2-24: A Tribute to Kobe Bryant

Saying Goodbye to Kobe Bryant

Saying Goodbye to Kobe Bryant

“A Once in a Lifetime Event at Staples Center”

Since the beginning of its opening in 1999, this phrase and idea was synonymous with Kobe Bryant. “A once in a lifetime event at Staples Center” such as Game 7 of the 2000 NBA Western Conference Finals that took place on June 6th. The Lakers saw their championship desires in jeopardy as the scrappy Portland Trail Blazers took a commanding 75-60 lead with 10:23 left in the 4th quarter. What would go down as one of the most iconic plays in Lakers history with 48.3 seconds left in the ballgame and the Lakers up to a score of 83-79, Kobe Bryant did what only Kobe Bryant could. Kobe was guarded by the lockdown defender Scottie Pippen at the top of the key. Kobe stuttered right and went left, flying by Pippen and entering the key. Brian Grant of the Blazers left his defender to pick up Kobe, flashing through the lane. Within seconds Kobe floated the ball up in the air where only Shaquille O’Neal’s right hand could catch the ball, flushing it down for a dunk. This play ended up sealing the game and punched the Lakers’ ticket to their first NBA Finals appearance since losing to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in 1991. The Lakers ended up winning the championship in 2000 against the Indiana Pacers in six games.

A once in a lifetime event at Staples Center.

Flash forward six years and the date is January 22nd, 2006. Kobe Bryant has three rings in his trophy case, Shaquile O’Neal was now in South Beach with the Miami Heat, and Kobe found himself with a subpar team fighting to make the playoffs, trying to win it all as the main guy in LA. In the most incredible scoring performance in the modern NBA, Kobe Bryant shook the basketball world by putting up 81 points against the Toronto Raptors. No one thought this feat was doable because no NBA player had come close to scoring this many points in about 50 years. It was this night that Kobe Bryant proved that without a shadow of a doubt his career was going to be legendary.

A once in a lifetime event at Staples Center.

Just a few months after Kobe’s historic night, he brings another. April 29, 2006, the 7th seed Lakers are facing off the number one offense and 2nd overall seed in the West, the Phoenix Suns. At the time many analysts and NBA experts thought the Lakers had no shot of winning this series, but here they were up 2-1 in the series and approaching a demanding 3-1 lead. With 7.9 seconds left in the 4th quarter and the Suns up 90-88, Suns center Boris Diaw inbounds the ball from center court, his pass intended to point guard Steve Nash. Lakers point guard Smush Parker knocks the ball loose out of Nash’s hands and the ball bobbles to Lakers Devean George with 5.5 seconds left at center court. Kobe is right alongside George and George dishes it to the right side of the court to Kobe at the three point line with 3.8 seconds left. Kobe flies past the defender Raja Bell and as he approaches the rim floats the shot of a crashing Diaw. Ball goes up and in. Lakers send the game to overtime with the score tied 90-90. While in overtime, neither the Suns nor the Lakers could take over the game. With the last play of the game and 6.1 seconds left on the clock, Lakers forward Luke Walton is at the middle of the court in a jump ball situation against Steve Nash. The ball is tipped towards out of bounds and number 8 chases it down with 5.7 seconds left. Kobe dribbles down the court moving towards the free throw line. Kobe stops to put up the shot with 1.5 seconds left as Bell and Diaw smother Kobe to prevent a good look at the shot. Kobe rises up. Releases the ball. Swish. Lakers win 98-97. Every Laker fan throughout the Southland erupts with cheers.

A once in a lifetime event at Staples Center.

The date is April 13th, 2016 and it is the very last time Kobe Bryant will wear the purple and gold after 20 years in the NBA. The Lakers were one of the worst teams in the league entering the game against the Utah Jazz with just 16 wins. Yet the buzz and atmosphere in the arena was absolutely electric. In his most Kobe Bryant performance, Kobe’s curtain call was legendary. With 3:08 left in the 4th quarter and the Lakers down 94-84, Kobe took over the game. With every possession, Kobe attacked the basket like a freight train without brakes, making it look easy even at the age of 34 years and 57,278 career minutes under his belt. 96-90 with 1:29 seconds left, Kobe shoots it over Gordon Hayward to bring the deficit within four points. Next possession, Kobe dribbles down the court, shoots a side shuffle fadeaway three pointer with a defender in his face, buckets. With the score 96-95 and 33.7 seconds left in the game, Kobe uses the pick from Lakers forward Julius Randle, creates separation from his defender and nails the 20 foot jump shot. Lakers up 97-96 and Kobe has 58 points in the game. Utah was unsuccessful with their pursuing possession and Kobe was fouled with 14.8 seconds left in the game, sending Kobe to the line for two. Kobe makes the first. Kobe makes the second. Kobe leaves the floor at Staples Center for the final time with 60 points and a 101-96 victory.

