The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why. Mark Twain
Kobe Bryant’s teammates understood his nature but struggled with his intensity. A prodigy in the same way that Mozart was a prodigy- their deaths were both untimely- Bryant wasn’t casual about his career and expected others to be the same way about theirs. Human nature meant some were. Many were not though. The lazy left town like a rocket.
Perhaps because he was born with extreme talent, or because he was the son of a NBA player and understood privilege, Kobe Bryant got the memo about headlining a glamorous team in a large market.
- Respect the fans
- Embrace the moment
- Don’t make excuses, whine, or talk about how tough things are
Kobe Bryant understood that meeting expectations is how he was going to be judged. Inside out, and outside in. He understood that being a star and being a fan simultaneously, and in a star studded town, was imperative. He bled the colors of his beloved Lakers for two decades as the fans bled his colors the same amount of time. Kobe’s teams, and there were many of them, from Shaq to Smush Parker to Pau Gasol and later D’Angelo Russell, incorporated the highs and lows of a Mozart sonata.
After retirement, there were more teams. He had his hedge fund team and his creative animation team and his girls basketball team. He had his Academy award team and his media team. There were his NBA friends team and his mentor the next generation team. There was his quiet didn’t talk about helping foster kids team.
Even in death, he had a team. His daughter Gianna and her teammate Alyssa. The pilot Ara. Christina, the assistant basketball coach. John the baseball coach and his wife Keri. Sarah and daughter Payton. Into eternity, Kobe’s last team arrived with grace.
Because Kobe’s individual accomplishments are the tail that wags the dog, it’s easy to forget the team identity that framed Kobe’s career(s). Everything he accomplished, he did within the framework of a team. Often, the boundaries were a little loose and jagged as he heaved up shots but he is second in Lakers history in assists. He was #1 in assists to Shaq. He passed the ball to Metta World Peace to seal his 5th NBA title.
When the Lakers traded for Trevor Ariza during the 2007-08 season, and let go of Brian Cook, they returned to the Finals (and lost to Boston). In the early days, Ariza was a reluctant shooter playing for his hometown team. He was open after a Kobe double but hesitated to launch and the possession would die. Finally, one day Kobe pulled him to the side and told him to shoot the damn ball. Don’t hesitate. Make or miss, he wouldn’t be the fall guy. Kobe said “don’t worry about it. I’m getting the blame.” It seemed to release Ariza’s cautiousness and afterwards whenever he had the shot he took it. The next season the Lakers, complimented by Ariza’s shooting, won the title.
All these little Kobe moments that seemed insignificant then. But now that he is gone, it looms large for a league that is trying to get an emotional grip on how to go forward with the freight of so much grief. The league and its players are traumatized. The individual teams have disappeared and in its place is one last #teamKobe. The players. The league. The world.
Canceling Lakers-Clippers tomorrow night helps the bereaved and gives the Lakers three more days before Melo comes to town, a game that Kobe had promised to attend.
There will be sadness and there will be gratitude but the tears can’t be helped. Look up. There will be the retired numbers team up in the rafters. There will be the Lakers organization team so bereaved it took more than a day before they could even make a statement about the death of Bryant. On Friday night, there will be the former teammates team. There will be the fans team and the city team and the never met him team who still don’t know what to do next. You can’t cry forever.
You can’t. But the tears won’t stop.