice-versa.
18. Curtain call. In the moment, I have to admit I rolled my eyes at Kobe’s final game. 50 shots!? Come on, man. But, we’ll never, ever forget that, will we? Does the score even matter? Everyone in that building, fans and players (on both teams) were absolutely enthralled. 60 points, at age 37!
19. Scorer’s mentality. That 60-point game was appropriate, then, because I think, like many people, what I’ll remember most about Kobe was just that pure scorer’s mentality. Or Mamba Mentality, as he would put it. My memory banks don’t feature any great Kobe passes or rebounds, not even really any dunks, just fade-aways, spin moves, baseline Js, head-fakes-into-leaners... that full arsenal of Jordan-like moves that showcased Kobe’s ability to get a shot off, anytime and anywhere, that, no matter the degree of difficulty, always seemed like it was going to drop through the net.
20. Post-career success. I think it’s incredible that Kobe seemed so at peace with himself after retiring. So many players, especially great players, have a hard time walking away and finding themselves after retiring. For Kobe, it seemed as easy as you or I switching jobs. One day he was a ball player, the next he was a content producer (and coach, and dad). I hope today’s players take that lesson to heart as well — to set something up for themselves when they’re done playing, that fulfills them.
21. Complicated legacy. It’s not easy to talk about at this time, but Kobe’s rape trial is part of his history and his legacy. I don’t even think I’m qualified to write on it, so I’ll point you to @AnnaJaneSmith4’s thoughtful Twitter thread, which summed up my feelings well. Please give it a read. And please make it a point to seek out other voices writing and speaking about Kobe today and in the days ahead, especially those of women.
22. More than one thing. When someone dies it’s almost impossible to sum up their life, whether you have a whole newspaper obituary, a list of thoughts or a single tweet. But human beings are more than their worst, or their best. Kobe was a great basketball player, and he also had sex with a woman without her consent. He was also everything in between, a husband and father, a son, and I’m sure he stubbed his toe or forgot his phone in the car or spilled his coffee on his shirt, all the same shit we all do. He was a human being.
23. Empathy. People can be, and can mean, different things to different people. If you can't look past the sexual assault case, that’s OK. If you see a basketball player, that’s OK too — and if you think he’s the GOAT or a flawed superstar, all are valid. If you’re simply heartbroken for his family, that’s also valid. I would hope, ultimately, that you respond to the news of his passing in whatever way feels appropriate to you, and you allow others the space to do the same.
24. Final image. I think we’ll all always have that image of Kobe and Gianna from that Nets game in December, talking animatedly on the sideline. It’s an incredibly sad, and bittersweet, image, now. But if that must be the world’s final memory of them, I think, ultimately, it’s a good one: Here are these two people, father and daughter, sharing something they love. We should all cherish such moments.