Basketball

Bryant looming large for LeBron, Lakers at NBA restart

LeBron James said on Monday (July 20) memories of Kobe Bryant are still looming large for the Los Angeles Lakers as the team step up preparations for the NBA’s relaunched season in Orlando, Florida.

Six months after Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other people died in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles, James said he still thinks of the late Lakers legend every day.

“A day doesn’t go by where I don’t think about him,” James said when asked about Bryant.

“A day doesn’t go by where our organisation does not remember him and think about not only Kobe, but Gigi, (wife) Vanessa and the other girls. They’re part of this family. Just as big as anybody in this organisation’s history.”

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he believed Bryant’s death, which sent shockwaves around the world of sport, had bound his team closer together.

“Any time a group like ours goes through something so emotionally deep, I just think it forms bonds, strengthened our group,” Vogel said.

“You never want something like that to happen, but I do think that’s the effect of something like that.
“We always, even before this happened, we wanted to embody what he stood for and even more so now with what happened. We want to honour his memory.”

Vogel said the sense of shared purpose among the Lakers squad could serve the team well once they enter the play-offs determined to honour Bryant’s legacy.

“There’s going to be a daily mindset of honouring the work and having that toughness about us,” Vogel said.

“When we get into the play-offs, there will be opportunities and situations where we’ll refresh our mindset of things that he stood for and what his approach was from a competitive spirit standpoint. It will help us in our mission this year.”

The Lakers enter the NBA restart having already assured themselves of a play-off berth. When the season was halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic on March 11, the Lakers led the Western Conference standings with 49 wins against 14 losses, 5½ games ahead of second-placed Los Angeles Clippers.

James, meanwhile, said he was unfazed by news that this year’s NBA Most Valuable Player award would be decided before the league restarts on July 30. That decision by the league leaves Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo in pole position to claim MVP honours.

“I’m not disappointed because things happen,” James said on Monday.

“Control what you can control and I can’t control that.”

James, 35, instead took satisfaction from the fact he had proven himself in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

“There was a lot of conversation about, ‘LeBron can do those things in the East, but if he ever came to the West, what can he do?’,” James said.

“I heard all of that. To be able to have our team at the top of the Western Conference and playing the way that we were playing at that time and the way I was playing, that’s definitely a good feeling.”

James also spoke about how the time he was forced to spend away from his mother as the hardest part of the quarantine during the Covid-19 pandemic. In March, the three-time NBA champion quarantined himself in Los Angeles, California, while his mother, Gloria, remained in Akron, Ohio.

“The only thing that I missed during the quarantine period was my mother,” he said.

“It was the first time I went that long in my life without seeing my mom. I hadn’t seen her since All-Star weekend then I saw her two weeks, three weeks before we had to report to our respective cities. That was extreme for me.

“Coming from a single-parent household, being an only child... for me to be away from her that long (was difficult). My mom, she kept me sane, because she said in due time we’ll join back again.” – AFP, REUTERS

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