When the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers face off in Staples Center tonight, basketball will take a back seat to remembering Kobe Bryant, who died along with eight other victims in a helicopter crash last Sunday morning. This is the first time the Lakers will have taken the court after the news. All eyes in the NBA will be on this moment and on this game.
You’ve been inundated with the news all week. There’s no need to expand on, or belabor, the moment. A question from the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag does apply, though. Since a few people are asking it, we’ll deal with it lightly.
Do we [ed. the Trail Blazers] even have a chance in LA? It seems like it’d be set up for the Lakers to win no matter what. The only question is, I’m not sure whether I mind. What do you think?
One of the things I’ve learned over the course of many years dealing with people in mourning is that there’s no right answer in unique situations.
Everybody’s situation is unique in one way or another. This one is particularly so. Death is not new to any of us, of course. Nor are accidents. But this event seems to have opened up something that the sports world, in its cloistered naiveté, can’t process well.
I listened to a bit of national radio this week, watched TV as well. The reactions were just as vociferous and prolific on Thursday as they were on Sunday evening. They were no further developed, either. Repetition of the facts and stunned disbelief were the only offerings.
Nobody seems to know how to cope with this. Actually, that’s the wrong way to say it; it’s impossible to cope with these things completely. In this instance nobody seems to have much idea how to even start.
That leaves incredible pressure on tonight’s event. It’s going to be the first step for many down the long road to closure. Like all memorials—rightly or wrongly—it’ll also be seen as the event that puts a bow on the matter and allows us to “get back to normal”. That crams the entiret enormity of the grief process into one memorial presentation and the game that follows. The freight will be impossible to carry. Emotions are likely to be heightened all night.
In this atmosphere, I think it’s fair to ask whether the basketball really matters.
It might have been easier, schedule permitting, for the family and team to hold an official memorial service for Bryant away from the court, then resume play on a different date. That’s not happening, so the actual game will (properly) take a back seat to the memorial, at least emotionally.
To the extent the game does matter, it’s probably important for the people in attendance, and honestly 98% of the country, to exit with good feelings and a good story. Yes, that means the Trail Blazers coming out on the losing end. I know they’ll play hard, doing credit to the sport and their memories of Bryant. I’m not entirely sure even they’d disagree with a Lakers win being the better thing on this one night.
The only “out” I see comes in an observation echoed by Zach Lowe in his weekly column about things he likes in the NBA. Speaking of Damian Lillard, Lowe says:
Lillard is a bad, bad man. I would have included his stats from Portland’s past six games, but my laptop caught fire when I looked them up.
Lillard has some Kobe in him, doesn’t he?
One fitting tribute to Kobe during his memorial night would be for someone to emulate his production and flair on the court. The Lakers will field two incredibly talented superstars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but they’re both big men. Lillard is one of the few players in the NBA capable of putting up Bryant-like numbers from a backcourt position without straining. If Dame went for 60 tonight, it would not be amiss. The script would still read better if the Lakers emerged victorious, but should Portland win under those circumstances, I imagine everyone would nod.
That probably won’t happen for a host of reasons. Among them: I’m not sure that’s on Lillard’s agenda, or his team’s. It will be on LeBron’s. He has both the talent and right-of-way to make it happen.
I do not expect the game will be a WWE show with predetermined outcome. I do think that, to the extent that storybook narrative plays into NBA contests (as it often does during All-Star games, for instance), the narrative will prove more important than technical—or competitive—details. I am guessing LeBron will come out with the intentions of putting on a tribute-worthy performance and that the Blazers, while putting up adequate resistance, will understand that the evening is about more than the scoreboard.
I could be wrong. If the Blazers do win, more power to them. I’m just not expecting it to be that important in the grand scheme of things. And hey, fair enough.
Hey folks, could you please help us out with some tickets to send kids in need to Blazer’s Edge Night? We have more than 2000 lined up and we’re still more than 1000 tickets short with two weeks to go. It’s easy to donate a ticket to let one of our young people attend. Here’s how: