Artwork by Hallie Anderson
At the beginning of the Memphis Grizzlies vs the Phoenix Suns game on Sunday, Jan. 26, the ball was tipped off, but the Grizzlies had no intention of scoring points on this play. Instead, Ja Morant would hold the ball until the 24-second shot clock ran out in order to honor Los Angeles Lakers number 24, Kobe Bryant, who was tragically killed in a helicopter crash just hours prior. On the following play, the Suns took an 8-second back-court violation as Bryant’s first number was 8.
Fans in the FedEx Forum rose to their feet and cheered in memory of Bryant and all that he contributed to the community and the game of basketball. Faith Preston (11), who plays on the St. Mary’s basketball team and is an NBA fan, said “It really showed that [basketball is] not just a competition; it’s a community.”
Although many believe Bryant was one of the best basketball players to ever step foot on the court, he did much more than just score baskets. He coined the phrase “Mamba Mentality,” which refers to his drive to push through and do his best no matter what obstacle presented itself. Preston said, “He was young when he was drafted, but he didn’t let that get to him. He also kept playing with that mental strength even though his team didn’t win a championship during the last six years of his career.” Preston also acknowledged Bryant’s mentality and spirit off the court; she said “When he retired, he dedicated his life to coaching and being active in the community. He had a life without basketball.”
Rachel Beem (11) is also an NBA fan, and she feels strongly affected by Bryant’s death. She said, “He changed the game and how it was played for the better, and his presence in the basketball community will be dearly missed. The way he played made people Bryant fans even if they weren’t Lakers fans.”
Bryant played the superstar role on the court, but he was also a leader in other ways. Beem said “As an advocate for girls’ and women’s basketball, he supported his eldest daughter Gianna in her advances as a player. I don’t know if there will be someone like him in the future. The sports and basketball communities have lost one of their biggest advocates, so let’s keep his spirit in the forefront. ”
With regard to honoring Bryant’s spirit, accomplishments, and contributions, fans have taken numerous measures. Players who previously wore numbers 8 or 24 have retired those jerseys, and many NBA games were postponed following the crash. However, the Grizzlies and Suns chose to play because they believed that the best way to honor Bryant was to play the game that he loved. Fans and players were moved to tears in the FedEx Forum as the players took the violations, and other NBA games around the country took moments of silence with respect to Bryant.
Although a prominent figure has passed, his mentality and gifts on and off the court will continue to be admired. Beem said “I just wanted to thank you, Kobe! You have inspired so many, and your spirit will live on forever.”
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