The score at halftime might have been mistaken for another tribute to Kobe Bryant: Lakers 81, Sacramento Kings 64.
It didn’t occur to the Lakers until after the game when they looked at the box score. They couldn’t help but wonder about the cosmic connection to the man who once scored 81 points in a game for the Lakers.
“I guess he’s with us,” Anthony Davis said.
“Like our angel at all times, there with us,” Avery Bradley said.
On Saturday, for the second night in a row, the Lakers played a game filled with tributes and memories, beating the Kings 129-113. The night before, they paid tribute to Bryant at Staples Center with videos, musical performances and other loving gestures. They know this will be their reality for the rest of the season — every arena they visit will pay tribute to Bryant, and so will they.
“We’re prepared for it,” LeBron James said. “We understand it, and we hope it happens every night, just because of the legacy that he’s left behind. But we’re prepared for it as a team, as an organization, and we’re gonna continue to get through it.”
At Golden 1 Center, a temporary memorial to Bryant had been placed outside for fans to sign. Before the game, James went onto the court for some shooting with his shorts rolled up so the Black Mamba tattoo he got last week was visible.
Several members of the Kings organization, including public address announcer Scott Moak, wore KOBE shirts. Moak told fans that this game wasn’t about a rivalry, it was about honoring a legend.
It started with a video during the first timeout that showed Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. The video took fans through Bryant’s whole career, ending with his final game in Sacramento — a city that hated him for most of his career for his part in the Kings’ most disappointing moments.
At another stoppage in play, the video board showed members of the Kings organization including Vlade Divac, a former Laker, and coach Luke Walton, who played with Bryant for 8½ years, as well as De’Aaron Fox, who spent time at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, discussing Bryant’s impact.
The next video featured Bryant’s top eight moments against the Kings — including two that knocked Sacramento out of the Western Conference finals.
“I’ve heard all the stories from both sides now, and there’s not a lot of love, but boy is there a lot of respect,” Walton said. “It’s Vlade and them, and their front office, this city, this organization has a lot of pride in their Kings, and it feels like very much a family. And they’re hurt. And they’re supportive, and they understand.”
In between the tributes, the Lakers played a spirited first half, as they often do on the second night of back-to-backs. They have yet to lose in such situations. The Lakers made nearly 60% of their three-pointers in the half, with Bradley making four of five in the first quarter.
The final three of the half came from Danny Green and gave them 81 points.
The Lakers (37-11) continued to dominate the Kings in the second half, and the planned tributes ceased after halftime. But Lakers fans in the building made their voices heard. With 7:41 left, a “Ko-be!” chant broke out. James promptly sank a three-pointer. He finished with 15 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Davis had a team-high 21 points.
“Hearing the ‘Ko-be,’ that was like the highlight of the night,” Bradley said.
Walton has been in touch with former teammates in the past week, including Jordan Farmar, Lamar Odom and Adam Morrison. He’s thought fondly about a time when he was coaching with Golden State and, while he went for a walk with his then-infant son, called Bryant for advice on James. Bryant talked for 30 minutes before taking a break.
As Walton and his old teammates remember Bryant, their conversations often turn to the downtime they shared. Like the time they tried to teach him “quarters,” a drinking game that involves bouncing quarters into cups.
“He was awful at it,” Walton said.
In typical Bryant fashion, though, he refused to accept being bad at even a drinking game. As Walton and the others hung out, Bryant was by himself practicing it.
Said Walton: “You start to feel a little better when you find yourself laughing and enjoying the memories.”