Lakers’ Kobe Bryant tribute: ‘This is a celebration’

Leave a comment

LOS ANGELES — “I look at this as a celebration tonight. This is a celebration of the 20 years of the blood, the sweat, the tears, the broken-down body, the getting up and sitting down, everything, the countless hours, the determination to be as great as he could be.

“Tonight, we celebrate the kid who came here at 18 years of age, retired at 38, and became probably the best dad we have seen over the past three years.”

LeBron James stood at center court, flanked by floral arrangments in the shape of 8 and 24, threw out his pre-written notes and spoke from the heart about Kobe Bryant. He said those words in an effort to make Friday night’s game against Portland — the first time the Lakers have stepped on a basketball court since the untimely death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and nine others last Sunday in a helicopter crash — into something other than a memorial. 

Outside of Staples Center it has been a memorial for days, with fans showing up in mass — especially on Friday night — to leave mementos and sign the large commemorative boards set up. Los Angeles had embraced Kobe for two decades, and his death had the feel of losing family rather than a celebrity to most.

Inside the building on Friday, it was somber before the game, and it felt more like a memorial than a night of entertainment. On the court were the numbers 8 and 24, as well as a “KB” logo that also will be on Laker jerseys the rest of the season. Season ticket holders hugged each other in the corridor and around their seats. Players went through the motions of their warm-ups but without the bounce often seen pregame. Often jaded and cynical media members asked each other how they were doing, and building staff was hugging the people they knew.

There were “Ko-be” chants pregame from the fans, but also “Gi-gi” chants.

While it had been five days, the primary emotion still seemed to be shock.

“Yea, to be honest. You wake up every day saying, ‘I can’t believe this has happened.’… There’s still an element of shock for sure,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.

The video tribute was emotional for everyone — LeBron and Quinn Cook were in tears during it.

Then LeBron took the mic.

The players and fans wanted the game to start, to have basketball — the game Kobe loved and dedicated so much of his life to — to help them grieve and move on, even a little.

 

“Everything we’ve done this week is to seek therapeutic benefits, and basketball is our refuge,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said. When you have a week like this, an event like this, nothing is going to feel better for our guys than to get out there and compete and take their minds off it and do what they love to do the most.”

It’s what everyone needed.

J.J. Redick loses NBA’s longest-active individual playoff streak (13 years)

Pelicans guard J.J. Redick
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

As J.J. Redick stared into the distance, he had to see this coming.

Redick will miss the playoffs for the first time in his 14-year career. His Pelicans were eliminated from the postseason race yesterday.

At 13 years, Redick’s playoff streak is tied for the 13th-longest in NBA history. No current player has a longer streak at any point his career. LeBron James also had a 13-year playoff streak (which was snapped last year).

Here are the longest individual postseason streaks in NBA history:

Obviously, some of Redick’s streak was out of his control. He got drafted in 2006 by the Magic, who were rising with Dwight Howard. But Redick’s competitiveness and professionalism made him a steady contributor, and he chose winning situations with the Clippers then 76ers.

But New Orleans was too flawed to make a major leap in this Western Conference.

This clears the way for Bucks wing Kyle Korver to take over the longest active playoff streak. He has played in the last 12 postseasons, and Milwaukee has already clinched a playoff berth.

Here are the longest postseason streaks that could remain active this year.

Players whose teams have already clinched a playoff berth are in blue. Players whose teams are still in the race but haven’t clinched are in gold.

Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs with their current team, that team is listed in brackets:

Deandre Ayton misses coronavirus test, arrives late to underway Suns-Thunder game

Suns center Deandre Ayton
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Another testing issue for Deandre Ayton.

This one comes at a terrible time for the Suns.

Phoenix is trying to complete a longshot run to the playoffs and playing the Thunder in a key game today. But Ayton arrived late to the arena after missing a coronavirus test yesterday.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Like many Suns, Ayton has played well in the resumption. Phoenix doesn’t have another big-man option like him, especially with Aron Baynes sidelined. The Suns started Dario Saric in a small lineup today.

Ayton arrived to the arena and is warming up on an exercise bike. He could still get into the game and make a difference.

Already locked into the 4-6 range in the Western Conference and perhaps trying to keep its top-20-protected first-round pick, Oklahoma City is playing without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel and Dennis Schroder. None of those will players will make a late entrance into the game.

Also: It’s ridiculous this wasn’t publicly disclosed sooner. The NBA continues to tout transparency while trying to draw more gambling revenue. Yet, a major lineup issue like this remains secret? That opens the door for some bettors to get inside information, which would be so damaging to the league’s integrity.

Kings now sole owners of second-longest playoff drought in NBA history

Sacramento Kings
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Kings’ 2018-19 season ended with optimism.

Facing a meager over/under of 25.5 wins, Sacramento surged to 39 wins – its best record in 13 years. Under Dave Joerger, the Kings played a fast and fun style. De'Aaron Fox made historic improvements. Buddy Hield broke out. Several other young players showed promise.

Sure, the Kings missed the playoffs for a 13th straight season – matching the second-longest playoff drought in NBA history. But they were on track to end the skid soon enough.

Except, of course that’s not how it went in Sacramento.

The Kings were eliminated from the postseason chase yesterday, ensuring a 14th straight season outside the playoffs. That alone is now NBA’s the second-longest-ever postseason drought, breaking a tie with the Timberwolves (2005-17). Only the Buffalo Braves/San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers’ 15-year non-playoff streak (1977-91) is longer.

Here are the longest postseason droughts in NBA history:

The Suns could still reach 10 straight years outside the playoffs, but they’re still in the race this season.

The Kings might not be far from climbing this list, either.

Their future looks far bleaker than a year ago. Sacramento fired Joerger to hire Luke Walton, who has underwhelmed. Buddy Hield signed a lucrative contract extension then had a rough season. Fox progressed, though he didn’t make the desired leap into stardom. Other young players had ups and downs. Luka Doncic casts an even larger shadow from Dallas. The Kings’ organizational turmoil continues.

This was a feel-bad season in Sacramento, anyway. All the preceding losing only adds to the misery.

The Kings enter next season with one last chance to avoid the longest playoff drought in NBA history, and they do have a chance. But there’s only pessimism now.

Damian Lillard throws pass away from basket, off Tobias Harris, into hoop (video)

Leave a comment

Damian Lillard was making everything yesterday.

EVERYTHING.

Lillard, who scored 51 points in the Trail Blazers’ win over the 76ers, even got a bucket on this wild pass off Tobias Harris.

Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. It’s even better to be both.