In 1997, the No. 4 seed in the NBA playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers, faced off against the No. 1 seeded Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals. While the Lakers managed to win their first home game, the Jazz took the other, putting them in prime position to wrap up the series at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City.
Behind a 23-point and 13-rebound performance from Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers were able to keep the Jazz on their heels, but O’Neal fouled out of the game in the fourth quarter, when there was little separating the two teams. With O’Neal sidelined, an 18-year-old Kobe Bryant found the ball in his hands when his team needed a big shot and he wasn’t afraid to take them. Unfortunately for Bryant, those shots didn’t go in — they didn’t even hit the rim.
Fast-forward to almost 23 years later, and Bryant’s legacy is defined by the big shots and performances he had for the Lakers in the postseason — his Mamba Mentality. That mentality is something the Lakers are hoping to instill in their team as they prepare for their first playoff berth in seven years, and they took another step in that process at practice on Monday, according to Alex Caruso.
“We had a nice two-minute video in our team film session this morning from Lionel Hollins, one of our assistant coaches who’s not with us in the bubble,” Caruso said. “It was a bit of a sermon that ties in Kobe and what it means to be a Laker and it was pretty powerful, that two-minute video.”
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said that the video was proposed to him by Hollins and Rob Pelinka, the latter of whom is the team’s general manager but was also a close friend of Bryant and served as Bryant’s agent for most of his career.
“The message was strong: About our opportunity here and what Kobe stood for,” Vogel said. “And we’ve said that since this all happened — since we lost Kobe — that we want to embody what he stood for. I thought it was an appropriate time to do it today.”
On Sunday, Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times reported that the Lakers have plans to bring back the Black Mamba jerseys if they make it past the second round of the playoffs, which Vogel declined to comment on. But while Vogel wouldn’t go into specific details about how the Lakers plan on paying tribute to Bryant, he said that they do intend on honoring him in some way.
“Obviously, it touches us emotionally to go there, to talk about Kobe and what he stood for and trying to embody what he stood for,” Vogel said. “So I just think it’s important to carry his memory with us through this journey, especially as we get into the time of the playoffs.”
Bryant may be gone, but the Lakers are doing everything they can to make sure his spirit is alive and well within the team.