LOS ANGELES — The season resumes Friday for the Lakers following a five-day heartbreak, the franchise still numb from tragedy and searching for ways to invite normalcy.
The lives of Kobe Bryant and eight others who perished in a Sunday helicopter accident, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gigi, will be remembered in some manner before tipoff, during the game and perhaps after the buzzer against the Trail Blazers on Friday (10:30 ET, ESPN). The team was mum on details, but coach Frank Vogel hinted plans were well into the advanced stage.
“It’s the right thing to do, and it will be an important night for our franchise and Laker nation,” he said before adding he is “going to let it all play out.”
The public outpouring for Bryant continued for another day, with more visitors staking out Staples Center downtown. Meanwhile, the Lakers have now posted four oversized boards outside their practice facility in El Segundo which are used for fans to write messages or simply sign.
Obviously, the club is still struggling to come to grips with the deaths. With the exception of Vogel, prominent members of the franchise have limited their public remarks, although that thaw has now begun.
Jeanie Buss, the controlling owner of the Lakers, posted a message on social media Thursday saying Bryant was highly regarded by Jerry Buss, the late owner of the Lakers, and the entire Buss family.
She added: “My father loved you like a son, which makes us family. When you invited me to lunch shortly after my father passed away, I was struggling to find motivation and purpose. Kobe, you brought Gianna with you to spend some time with me. You explained that you wanted to show her that women can be leaders in the NBA, just like the men.”
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Kobe, I don’t know how to express what you mean to me, my family and the Los Angeles Lakers. My father loved you like a son, which makes us family. When you invited me to lunch shortly after my father passed away, I was struggling to find motivation and purpose. Kobe, you brought Gianna with you to spend some time with me. You explained that you wanted to show her that women can be leaders in the NBA, just like the men. At first, it seemed like an action of a devoted father setting an example for his daughter. But in actuality – and I am positively sure you knew EXACTLY what you were doing – what you did was give me the inspiration and strength I was searching for. I reflect on that day often and it makes me smile and it makes me strong. I call on that memory whenever I feel down and need a bit of courage. For everything you did on the court that filled me with so much joy and love, for all the lives you changed through basketball itself, it was that day with Gigi that reignited my drive and determination. Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka, and Capri – I am so sorry for your loss. We are grateful to have you in our lives and we will always be here for you. To the families that also lost loved ones on Sunday, the entire Laker family mourns with you. Laker Nation – we are one family grieving the loss of people we all loved dearly. We will mourn together, cry together but we will also heal together, love together and win TOGETHER. We love you. Kobe – that’s what you made you so unbelievably special. You not only inspired us towards greatness, you showed us the way. : : To learn more about how you can help the families affected by this tragedy go to MambaOnThree.org and to further Kobe and Gianna’s legacy in youth sports visit MambaSportsFoundation.org #peace #love #joy #family #Mamba #Mambacita #2 #8 #24 : : Picture taken in February 2016 on the way to #NBAAllStar game in #Toronto photo credit @pinkskennedy
Lakers vice president Rob Pelinka, who once was Bryant’s agent and also his close friend, also broke his silence with a Thursday statement that read in part: “Their lives have shown me that death has no victory. Last Sunday is not the end of the story. It’s just a new beginning. Kobe and Gigi’s legacies will live on – and gain even more power and influence. All of us touched by them will now try to become torch carriers of their legacies. And, while we do that, we can be certain of this: Kobe and Gigi will continue on, forever, playing a joy-filled game of basketball in heaven above.”
Meanwhile, the players remained media-quiet for another day after conducting their second straight practice since the news broke. Shortly before noon they walked across the street from their practice facility to a soccer field, where they spent 30 minutes stretching and throwing a football. It wasn’t the first time the Lakers opened a practice session in this manner; Vogel wanted to take advantage of the 71-degree day and admitted it was therapeutic.
Elsewhere in the NBA, Bryant’s memory has been honored in various ways, mainly with a moment of silence before tipoff and a pair of intentional 24-second shot clock or 8-second backcourt violations to start the game. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said the club will retire Bryant’s jersey.
It’s likely the Lakers will brief the Blazers on pregame plans and the clubs will engage in some manner of joint tribute.
There’s also the possibility of a tribute planned outside of Staples for fans without tickets, although again, the Lakers weren’t forthcoming Thursday about any details. Also, there is no set rescheduled date for the Jan. 28 game against the Clippers that was postponed at the Lakers’ request.
The Lakers currently lead the Western Conference with a 36-10 record, which is also second-best in the league. LeBron James and Anthony Davis were both voted to start in February’s All-Star Game, and James became the third all-time scorer in league history in L.A.’s most recent game, one during which he passed Bryant while playing in the former Laker star’s hometown of Philadelphia. James and Bryant shared a phone conversation shortly afterward. The following morning, tragedy struck.
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter .
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