When the news of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death broke last year on Jan. 26, it felt like the world stopped — and for the Los Angeles Lakers, it kind of did. After learning of Bryant’s death, the Lakers postponed their highly-anticipated rematch with the LA Clippers on Jan. 28, 2020. They didn’t return to the court until Jan. 31.
When the Lakers resumed their schedule, they had commemorative patches on their jerseys right above the Nike swoosh and opposite of the commemorative band for David Stern. They wore those patches for the remainder of the season, including in the NBA Finals, where they beat the Miami Heat in six games to bring Los Angeles its first title since 2010, when Bryant won his fifth and final championship ring and second Finals MVP.
The Lakers opted not to bring the patches back this season, but they’re still honoring Bryant at every game. On the same night the Lakers introduced the Black Mamba-inspired “KB” patches, they started breaking their team huddles with a “1-2-3 Mamba” chant. Since then, it’s been a part of their tradition, and Frank Vogel expects it to be that way for a while.
“It’s just something that was our way to honor Kobe last year, and I brought it up to my team if we wanted to keep that this year just to continue to honor him,” Vogel said. “You know, I don’t know if we’ll do that forever, but we certainly, definitely feel his presence in this era of Lakers basketball because of what happened, and for the time being we’re going to stick with that and we’ll see what the future holds.”
That presence starts with the Lakers’ general manager, Rob Pelinka, who served as Bryant’s agent for most of his career. In the years that Pelinka has been the Lakers’ general manager, he’s used Bryant’s standard for excellence as the Lakers’ standard for excellence, and he’s approached his job with the “Mamba Mentality.”
However, Bryant’s connections to the team don’t stop with Pelinka. Bryant also competed against — and played with — LeBron James at various points of his 20-year career. James and Bryant were considered rivals during their playing days because of how dominant they both were, but in actuality, they were friends, and James is glad he gets to honor his friend before he takes the floor in the same uniform that Bryant did.
“As devastating and tragic as it was and still is to all of us involved, and still is, time heals all,” James said. “There’s a lot of things that die in this world, but legends never die, and he was exactly that, so it’s all about representing him.”
The “Mamba on three” chant may fade over time, but it’s clear Bryant’s legacy and impact on the Lakers’ organization and the 2019-20 championship roster never will.