It has been a tremendously difficult week to be a member of the basketball community. On the afternoon of Sunday, January 26th, the world said goodbye to Kobe Bryant and his 14 year old daughter, Gigi; alongside friends John, Keri, and Alyssa Tobelli, coach Christina Mauser, and Ara Zobayan, who was flying the helicopter they all were on.
The legacy Kobe Bryant leaves is complicated and difficult but there’s no doubting that it is massive. The hole that the Bryants leaves in the basketball world is similarly massive, and it can be felt everywhere you look; in every game broadcast, in the 24 and 8 second on every basketball-head’s twitter, in your texts with your friends sharing the Kobe moment you loved most or loved most to hate. 81 points, his duels with MJ or LeBron, his rings with Shaq and Pau, his 60-point farewell, the time he called a referee a “fag”, his sexual assault trial, or his efforts to better himself and make amends on these transgressions that do not erase them, but must be recognized.
In the wake of the Bryants’ passing, we have seen several players take important and much needed time off in order to process their grief; but we have also seen players process their grief, and honor Kobe and Gigi, by playing some amazing basketball this week:
Trae Young had a special relationship with both Kobe and Gigi Bryant. After dropping 45 points in a game he dedicated to them on Sunday (he even began the game wearing the jersey number 8), Young spoke about his last conversation with Bryant, per the Associated Press. “He said how proud he was of me and how he wants me to continue to be a role model for kids growing up and for Gigi and all the kids looking up to me, to inspire these kids and continue to play my heart out.” Trae Young was, alongside Luka Doncic, one of Gianna Bryant’s favorite basketball players. She had attended two Hawks games this year to see him play.
Damian Lillard had a similarly dominant performance that night, dropping 50 points on the Indiana Pacers on 14-23 shooting shortly after learning of Bryant and Gianna’s deaths. Before the game, Lillard was asked about Kobe, saying “There’s definitely going to be a hole in this game going forward that can’t be replaced.” Fittingly, Lillard’s 158 points over the last three games places him on the list of most points scored in three straight games since the merger, a list led by Kobe Bryant (175 points, March 2007).
The UConn Huskies honored Gianna Bryant’s memory by dedicating a jersey with her number (2) on it before their game against Team USA proclaiming her “Forever a Huskie.” Gigi, nicknamed the “Mambacita,” had expressed interest in playing college ball as a member of the UConn Huskies. The Huskies ultimately lost to Team USA, but only by 15 points after keeping things close with a team that features Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Breanna Stewart, and more for most of the match. The Huskies played their heart out and showed some of the greatest players in the world they were ready for the next level, all in honor of Gigi Bryant.
Mambacita is forever a Husky pic.twitter.com/3wdAbdK0Ye— UConn Women’s Hoops (@UConnWBB) January 27, 2020
Eric Gordon looked like a man on a mission with James Harden and Russell Westbrook out to grieve. Gordon was represented by Rob Pelinka when he was a rookie, so he knew and had trained with Kobe.
Last night, on the 27th, Gordon looked like he was channeling Kobe. Gordon is usually an off the ball player, but had the opportunity to play as primary ball handler with Harden and Westbrook out. Gordon was taking guys off the dribble, yamming down the hammer, pulling up, basically, he was playing like vintage Kobe. Seeing Damian Lillard drop 50 points is amazing, but he literally has done it three times in the past three games. Seeing Eric Gordon obliterate his career high and drop 50? That’s how you know something was different. That’s how you know this stretch of games, for Gordon and the whole basketball world is special. It’s for Kobe, it’s for Gianna.
Image Source: AP Images