Sunday was Kobe Bryant’s birthday and he would have been 42, but he died on Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash along with daughter Gianna and seven others, leaving a giant hole in Lakers nation that the 2019-20 team has been reflecting on and carrying with them in the Western Conference playoffs.
“We’re all still very sad about his loss and Gigi’s loss," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said on a video call Sunday. "It’s just a tough thing for all of us to handle and to go through. I’m grateful for the support he showed in me being here.”
The Lakers, who will take the court Monday with a 2-1 series lead over the Portland Trail Blazers, have been playing with the sense that the season is all about Bryant's legacy.
“That’s been with us all year,” Vogel said. “I don’t think it’s going to be that different tomorrow. We’re competing at a high level to win. It’s been important to us all season to embody what he stood for and represent it and to exhibit that Mamba Mentality. So maybe it will be exemplified some tomorrow, but it’s really been with us every step of the way.”
The Lakers announced Monday morning they will wear jerseys honoring Kobe and Gianna Bryant that night.
When the Lakers break their huddle, they finish up by saying “1-2-3, Mamba.”
“His name comes up every single day,” JR Smith said. “We chant his name after every break, after every huddle. We always speak of his memory, we speak of his mind-set, how we can attach that to our team as individuals to collectively come together for this one common goal that we’re all trying to strive to get. If there was anybody who led by example more than ... somebody like Bron [LeBron James] that I’ve played with I’ve seen in the pros, it was somebody like Kobe Bryant. So we take everything with his name as gold.”
Smith receives backlash
The Lakers crossed out “Great Again” and had stitched the words, “Arrest The Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor” on the caps that they wore before Game 1 of the playoffs on Tuesday.
Smith told the media during his videoconference call Sunday that he gets “a lot of backlash off anything” he does anyway but he got more “for sure” because the Lakers and the NBA have been vocal in supporting social equality for Black and people of color and for seeking justice for police brutality.
“So many people, it’s almost like the country is split into two whether Black Lives Matter or they don’t,” Smith said. “So many people in my comments and stuff like that saying All Lives Matter and all this other stuff. People just don’t get it. I don’t stop and dwell on that. I just keep trucking and keep pushing the message and hopefully somebody hears me.”
Taylor was shot eight times by police officers who smashed into her Louisville, Ky., home using a no-knock warrant in March during a narcotics investigation. Though no drugs were found, no officers have been arrested for Taylor’s death.
Turner reported from Los Angeles.