A once in a lifetime event at Staples Center.

The date is February 24th, 2020 also known as 2-24. The Staples Center is filled to capacity. NBA legends young and old are in attendance but this isn’t a gathering to cheer on the Lakers. This is a gathering to mourn, to remember and to have a sense of closure. This was a memorial to honor the lives of Kobe Bryant and his thirteen year old daughter Gianna (Gigi).

January 26th, 2020, a day that the city of Los Angeles and basketball fans around the world were shook to the core at the news of the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gigi, and their seven friends who passed away in a helicopter crash. I was up front making an announcement to the church community I’m involved in and within thirty seconds I felt my phone buzz ten to twelves times repeatedly. I quickly looked down to my phone and saw the words texted from a friend, “omg Kobe Bryant died.” I look up from my phone, back to the congregation. In absolute shock and confusion, I finished my announcement to see my good friend and fellow Laker fan with tears in his eyes as he gets up and leaves the back of the church. He got the news too.

It was 7:30am and this same friend and I were headed to Staples Center to attend the memorial. As we took the Metro from Pasadena to Downtown LA, it seemed like the entire city was mourning that day on 2-24. As we arrived at the Pico Station directly across from Staples Center, dozens of vendors were selling Kobe memorial merchandise: “Kobe shirt! Kobe shirt! Only $10. Get your Kobe memorial shirt!”. It still seemed unreal. Due to the nature of the event, Staples Center had an increase of police presence and security surrounding the venue. After spending over an hour in line to just get into the stadium, we were finally through the doors at 9:35am – the event started at 10am. We were greeted with three pieces of memorial items: a black t-shirt with three photos of Kobe and Gigi, a black and gold “KB” pin and a memorial booklet of pictures of Kobe and Gigi.

As we approached our seats, I felt myself succumb to my initial excitement that I usually have walking to my seats at a Laker event. We finally sat down in our seats and a slideshow of the Bryant family’s personal photos of Kobe, Gigi and the family were displayed on the giant stadium screen. Following the slideshow there was a video summarizing Kobe’s basketball career starting from back in high school. Following Kobe’s career highlights there was a fifteen-minute never before seen to the public: a highlight reel of Gigi’s young basketball career. There is no doubt, Gigi was the real thing. In many of the clips, you saw her father’s same fadeaway jumper and determination in her game.

The ceremony began with a beautiful tribute from the one and only Beyonce Knowles Carter. The ceremony’s speakers consisted of Kobe and Gigi’s friends from the world of women’s basketball, Kobe’s former teammate Shaquile O’Neal, Kobe’s childhood idol Michael Jordan and for the first time speaking in public since the tragedy occurred, Vannesa Bryant, Kobe’s wife and Gigi’s mother. Vanessa spoke with such poise, benevolence and pain. In a building known for the eruption of the crowds, the loud echoes of concerts and the buzz of award ceremonies, Staples Center was in absolute silence as the 20,000 in attendance were clinging on to every word.

“The Celebration of Life” was just over two hours in total. Throughout the occasion, I had to remind myself why I was sitting in the Staples Center. This wasn’t another Lakers championship celebration. This wasn’t Kobe’s jersey retirement ceremony. This wasn’t even Kobe’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction. This was Kobe’s public memorial service and a celebration of his complete life at age 41.

To be at Kobe’s final “once in a lifetime event at Staples Center” was, to put it simply, an honor. Kobe Bryant will always live on in fans of the Lakers, fans of the NBA and Los Angelenos for generations. The physical life of Kobe Bryant ceased to be on the morning of January 26th, 2020, but his legacy will live on.

2-24: A Tribute to Kobe Bryant

2-24: A Tribute to Kobe Bryant