The Knicks played the final game of their season series against their crosstown rival, the Brooklyn Nets, on Sunday. Early in the day, I didn’t look forward to watching this because it felt inevitable that yet again the vets would play way too many minutes, and our young core would languish on the bench. A few hours before tip-off, my reasons for not looking forward to this game drastically changed.
The news of Kobe Bryant’s tragic passing along with his daughter, Gigi, cast a pall over the NBA world. Bitching about front office missteps, coaching errors, and players failing to execute all felt rather unimportant. There was a strong sentiment the NBA should cancel all of today’s games as news spread, but that didn’t come to fruition.
The games went on. I’m doing this recap. Not sure where I’m going with this, but let’s see...
- The energy of the crowd was palpably off before the opening tip. Granted, MSG has lacked its hallmark energy at times this season, largely due to the inexorable suck that is the New York Knicks... but this was different. Legends of the game have noted how much the Garden appreciates showmanship. Kobe certainly experienced that firsthand when he was serenaded with MVP chants after a virtuoso 61-point performance at “The Mecca.” It was fitting the crowd was so subdued on a day when one of the greatest showmen in league history passed away.
- I’ve never really thought about Kobe all that much. I was never a Kobe stan, but have always known he was an all-time great. However, in recent years I’ve increasingly found myself defending his legacy, as slandering his career seemed to become something of a cause du jour on social media from extreme analytics corners of the NBA world. I don’t know why that is, but in lieu of this tragedy I find it sad so much of the discussion around him post-career involved attempting to denigrate his achievements in order to elevate players in this current era. Generational players don’t come around often. We should try to appreciate them while we can. That goes for me, too.
- Kobe’s legacy is complex. We all know about the incident in Colorado in 2004. We shouldn’t forget about that or try to whitewash it from his record, but it also doesn’t mean we can’t believe he changed for the better from that low point in his life. The celebrity and wealth he amassed as a high-profile athlete certainly helped him escape severe punishment that somebody of lesser means and social status might not have wriggled out of so easily. It seems like he made the most of that opportunity, though.
By all accounts he was a great father to his daughter, actively taking a role in his — now deceased — daughter’s burgeoning basketball career. Many of today’s stars have been open about seeking out his guidance for matters both personal and professional. He was active in the Los Angeles community. That doesn’t wash away the past, but the past doesn’t make the progress he made null and void either.
Human beings are complex and flawed. Kobe was no different. I mourn for the wife and three daughters he leaves behind, and I’ll remember him for being one of the greatest players I ever had the pleasure of watching. I’ll continue to grapple with how I feel about him as a person, and what it says that I’m so willing to overlook a potential heinous act he may have committed because of how admirably he moved on from it while growing as a person when given the chance.
- I didn’t realize how much Kobe Bryant meant to me until today. I love basketball and he was an icon. The first time I saw Kobe play, I hadn’t hit puberty. By the time he retired, I was seven years out of undergrad. His career spanned most of my life, and after I heard news of his passing, I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of sadness, but couldn’t quite figure out why. I hadn’t truly loved Black Mamba during his playing career. After reflecting for a while, it hit me that it’s because he was central to my ever-growing love and appreciation for basketball from childhood, through adolescence, to adulthood.
I remember him throwing Shaq the lob to clinch Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals against Portland. I remember him mailing in the second half of a Game 7 in a 2006 first-round series in Phoenix. I remember him dropping 81. I remember him going berserk in Phoenix in Game 6 of the 2010 Western Conference Finals to clinch a Finals berth. I remember him tearing his Achilles, and calmly draining the free throws. I remember him dialing up everything he had left to drop 60 in his final game, and leave us with one final magical moment.
And that’s just a few things I remember about his career. There’s so much more, and that’s why today hurt me more than I ever would have expected. I have vivid memories of Kobe Bryant which I associate with various stages of my life. Now, he’s gone, and it feels like pieces of my basketball soul left with him.
- The Knicks did play the Nets, but it was a game without any vim or vigor. On a different night I’d wax poetic about Frank Ntilikina scoring 11 points on nine shots and locking down Caris Levert in the process. I’d gush over Mitchell Robinson thoroughly outplaying Jarrett Allen. I’d even try to talk you into Kevin Knox showing a bit more confidence offensively. I’m not going to do that today, though. I watched every minute of this game, but it all feels like a blur.
- I’m not Mike Breen’s biggest fan (blasphemous, I know) but he had a masterclass today. He nearly broke down in tears at the outset of the game, but he composed himself, and got through it, but not before leaving us with a fantastic anecdote on what Kobe meant to people around the world.
Mike Breen reflects on the global impact of Kobe Bryant. pic.twitter.com/SMpnFiwg6S— MSG Networks (@MSGNetworks) January 27, 2020
- It wasn’t just Kobe and his daughter on that helicopter, though. Let’s all keep the other seven souls he lost their lives in our thoughts and prayers as well.
I hope what I wrote down makes sense to all of you. I feel emotionally drained and still coming to grips with why. I don’t know if I can even verbalize it effectively as much as I tried. Quoth Knicks fans know how to suffer: “RIP to all deceased.” Nothing else need be said.