After Thursday’s practice, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel summarized what the team is attempting to focus on as the entire franchise grieves the loss of Kobe Bryant.
“We’re concentrating on the work,” he said. “There’s therapy in the work. Our whole belief since I got here is that we’re just going to put our heads down, roll our sleeves up and grind, and do the job.”
Sure enough, after four days away from the arena, L.A. will take on Portland in what will be an incredible emotional evening at Staples Center.
And as Vogel spoke, I immediately thought of something Kobe said when I interviewed him ahead of his 2017 jersey retirement ceremony. I had asked him what his main point of emphasis would be to the Lakers young players at the time.
“Just focus on doing the work,” he responded. “You’ve been around me long enough, Mike … you know it’s all about the work. No matter what you’re asked for stories or (what may be good for) TV debates … it doesn’t really matter. In the end it’s just about getting better. Focus on your game. That’s it.”
Of all of the lessons that Kobe taught us directly, or that could be gleaned from simply watching him, his incredible work ethic and aspiration to be his best in whatever he did stood out. On the basketball court, off the court through various business interests and with his family.
That work ethic has been channeling into the team’s practice facility, and Vogel said that LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been key components in the process of the team getting back on the court.
“They’ve been wonderful,” he explained. “They set a great example for, in a vocal way at times but also just with their example. The last two days has really been about the work. Our mindset has just been let’s attack the work. This is what we get lost in. This is our mindset from Day 1 of training camp just to stay in the moment and focus on what we can accomplish today. They’ve had that mindset the last couple days and been great.”
Part of that has come naturally, with how close this group of players and coaches have become.
“It’s just strengthened what we’ve felt all year about our current group, which is, we’ve become a family in a very short time,” Vogel continued. “This group in particular has really grown to love each other very rapidly. We understand the importance and the opportunity we have this year, and this has just brought us closer together.”
It’s been a process that started with raw grief as the team landed in Los Angeles on Sunday, all the way to Thursday, warming up outside in the sun on the turf field adjacent to the UCLA Health Training Facility with some footballs being tossed around.
“I do feel like we’re getting into the flow of things a little bit more. We talked at the end of the week about there being just a buildup. Day 1 we come in and get some mentally free work, we’re just shooting a basketball. Day 2, get back to some of our normal practice drill work, some scrimmaging. Lock into all our execution pieces. Day 3 we’re a little closer to playing our game and today was very focused on the Portland Trail Blazers and some of the things we need to do to prepare for them. We had a great practice going to Houston, playing the Rockets. Just dial into some of the game plan pieces that we did a similar type of thing today with regard to Portland.
Friday night will be about honoring Kobe, and one of the best ways to do so is through the work.