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The Sports Report: Remembering Kobe Bryant one year after his death

Kobe Bryant poses for pictures with his wife family in 2016.
Kobe Bryant poses for pictures with his wife Vanessa, left, and daughters Natalia, second from right, and Gianna as they stand on the court after an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in 2016.
(Associated Press)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. One year ago today, Kobe Bryant and eight others died when the helicopter he was in crashed.

Bill Plaschke on Kobe Bryant: It’s been a year now, and Kobe Bryant still comes to me in my dreams.

I was once walking down a curving path and there he was, standing on the side of the road, motioning me forward.

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In another dream, I was sitting at press row watching some serious sporting event when I felt his presence beside me, laughing, nudging me, trying to make me laugh.

I know how crazy this must sound. I understand how contrived this must feel. When I first began having these dreams last spring, I embarrassedly shared them with a colleague. He urged me to write about it, but I declined, saying nobody would believe me. At the time, I didn’t even know whether I believed me.

I’m reluctantly sharing them now because, on this first anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s death, enough has happened to convince me they’re real.

It’s been a year now, and I still can’t shake him.

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The long and hard dozen months since the Jan. 26, 2020, death of Kobe and daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash has revealed a very startling yet unsurprising thing about the fallen star.

He’s still here. He still lives among us. He’s in our daily struggles. He’s in our personal triumphs. He’s in our last-second defensive stops or buzzer-beating shots or wherever we require that Mamba Mentality. Even amid a pandemic in which nobody is supposed to be anywhere, Kobe is everywhere.

His last name is printed on jerseys that have become the city’s unofficial uniform. His first name is in chants that suddenly break out among socially distanced friends. His face is on city murals that have become drive-by tourist attractions. Is it any wonder he would show up in the middle of our sleep?

For many, his spirit floats through this town like our cool evening breeze, coming alive as darkness approaches to inspire, comfort and connect.

For others, that spirit is a nasty Santa Ana wind, enraging with memories of the rape charges, the youthful selfishness, the childish petulance.

But for all his failings, by the time of his death at age 41, Kobe Bryant had evolved into a loving husband, devoted father, powerful mentor, community leader and grateful superstar.

That is how he left us. That is what lives in us.

He came to Los Angeles as a kid, departed it as a man, and for those 24 years, we witnessed every painful and precocious bit of his growth. Right before our eyes. Directly into our living rooms. With equal parts shock and awe. We gasped at the mistakes and swooned at the dramatics and reveled in the journey.

It is the remarkable finished product of that terribly unfinished life that remains with us still.

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For a complete look at our coverage reflecting on the death of Kobe Bryant, please click here.

MORE LAKERS

Dan Woike on the Lakers: LeBron James meandered over to the Cleveland bench where he spotted an injured Kevin Love, his former teammate and friend with whom he won a NBA title. The two shared a multi-step handshake, definitely a coronavirus protocol breaker — but with their history, it could be forgiven.

And of all the people in the building, Love probably knew what was coming next.

With the Lakers and the Cavaliers fighting for an edge in the fourth quarter, James started splashing home jumpers from everywhere, and one of them, right in front of Love and the Cavaliers’ bench, sent the Cleveland forward walking for the locker room.

It was masterful offensive execution, the Lakers running their best possible play over and over again.

“We get out the way,” Lakers forward Anthony Davis said.

The Lakers had no business winning Monday. But then again, they have no business having a player as good as James, who lifted the Lakers from an offensive disaster and into a 115-108 win in Cleveland, the team’s 10th consecutive on the road to start the season.

It was the perfect city for this kind of offensive showcase, James making 19 of 26 shots from the field while hitting seven of 11 from three-point range, including a back-breaker from the logo at center court. He had 17 in the first quarter only to somehow get hotter near the finish line, dropping 21 on a helpless Cavaliers defense that watched him hit a trio of three-pointers in a six-possession stretch.

He finished with 46 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

CLIPPERS

The Clippers departed Monday for their six-game trip missing three starters, with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George absent after entering the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

Both will miss today’s game in Atlanta. They could rejoin their teammates during the trip, but that will depend on how long they remain in the protocols, according to a person with knowledge of the situation but not authorized to speak publicly.

Starting guard Patrick Beverley also remained in Los Angeles to rest his right knee after leaving Sunday’s win against Oklahoma City with soreness. No determination has been made about when he will rejoin the team, the person said.

The Clippers had one of the few rosters yet to be affected by the health and safety protocols, which were put in place this season to guard against transmission of the coronavirus. They can be initiated by positive tests, but also cover precautionary measures such as contact tracing or an inconclusive test.

MLB

Bill Shaikin on postponing spring training: With the rate of coronavirus infection higher in Arizona than in any other state in the country, the Cactus League has formally asked Major League Baseball to delay the start of spring training.

In a letter dated Friday and released Monday, the director of the Cactus League and mayors, city managers and tribal leaders of the nine Arizona communities that host 15 MLB teams asked that the league postpone spring training as the virus ravages the Phoenix area.

“As leaders charged with protecting public health, and as committed, longtime partners in the spring training industry, we want you to know that we stand united on this point,” the letter reads.

Arizona has the highest per-capita rate of infection in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are grateful to MLB for its partnership and unified in our commitment to provide a safe, secure environment; to that end, the task force has worked to ensure that ballparks are able to meet COVID-19 protocols such as pod seating, social distancing and contactless transactions,” the letter reads.

MLS

Kevin Baxter on MLS: Major League Soccer teams will open preseason training camps Feb. 22 and kick off the 26th regular season on April 3, a month later than normal, the league announced Monday.

