LeBron James and the Lakers are feeling the ramifications of Kobe's death more than most -- at least, in the NBA.
The Purple and Gold is a place where Bryant dominated for two decades before retiring in 2016. Even after that, Kobe was regarded as more than just a former Laker -- he was family for everyone in that organization.
His tragic death left the team in shambles and it's something they will have to cope with for a very, very long time.
In their first gathering as a team since the crash, individuals exchanged Kobe memories and talked things through -- including LeBron James, who apparently spoke for more than ten minutes about battles he has had with the 5x Champion over the years.
For more than 10 minutes, Lakers players, staff members and executives, including owner Jeanie Buss, sat rapt as James shared stories from his battles with Bryant as opponents and their time as teammates in a pair of Olympics. The group was gathered in an event suite overlooking the team’s practice court, directly across the gym from where the Lakers championship trophies could be seen in Buss’ office window.
“God gave me wide shoulders for a reason,” James said, according to multiple people who were present.
The lunch served as the first formal team gathering since the Lakers learned of Bryant’s death while they were on a flight home from Philadelphia. The Lakers legend was on a helicopter that crashed in a hillside in Calabasas, killing all nine people aboard, including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna.
The Lakers will slowly get back to the business of basketball. And in time, that may start to feel like the most significant thing again. At least sometimes.
“It’s never going to feel normal,” one Lakers official said. “It won’t.”
Clearly, LeBron has big plans for the next few months. In his shaken and heartbroken state, he will be playing with a Kobe-sized chip on his shoulder for the rest of the season.
I fear whoever has to stand in his way.