Monday was an emotional day for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Since 2016, Aug. 24, or “8/24,” has been a day for fans to celebrate the career of Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest players to ever don the purple and gold. While it’s still a day of celebration, it’s also a cruel reminder that he and his daughter Gianna are no longer with us.
Going into their Game 4 matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers, the Lakers decided they wanted to take a positive approach to the day and honor Bryant by competing the way he did during his 20 years in Los Angeles: with unrelenting effort and heart.
“We always want to embody what he stood for, and we all know that he would want us to keep our foot on the gas even though we’ve won two in a row,” Frank Vogel before the game on Monday. “That’s how we’re going to try and approach this game tonight.”
The Lakers stayed true to their word and got off to an uncharacteristically hot start. They opened the game with a 15-0 run and led by as much as 24 points in the first quarter. Think that’s a strange coincidence? At one point in the first quarter, the score 8-24, which are the two numbers Bryant wore over the course of his career.
What are the odds of that happening on Monday of all days?
The significance of the score, coincidental or not, wasn’t lost on the Lakers. After the game, LeBron James said that he acknowledged the score during the game and took it for what he believed it was: a sign.
“I did notice that we were up 24-8 because throughout the course of a game, I’m always looking if we’re up, if we’re down, what’s all the team fouls and all the things of that nature,” James said. “And when I looked up there and saw 24-8, I was like ‘okay, he’s here in the building.’ It was a beautiful night for our franchise and something we’ll probably always remember.”
James led the Lakers to their first-ever Kobe Bryant Day win with 30 points, 10 assists and 6 rebounds. Whether or not the Lakers ever play on Kobe Bryant Day again, Monday’s game will always be special to James.
“It was an honor,” James said. “It’s been an honor, to put on a Laker uniform even before the passing of the great Kobe Bryant. But tonight was another one of those moments for myself and this organization, for all the players to wear those uniforms that was inspired by him and his mind and his creativity. To go out there one day removed from his birthday and on his day of 8/24, to be able to have a game on this day, the stars aligned.”
The Lakers will continue to pay tribute to Bryant going forward, even if the methods in which they do so aren’t as obvious as they were on Monday. The simplest way to do that, according to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, is by competing at the highest level — to attack everything with the “Mamba Mentality.”
“That’s been our theme since the season started,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We wanted to have that ‘Mamba Mentality’ and just lock in whatever situation it is, that’s our mindset and continue to play hard for each other.”
“Just work hard,” James added. “Not much more you can say. Everyone has their own definition about it, their own mantra about it, but you don’t see any benefits if you don’t work. I’ve always been like that and to be able to continue his legacy hits home for me and is easy for me. Because I put in the work, and if you want to see results you’ve got to work at it. It’s not about the wins or the losses and all of that nature,
“A lot of people want to see results, but a lot of people don’t want to put in the work. But he wasn’t one of those guys, and I’m not one of those guys. So it’s just an honor to get to continue that legacy.”
Bryant may be gone, but it’s obvious his spirit still lives on in everything the Lakers do. He set the purple and gold standard, and the team is determined to make him proud this season.