On emotional night of tributes to Kobe, Lakers start healing through basketball

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LOS ANGELES — For Kobe Bryant, basketball was his escape.

It was both his profession and his passion for the 20 years he played for the Lakers, but when Kobe wanted to get away from the challenges and pains life piles on everyone, he retreated to the basketball court and competed. Hard. That was his therapy.

Friday night, for the first time since Kobe died in a helicopter crash along with his daughter Gianna and seven others, the Lakers took the court and tried to use the game as their therapy.

“It’s emotional, it’s tough, the entire [pregame video] memorial was tough for me to see, to hear his voice and realize he’s gone,” Anthony Davis said. “But basketball is kind of my stress reliever, and to get on the court with these guys that I know got my back… helped me out a lot…

“For me, it was just trying to play as hard as I can just knowing that’s what he would want me to do.”

The night and the tributes — including LeBron James speaking to the crowd on behalf of the team and organization — was cathartic for the players and fans.

“I look at this as a celebration tonight,” LeBron told the sell-out crowd. “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.

However, Los Angeles didn’t get its Hollywood ending. That’s because Damian Lillard — one of the most Kobe-like players in the league when it comes attitude on the court — scored 48 points, plus had 10 assists and 9 rebounds, to spark a 127-119 Portland win.

“[Kobe was] the toughest competitor to ever play the game,” Lillard said. “I think it was only right that we pay our respect pregame then honor him by going out and competing at a higher level, and I think both teams did that.”

For the Lakers, after an emotional week in the shadow of Kobe, this was about more than basketball, more than wins and losses. For the team, it’s fans, and the city of Los Angeles it was about starting the healing process. Outside Staples Center fans had created a massive memorial, filled with flowers, jerseys, basketballs with messages written on them, and so much more. There was a huge memorial banner where fans could write messages to Kobe. Before Friday’s game, that area was overwhelmed with people who had come to pay their respects.

Inside the arena, fans chanted ‘Ko-be” multiple times, but pregame there were also “Gi-gi” chants. The names and faces of all nine people who perished were shown on the jumbotron through much of the evening.

Still trying to process it all, the Lakers’ players looked for positives to cling to in their memories of Kobe. For LeBron, that means focusing on family.

“I think everybody was emotional tonight…” LeBron James said. “I was telling my wife a couple days ago, seeing Kobe play the game of basketball for 20 years, for the Lakers, from 18 to 38, I said, ‘You know what’s crazy?’ She was like, ‘What?’

“You know what, these last three years, out of all the success he had — five rings, multiple [Finals] MVPs, All-Star Game MVP, first-team all-everything, all-life, all-world, all-basketball — I felt like the last three years was the happiest I’ve ever seen him. I think we can all say that. The happiest I have ever seen him. Being able to just be with his daughters, be with his family.”

It’s a level of happiness the Lakers want to get back to after a rough week.

It will be a long process, but Friday night was the first step in getting there.

Report: NBA ‘snitch’ hotline receiving multiple tips

NBA snitch hotline
Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
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When the NBA created a hotline for players to anonymously report violations inside the bubble, numerous questions emerged. How often would it get used? What consequences would told-on players face? Would other players resent how often Chris Paul called?

Some answers are emerging.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kings center Richaun Holmes and Rockets forward Bruno Caboclo are each quarantined after breaking protocols. It’s unclear how their violations were detected.

Yes, there is a culture against snitching. That this report is snitching about snitching is truly something.

But there’s too much at stake – health of hundreds of people and a lot of money – to take these protocols lightly. Everyone at the NBA’s Disney World campus is entrusting their safety (and, for players, whose salaries are tied to revenue, livelihood) to those around them. It’s important everyone involved acts responsibly.

Kings forward Harrison Barnes tests positive for coronavirus

Kings forward Harrison Barnes
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The Kings have been hit especially hard by coronavirus.

