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Star Tribune Jr. Reporter | Remembering Kobe, Healing Through The Game
This is a story by a ThreeSixty Journalism student in partnership with the Star Tribune from Jan. 27, 2020 at Target Center. It was the first game the Timberwolves played after the tragic deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant.
By Sam Stensgaard
ThreeSixty Journalism Reporter
Roseville High School Senior
As I stand in the Timberwolves locker room on Monday, Jan. 27, glancing from player to player, I almost forget that one of the NBA’s greatest stars died the day before . . . Almost. Then I turned around, and noticed the massive TV displaying nonstop coverage of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and what they meant to basketball.
ESPN’s bottom ticker displays their achievements, along with quote after quote from virtually anyone who ever played basketball, it feels like a never ending parade of grief. It’s inescapable in a way sports tragedies seldom are; there’s probably no one left on earth who doesn’t know what happened that Sunday afternoon.
How do we heal from something this traumatic? It’s not just losing Kobe we have to deal with, it's the collective pain from millions of other lovers of the sport. On Instagram, LeBron James said: “It’s my responsibility to put this sh*t on my back and keep going.”
He might have been referring to his team’s season, but he might have also been speaking about what emotions Lakers fans were dealing with. It’s probably tempting for a leader like James to feel the need to shoulder the pain of an entire fanbase, but he shouldn't.
Nor should his former teammates. Former Kobe teammate Luke Walton was visibly upset when media members spoke to him. Shaquille O'Neal broke down in tears on "Inside The NBA."
I never considered myself a big Kobe fan, but a few hours after hearing the news, I found myself crying alone on my lunch break at work. Everyone is in pain right now, and we're feeding off the pain of one another. That's what we need to maintain, the sense of togetherness.
On Monday night, the Timberwolves and Kings suited up for a game that some of them may not have been ready to play, though it's always subjective how much time is enough to become emotionally well again.
Jordan Bell is matter-of-fact as he talks to me about Kobe Bryant. He seems fine as he talks, but there's a defeated tone. He explains to me what it was like growing up in LA during the height of Bryant's reign, watching the championship parades. He was 15 when he witnessed Kobe win his fourth title, but even then, still knew greatness when he saw it.
"I was having breakfast, and a guy who was ordering was on the phone, and he said: 'Kobe just died' and I was like 'Kobe who?'" Bell said, describing his bizarre story of learning the news.
Like so many of us, he cried when the news sunk in.
Despite that, Bell still went out, practiced and answered questions like everyone else. Then he played a basketball game. Like the rest of the NBA.
That's a good thing.
In our times of personal loss, people are often drawn to what we enjoy most or where we work the hardest. In the case of pro athletes, those two things are often the same: what they play.
So, we were given a pretty amazing game despite the half full arena and terrible combined record of the teams playing.
The Timberwolves set a team record for three-pointers made in a half; Andrew Wiggins earned another productive night scoring, but that's where the fun ended.
The Kings had a 41-point fourth quarter - Buddy Hield had a career high in points - and the Wolves blew a 17-point lead with two minutes remaining, a feat that was achieved for the first time ever.
Okay, maybe that wasn't a good thing.
But it was an objectively thrilling game, one that I wish more fans got to witness in person. It felt as if Kobe Bryant, who famously surpassed Michael Jordan in scoring at Target Center, came back to give Minnesota basketball fans one more gift.
Now we try to move on from the Mamba, games will keep being played, Kobe tributes aplenty will be had, but we'll learn to move on. Move on using the game of basketball.
Kobe wouldn't have wanted it any other way.