It’s time end the grieving for Kobe, Gigi, her teammates, and the others who tragically died in last Sunday’s helicopter crash in Southern California on the way to the Mamba Academy for a girl’s basketball tournament.
It’s time to do what Kobe would want the Lakers to do, which is everything possible to win the championship. To turn devastation into celebration, to harness the heartbreak and emotion and turn it into drive and motivation. While some of us may not be ready to move on, it’s what Kobe would want. It’s what Mamba Mentality was all about. Life goes on. Put the past away and focus on the now. Embrace the opportunity as if it were your last.
The Lakers will play their first game since Kobe’s death tonight at Staples Center against the Portland Trailblazers. There will still be grief and tears as the Lakers honor the memory of Kobe but there’s also a game to be won. The last thing Kobe would want is for the Lakers to lose a game because of him. The best way the Lakers can honor Kobe would be to fight through the pain and sorrow and find a way to win the game despite the situation.
And that’s not going to be easy, not with the tragedy so fresh and the reminders everywhere. There will likely be two empty courtside seats for Kobe and Gigi and 8 second and 24 second violations to start the game. The understandable effort to honor Kobe and everything he meant to the Lakers and basketball itself will likely overshadow the game but that’s not what Kobe would want. Make no mistake, he would want to win the game.
There will be some who will say the game doesn’t matter and denounce calls to ‘win it for Kobe’ as inappropriate or disrespectful to his memory but the truth is those critics really just didn’t know or understand the Mamba. Through the toughest times in his life when everything seemed to be going against him, the game was always where Kobe sought refuge and it’s what his teammates, friends, and fans need to embrace to get through tonight.
Putting the weight of winning a championship for Kobe on the Lakers as a team and organization is just as unfair as it’s unavoidable and inevitable. But it’s also a challenge LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers as a team and organization must embrace as part of their legacy to Kobe. LeBron has already taken the lead on this by promising Kobe he would continue his legacy and put the weight of keeping it going on his back.
There’s no question the pressure for the Lakers to win it for Kobe is going to be immense. Rob Pelinka, who was Kobe’s best friend and Gigi’s godfather, must decide whether to execute a trade before next Thursday’s deadline. Rob’s facing a tough decision. Does he disrupt the Lakers’ great chemistry with a trade or stand pat knowing they need a second playmaker when LeBron sits and elite wing defender when playing Kawhi and Giannis?
If anybody knew Kobe, it was Rob Pelinka. While he’s going to be careful not to rock the boat, he’s not going to hesitate to pull the trigger if he has an opportunity to make a trade or sign a player to fix the Lakers’ roster. He’s not going to make a panic move but he also understands the Lakers only have two more guaranteed years on LeBron James’ contract and they cannot afford to waste this rare opportunity to win a championship.
Head coach Frank Vogel faces a similar challenge, especially over the two weeks before the All-Star break. He needs to get the team’s minds away from the tragic events of last Sunday and laser focused at winning games. The Lakers now have a five-game lead in the loss column over the Clippers and Nuggets with seven games remaining before the All-Star break against the Blazers, Kings, Spurs, Rockets, Warriors, Suns, and Nuggets.
The next two weeks will be tumultuous make-or-break times for the Lakers. Pelinka needs to make the right decisions regarding the roster. Vogel needs to get everybody focused on dominating by playing their best basketball. Surviving those seven games before the All-Star break is going to be key for the Lakers’ championship journey as they head into the heart of the second half of the season. They need to maintain that five game lead in the West.
It will take time for everything to get back to normal but tonight’s game will be a start. We still have the funeral services, the trade deadline, and the All-Star game to get through before things return to business as usual.
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