Buddy Hield, Jabari Parker and Alex Len all tested positive. Richaun Holmes is quarantined after violating the NBA’s bubble protocols at Disney World.

And now Harrison Barnes reveals he was diagnosed with coronavirus.

Harrison Barnes:

Presumably, Barnes was among the 19 players the NBA announced tested positive for coronavirus in July in home markets.

“Primarily asymptomatic” is a strange assessment. Does Barnes mean he’s mildly symptomatic?

The Kings already faced an uphill climb for making the playoffs. At best, several of their players are falling behind in training. At worst, Sacramento will have its rotation depleted when games begin.

Hopefully, Barnes recovers and joins the team as he hopes. He has a personal stake in it. Even during the lengthy hiatus, Barnes stuck with his pledge not to shave or cut his hair until the Kings reach .500 (or, as he amended it, make the playoffs) or the season ends.

Report: Pacers star Victor Oladipo’s remaining salary in dispute

Pacers star Victor Oladipo
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Among the continuing 22 NBA teams, players not playing in the resumption at Disney World essentially fall into two categories:

Pacers star Victor Oladipo lands in the gray area.

Oladipo, who returned from a year-long absence shortly before the season got suspended in March, said he was sitting out due to elevated risk of injury during a quick buildup. But he also traveled with the team to Orlando and is even practicing so well, Indiana is reportedly becoming increasingly optimistic he’ll play.

Is Oladipo healthy enough to play?

At stake for Oladipo:

  • $2,763,158 if the Pacers get swept in the first round
  • $2,993,421 if they play exactly five playoff games
  • $3,223,684 if they play six or more playoff games

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The union believes Oladipo, who went to Orlando with the Pacers and then cleared quarantine so he could practice, should be paid his remaining salary, sources said.

The league, largely in an effort to set a precedent in case other players who are deemed healthy want to leave Orlando and no longer play, believes Oladipo has opted out and should not be paid, sources said. His public comments about feeling healthy has only solidified the league’s position on the matter, sources said.

The Pacers support Oladipo’s decision and are willing to pay him the salary whether he plays or not, sources said.

Presumably, if Oladipo plays, he’ll get paid like anyone else playing in the resumption. This controversy lingers only if Oladipo doesn’t play.

It’s unsurprising the Pacers don’t want to pick this fight with their star player, especially as he approaches 2021 free agency. Trying to avoid alienating their own players but not necessarily eager to pay for services not rendered, teams collectively want the league to handle these issues.

If teams had ample discretion, the Wizards might have said Davis Bertans – who chose to sit out – had some lingering injury. NBA players are rarely perfectly healthy. There’s always some physical issue to point to. Bertans will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and they want to re-sign him. What an easy way to build goodwill – and maybe even get a discount on Bertans’ next contract.

Obviously, the league doesn’t want those type of shenanigans. That’s why on outside rulings on players’ health can be important.

Oladipo might not be the only borderline case:

Oladipo’s situation might take care of itself if he decides to play. But the league might inquire more deeply into other situations.

Report: Rockets star James Harden ‘feeling fine,’ might travel with Russell Westbrook

Rockets stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook
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When Russell Westbrook revealed he had coronavirus, speculation immediately turned to the Rockets’ other star who also didn’t travel with the team to Disney World.

James Harden is “feeling fine,” working out and might travel with Westbrook to Orlando, according to Shams Charania of Stadium:

Was Harden also diagnosed with coronavirus? Is he just waiting for his friend before entering the restrictive bubble? Is there another issue?

These questions beget even more questions.

If both players have coronavirus, they won’t necessarily recover on the same day. Would the first to get cleared wait for the other? Or is traveling together just an idea in case it works out?

If Harden is fully healthy and just waiting for Westbrook, how do their teammates inside the bubble feel about that? Those already at Disney World are spending more time away from friends and family in less-than-ideal conditions.

If there’s another issue… who knows?

The lack of transparency around the situation only invites rumors and guesses.

At least it’s good news that Harden feels fine.