On Sunday afternoon, the NBA world was jarred by the news of the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna Bryant. The news broke before any of Sunday’s games had tipped off, and there was speculation that the NBA would cancel Sunday’s slate outright. However, the games went on as scheduled, which gave teams and players a chance to honor Kobe in various ways on the court.
This was a very difficult night for players across the league. Bradley Beal was captured having an emotional moment pregame.
The story of the evening was Trae Young. Young broke out a touching tribute by starting the game in a number 8 jersey, Kobe’s first number before switching to 24. He was very close to Kobe and Gianna, and it was clear how much this tribute meant to him. Cameras caught Young staring up into the rafters numerous times throughout the game, clearly playing with a heavy mind and heart.
Atlanta won the tip off and held the ball in the backcourt, accepting the 8 second violation. Washington held the ball for the entirety of their shot clock, 24 seconds. The symbolism is obvious and many teams across the league followed suit with a similar tribute.
And to be honest, that will be what is remembered most from this game. The Hawks won by 19 points, scoring a season-high 152. Trae Young poured in 45 points, in what was clearly a very motivated performance from the Hawks All-Star. Bradley Beal put up 40 points of his own. Troy Brown Jr. also had a solid outing, contributing 19 points on an efficient 7-11 from the field.
The win improves Atlanta’s record to 12-35, while Washington slips to 15-30. The Wizards are currently in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, 4 games out of the 8 seed. While a record of 15-30 should really never come close to sniffing the playoffs, that’s the state of the Eastern Conference right now. And with how erratic teams like Brooklyn, Chicago, and Detroit have been this season, it’s impossible to rule out the possibility of a playoff push. I am on record saying that I would prefer the Wizards miss the playoffs so that they have the opportunity to draft another lottery talent.
A Moment for the Black Mamba
I do want to share a few thoughts on the life and legacy of Kobe Bryant, since that’s infinitely more important than the result of this game and all I can really think about right now. I’m 26 years old. For many people my age, Kobe was the first player we grew up idolizing. A yellow Lakers number 8 jersey was the first basketball jersey I ever owned. The Kobe-Shaq Lakers are the first team that I ever remember following, since I grew up in a city that didn’t have an NBA team.
The thing that drew me and many others to Kobe was his relentless pursuit of winning. He had the Mamba Mentality, the mentality of a killer on the court who could score at will, and single handedly decide a game by himself. He was the greatest competitor I have ever seen in any sport. Even now, four years removed from his retirement, I still believe he’s the most ferocious competitor I’ve ever watched. The image of his scowl is forever burned into my head. He only broke this out after he had done something truly demoralizing, and I’m sure I tried to emulate it many times on the basketball court in 5th grade.
Kobe Bryant was having a beautiful life after basketball. I can’t remember a player who became more of a basketball icon after his retirement, but Kobe did that. He was always an advocate of youth and women’s basketball, making a point to show support to his daughters and WNBA players. You can see how much this meant to players like Elena Delle Donne.
Kobe was taken from us far too soon. The best thing we can do to honor his legacy is to live our lives as fully and passionately as Kobe did. This tragic story is another example of how the next day, hour, minute, and second are not guaranteed. We all knew Kobe was destined to continue doing great things, which is what makes this story so painful. Kobe’s spirit and life will continue to inspire generations for years to come.