The shock lasted a couple days. Then came listlessness, as hearts shrouded minds throughout the world but particularly so in Los Angeles. On Friday, after five days of agony and grief, the Lakers reenter the house that Kobe built.
Sometime after the most anxious and plaintive pre-tip hours in the history of basketball, maybe all of sports, the Lakers will take the court.
They’ll first have to navigate the shrines, messages and tears that have taken over Staples Center since Sunday, when a helicopter crash took the lives of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
As respectful as the Lakers and their fans will be toward all nine victims, this outpouring is about Kobe. Because that’s how much he meant to greater LA.
The level of local adoration for Kobe — my, was he worshipped — was bigger and more encompassing than we in the Bay Area can begin to imagine.
Bigger than Joe and Dwight and Jerry or Steve.
Bigger than Willie, Willie, Will or Barry.
Bigger than Reggie, Rickey or Stew.
Bigger than Steph, too.
Broader than all 12 combined. There is no dispute that LA sports begins and often ends with the Lakers. And Kobe transcended the Lakers.
David Fizdale, the former Warriors assistant and most recently Knicks head coach, talked this week about Kobe as someone who could walk into any neighborhood in Southern California and receive a warm welcome. No doubt – and quite the feat given the vast range of demographics, the decades of territorialism and inherent restlessness of the region.
Warriors general manager Bob Myers spent his childhood in the Bay Area, attended college at UCLA and for the first 14 years of his professional life lived and worked in the LA area. He knows the region nearly as well as he knows the Bay.
“What people don’t realize outside of LA is that he grew up there,” Myers said the other day. “He grew up and matured and changed and evolved went through different iterations of the team. I’m sure they felt like they grew up with him.”
Kobe was 17 years old, still a child, when he arrived in LA in the summer of 1996. He was teased by his teammates. He initially got around the area by finding numerous passenger seats, including that Ryan West, son of Lakers legend Jerry West.
As the years rolled by, Kobe took to the area and the area came to fixate on him. He represented the entire LA experience. His work ethic was maniacal, his style unmistakable, his ferocity unmatched, his prosperity — on the court and off — was admired.
And, perhaps worst of all, Kobe never got old. Did not have the chance. There is a sense among many, acutely so in greater LA, that he was stolen away much too soon and with a sheer absence of mercy. Angelenos feel he was cheated, and so were they.
“But young death … there’s never a reason,” Myers said. “There’s never a justification. That’s why it hits you so hard. I don’t think as human beings we can process this stuff in this short (a span) a time, maybe not ever. A hole develops inside you …”
The size of the hole felt in LA is infinite. That’s why over the past five days, and surely on Friday, thousands upon thousands have made keep their way, procession-like, to downtown LA. They want to be near others that ache as they ache. Doesn’t weeping come easier when surrounded by it?
They also want to get as close as they can to Kobe, and Staples Center is as emotionally close as possible.
The first basketball game at Staples since Kobe’s death was on Thursday, Clippers vs. Kings. The Clips did not handle it well, losing by 21 to a Sacramento team that was coming off a home game Wednesday night.
The Lakers will try to summon whatever resolve they have to put on a show. They will play the Portland Trail Blazers. As if it matters. There is no predicting how they will perform, but how they will feel is entirely predictable. At various times sad or inspired.
“We didn’t get in (to the team hotel) until 2,” Kings coach Luke Walton told reporters. “There were people at 2 in the morning, chanting ‘Kobe! KO-be!’ Two in the morning.”
Wait until Friday, when that chant will ring before, during and after game. For years and years to come.
Lakers re-enter Staples Center for first time since Kobe Bryant’s death originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area