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Newsletter: Memory of Kobe Bryant remains as Lakers move forward

Fans write personal memorials for Lakers legend Kobe Bryant at L.A. Live on Jan. 31, 2020.
Fans write personal memorials for Lakers legend Kobe Bryant at L.A. Live last week.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your Lakers newsletter.

Things started to feel normal at Thursday night’s Lakers game. It was trade deadline day. Free-agent guard Darren Collison was there. The team played a competitive game against a Houston Rockets team it might see again in the playoffs. But as it is sure to be with every game this season, the memory of Kobe Bryant remained.

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We haven’t had a newsletter since Bryant’s death two weeks ago when his helicopter crashed into a Calabasas hillside. He died along with eight other people. His 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and her teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, also 13, were on the flight too. Alyssa’s parents, John and Keri Altobelli, were with her, as was Payton’s mother Sarah, Christina Mauser, who coached with Bryant, and Ara Zobayan, the pilot.

It was Bryant’s version of a carpool from Orange County to Thousand Oaks, where they had a basketball game later that day.

Bryant’s death shook the NBA world because of its suddenness, because of what he meant to so many players and coaches around the league, and because to many of them he seemed invincible.

His death shook the city and fans everywhere because of how connected people felt to him.

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What Kobe meant to Lakers players

There were personal connections of different kinds throughout the Lakers’ locker room.

LeBron James had passed Bryant on the all-time scoring list the night before his death. Bryant called him after the game to congratulate him. James grew up idolizing Bryant, but Bryant wasn’t much for mentoring young players while he was playing. Only in the late stages of his career and after he retired did he open himself up to many of the players who wanted his advice. In the last few years, James had started to have the kind of relationship with Bryant that he’d always wanted.

Anthony Davis was one of the few young players Bryant mentored, drawn to Davis’ attitude and hunger for learning as a 19-year-old on the U.S. Olympic team in 2012. Davis smiled after last Friday’s game as he recalled a story from that summer when Bryant chided him for a uniform mixup.

Byrant’s death made Quinn Cook think about his father, who was a big Lakers fan but died when Cook was 14.

Dwight Howard seemed to take it harder than many.

“It wasn’t because we were close, close friends, it’s just like, man, I just never thought that it’d be Kobe,” Howard said. “… I just never thought that somebody like that would be gone. And it’s something that, you know, I just tell people, if you have any bitterness or anger, whatever, strife towards anybody, let it go. Let them know how you feel. Get those feelings out.”

It took Howard about a week and a half to feel ready emotionally to address reporters. When he did, it was clear he still was working through his feelings. He felt like he and Bryant finally had been able to understand each other better. He’d spent all season trying to show Bryant that he had grown from the one season they played together and was committed to doing whatever it took to help the Lakers win a championship. He mentioned a few times after Tuesday’s game that he’d started to wear Bryant’s shoes this season.

I’ve been asked a few times why this would be harder for the Lakers than for any other team. The above notes tell part of the story. But there is also this: They are now part of the tribute. This will be a yearlong memorial for Bryant, which started with a beautifully orchestrated series of tributes last Friday when they played their first game at Staples Center since Bryant’s death. They’ll see tribute videos at other arenas. They’ll hear fans chanting “Ko-be.”

The Lakers say they are both ready for this and welcome it. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be hard.

Since we last spoke ...

  • The L.A. Times has written hundreds of stories covering every angle of Bryant’s death and legacy, the helicopter crash, the lives of the victims and tributes to them. They can all be found here. The Times has also published a magazine that includes all of our coverage, if you’d like to have one a hard copy.
  • In this newsletter I discussed the impact that Bryant had on some of the Lakers players. But there’s another side we don’t talk about as much. There are dozens of employees and executives who work for the Lakers who knew Bryant — some of them very well. They had to do their jobs without much of a break too. The team helped by offering them grief counseling. I wrote about their challenge.
  • When players weren’t yet ready to speak, coach Frank Vogel did it for them. He had seen his team coming together even more.
  • LeBron James has been an impressive leader for the Lakers as they work through this. He took to the microphone before the Lakers’ first game after Bryant’s death and gave a very memorable speech. He had a piece of paper in his hands, but ditched it and announced to the crowd that he’d rather speak from the heart.
  • The Lakers pulled off a very touching and grandiose memorial to Bryant that night, with musical performances and video tributes. Fans were given shirts to wear that had 8 on the front and 24 on the back.
  • Vanessa Bryant requested the non-perishable items that were left outside Staples Center for Bryant be collected. When the folks at L.A. Live boxed it all up, there were thousands. They plan to store them until they receive further direction from Bryant’s family.
  • The Lakers had a cathartic moment in their win against the San Antonio Spurs — a joyful reminder of the kind of team they have been all season.
  • Amid all this was the looming trade deadline. New York Knicks forward Marcus Morris was one of the better players available, but the Clippers pounced on him despite the Lakers’ interest.
  • Thursday night the Lakers lost to the Houston Rockets, and sitting with co-owner Jeanie Buss in the second row was Darren Collison. It was significant that the UCLA alumnus was there because he is retired and expected to return to the NBA after the All-Star game. If he does, Collison is expected to choose between the Lakers and the Clippers.
Until next time...
As always, pass along your thoughts to me at tania.ganguli@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!


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