The schedule will return to 34 games with the regular season ending Nov. 7 and the playoffs beginning 12 days later. The MLS Cup will be played Dec. 11, a day earlier than last year’s final. The Dec. 12 date for the 2020 championship game was the latest in MLS history.

Individual team schedules will be released at a later date.

UCLA FOOTBALL

Ben Bolch on UCLA football: UCLA has received a verbal commitment from Cam Johnson, a graduate transfer cornerback from North Texas who is taking advantage of NCAA eligibility rules granting all players an extra year of eligibility after playing in 47 games over the last four seasons for the Mean Green.

Johnson made his announcement on Twitter, adding a picture of palm trees in front of a nighttime downtown Los Angeles skyline. In nine games last season, the 5-foot-11, 182-pound Johnson made 49 tackles, including 1½ for loss, to go with one interception, one forced fumble and three pass breakups.

USC FOOTBALL

Ryan Kartje on USC football: When USC hired Chris Claiborne last spring, the former Trojan great was viewed as a superstar addition to the team’s quality control staff. As it turns out, USC wasn’t the only Pac-12 team that thought so.

Claiborne agreed Monday to become Arizona State’s linebackers coach, the Times has learned. The former All-American linebacker will leave USC for a full-time role in Tempe after spending less than a year on the Trojans staff.

A larger role for Claiborne on USC’s staff might have been within reach in the not-so-distant future. But defensive coordinator Todd Orlando currently bears the responsibility of coaching the Trojans linebackers. A Butkus Award winner at the position, Claiborne had been listed as an offensive quality control assistant during his short tenure at USC.

CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: In furthering the development of Justin Herbert, the Chargers are turning to a coach who has spent more than a decade working alongside Drew Brees.

Joe Lombardi is the team’s new offensive coordinator under head coach Brandon Staley, who was hired last week.

The Chargers also announced the additions of Renaldo Hill as defensive coordinator and Derius Swinton II as special teams coordinator Monday as Staley continued to build his initial staff.

Lombardi, 49, spent the previous five years and 10 of the last 12 as New Orleans’ quarterbacks coach, winning Super Bowl XLIV with the Saints following the 2009 season.

RAMS

Gary Klein on the Rams: The Rams signed quarterback Devlin Hodges to a reserve/future contract, the team announced Monday.

In 2019, as an undrafted rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Hodges played in eight games after Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph suffered injuries. He went 3-3 as a starter, passing for 1,063 yards and five touchdowns, with eight interceptions. He was on the Steelers practice squad last season.

Also Monday, cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant agreed to terms to become defensive backs coach and defensive passing game coordinator for the Detroit Lions, said a person with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Pleasant is the third Rams employee to depart for the Lions in the last two weeks, joining former college scouting director Brad Holmes, who was hired as the Lions’ general manager, and former director of pro scouting Ray Agnew, whom Holmes hired as assistant general manager.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1913 — Jim Thorpe gives up his track medals from the 1912 Olympic games as a result of his having been a professional. He had been paid $25 for playing in a semipro baseball game.

1951 — Jimmie Foxx and Mel Ott are elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

1955 — Joe DiMaggio is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

1960 — Pete Rozelle is chosen the new commissioner of the National Football League.

1985 — Edmonton’s Wayne Gretzky scores his 50th goal in the 49th game of the season, a 6-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

1986 — The Chicago Bears win their first NFL championship since 1963 by setting a Super Bowl-record for points scored in defeating the New England Patriots 46-10.

1991 — Houston guard Vernon Maxwell joins Wilt Chamberlain, David Thompson and George Gervin as the only players in NBA history to score 30 points or more in a quarter. Maxwell scores 30 of his career-high 51 points in the fourth period to help Houston beat Cleveland 103-97.

1992 — The Washington Redskins win their third Super Bowl in 10 years, beating the Buffalo Bills 37-24, putting the game away with 24 straight points after a scoreless first quarter.

1997 — The Green Bay Packers, behind big plays, beat the New England Patriots 35-21 in the Super Bowl. Brett Favre finds Andre Rison for a 54-yard touchdown on the Packers’ second offensive play, then throws an 81-yard TD pass to Antonio Freeman in the second quarter. Desmond Howard, the first special teams MVP, scores on a 99-yard kickoff return to put away the Patriots.

2002 — Jennifer Capriati produces the greatest comeback in a Grand Slam final to overcome Martina Hingis and defend her Australian Open title. Capriati saved four match points before clinching a 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2 victory over Hingis.

2007 — Mark Recchi scores two goals, including the 500th of his career, in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 shootout win over Dallas.

2007 — Martin Brodeur makes 28 saves, extending his NHL record for consecutive 30-win seasons to 11, as the New Jersey Devils beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0.

2008 — Mirai Nagasu becomes the second-youngest woman to win the title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The 4-foot-11 14-year-old falls on her opening jump, a double axel, but lands six triple jumps, three in combination, in her program.

2013 — Victoria Azarenka wins her second consecutive Australian Open title, beating Li Na 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. Mike and Bob Bryan become the most decorated doubles team in Grand Slam history by winning their 13th major title, beating Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling 6-3, 6-4 in 53 minutes.

2013 — Ashley Wagner became the first woman since Michelle Kwan in 2005 to win back-to-back titles in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Earlier, Olympic silver medalists and 2011 world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White win their fifth straight dance title, matching a U.S. record.

2014 — Stan Wawrinka holds off an injured Rafael Nadal to win his first Grand Slam title with a 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory in the Australian Open final.

2020 — Retired Lakers star Kobe Bryant and eight others are killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas.

And finally

The Green Bay Packers win the 1997 Super Bowl. Watch it here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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