2020 NBA Finals | Lakers vs. Heat

Kobe Bryant's presence felt during 2020 NBA Finals

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The jerseys will be hanging in their lockers when the Los Angeles Lakers arrive for Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Friday night. Black jerseys, trimmed in gold, a snakeskin print on the exterior to make it further unique.

They are the Black Mamba jerseys.

Designed by Kobe Bryant — and now worn for Kobe Bryant.

“We never want to lose in these jerseys,” Lakers forward Anthony Davis said.

Nobody wants to lose in any jersey, of course, but the Lakers would feel like they’re letting Bryant down if they happened to fall short in that uniform. The tribute jersey is just one of many ways that Bryant’s fingerprints are all over these NBA Finals between the Lakers and Miami Heat. It’s the league’s first title series since Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.

It’s no secret: This playoff run by the Lakers is with Bryant constantly in mind.

“They’ve got something special that they want to do. You can’t deny that,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “It’s not shocking that he passes away and that becomes their motivation to win the NBA championship and be in the finals. It’s not weird at all. I want to win and do it for Kobe too … so I understand.”

Bryant is the player that Adebayo grew up idolizing. His favorite souvenir from All-Star weekend wasn’t his skills competition championship trophy, but the Bryant jersey that all the players received. His favorite sneakers aren’t just the Kobe 5’s — but the purple and gold Kobe 5’s, Lakers colors. So, he understands why this Lakers team is motivated to win in Bryant’s memory.

“It still doesn’t feel real to this day,” Adebayo said. “But you see the effect that he had on the world.”

Many of the Lakers wear Bryant’s signature sneakers for games, and assistant coach Jason Kidd often wears them as well. At least four members of the Heat — Adebayo, Andre Iguodala, Solomon Hill and Jae Crowder — typically wear Kobe sneakers as well.

Bryant won five titles with the Lakers, the last of those coming in 2010. Until now, the Lakers hadn’t been back to the finals since. Now, they’re three wins away from a 17th championship in franchise history, which would tie the Boston Celtics for the most ever.

Bryant would have loved that, of course.

“It’s hard not to think about him, whether you’re a part of this organization or not,” Lakers guard Danny Green said. “He’s always going to impact the game and have a presence, especially for us.”

More than eight months have passed since Bryant’s death. The Lakers’ tributes have not faded or slowed down in that time.

The Lakers break huddles by yelling “one, two, three, Mamba!” A patch with the initials “KB” adorns some of their jerseys now, a “2” for Gianna Bryant is affixed to some others. A Kobe Bryant credo — “Leave a Legacy” — has become the team’s marketing slogan and rallying cry for these playoffs. He helped Nike design the jerseys about three years ago, coming up with the snakeskin-texture idea himself, the obvious nod to his Mamba nickname.

The Lakers are 3-0 in those jerseys so far in these playoffs, including a win over Portland on Aug. 24 — 8/24, the two numbers that Bryant wore in his career with the purple and gold.

The score at one point that night was Lakers 24, Blazers 8.

“When I looked up there and saw 24-8, I was like, ‘OK, he’s here in the building,’” Lakers forward LeBron James said.

The postgame routine in the NBA’s season-restart bubble at Walt Disney World is different than what it was before the pandemic struck. There are no showers at the arena, so players leave the floor, change out of their uniform into usually a T-shirt and shorts, then head back to their hotel to get cleaned up.

That is, except on that night in the Mamba jerseys against the Blazers. Davis didn’t want to take his jersey off that night. And when Davis hit a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals against Denver, the Lakers just happened to be in the Mamba jersey.

“He’s a guy that especially in this organization we’ll always think of,” Green said. “Not just myself and my teammates, but everybody throughout the league. Any time they step on the floor, they represent the guys that came before us, and he was one of those pioneers that was amazingly great in everything he did on and off the floor.”