Remembering Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant is gone too soon at age 41. What's your favorite memory of the Black Mamba?Andrew: First of all, I used to dominate opponents with Kobe in NBA Live 99. It was the first basketball game I owned that wasn’t NBA Jam (Antoine Walker was on the cover) and it let me do a fantasy draft. Which of course is what I did because this was pre-Vince Carter Raptors (yes, that time existed) and since Kobe wasn’t Kobe yet I could put him alongside the likes of Shaq and Steve Nash (my other favorite players), all donned in Raptors purple. But even then, Kobe had his patented fadeaway, maybe just a little more pixelated. I loved it.
Second, Kobe was always a thorn in my side as a Raps fan. I think he hit something like three game winners against them, but 81 will always be the first thing that jumps to my mind. Everyone remembers that performance, but not everyone remembers it was against the Raptors (Jalen Rose definitely remembers). And even fewer people remember how that game went down. The Lakers were losing for most of the game and didn’t take the lead until about 1:00 minute to go in the third quarter on a huge Kobe throw down. The Lakers needed that performance from him that night and I will always remember watching every bucket go down, no matter how much it stung. It was one of the most incredible sporting performances I will ever see.
Sam: My favorite memory of Kobe isn’t any of his incredible performances or clutch moments. For me it’s his ESPN web series, Detail, which leaps out. Growing up in the U.K. it’s a lot harder to watch basketball, let alone learn the detail and mechanics of the game. I wasn’t taught it in school, so my learning of the game was always through watching. Detail was so special because it allowed you to understand what makes certain players great. The tiniest of movements, a lean of the body, all contributing to a great play. Every time I watched streams of Detail online I’d learn something, get a new appreciation of a player and fall in love with the game. Hearing a man as accomplished at Kobe talking with such enthusiasm and knowledge was truly special, and it was great to see him attacking the second phase of his life with the determination and effort that made him so unstoppable in the first.
Ryan: My first memory of Kobe dates back to his days at Lower Merion High School, when he invited Brandy Norwood to his senior prom. That may not sound like a big deal now given Kobe’s worldwide fame, but you have to remember he was still a relatively unknown 17-year-old and Brandy was a Grammy-nominated artist whose self-titled debut had just sold over six million copies. It was a ridiculously ballsy move, and it gave us all a little glimpse of the remarkable confidence that would allow Kobe to become one of the greatest players in NBA history.
As for my favorite memory, I keep on going back to his final game as a pro on April 13, 2016 against the Jazz. Kobe had been held to 13 points or less in four of his previous eight games and looked like a shadow of his former self. Expectations were understandably low for the 37-year-old, but he somehow found the energy to score a season-high 60 points while leading the underdog Lakers to one of their most thrilling wins of the season. It wasn’t a perfect outing – he shot just 22-of-50 from the field - but it was a perfect ending to his Hall of Fame career. Four years have passed since that game, but I’ll always remember the pure, unfettered joy that Kobe played with that evening. The five-time NBA champ could barely lift his arms above his head by the time the final buzzer blared, but he never stopped shooting and he never stopped competing. It was Kobe in a nutshell, and it’s how I’ll choose to always remember him.
Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol are all rumored be on the trade block. Do you expect the Raptors to pull off a major deal before the deadline?Andrew: More Raps topics? I love it. And while I do expect the Raptors to pull off a move before the deadline (Masai always has something up his sleeve) I’m not sure if it will be any of these three players that are moved. Ibaka is the mostly likely to go of the three if I had to choose. He and Gasol are on expiring deals, but I don’t expect the Raps to take on a big contract in return as their eyes are firmly set on the 2021 free agency class, so the options are kind of limited. Meanwhile, Gasol is pretty integral to the Raptors offense at this point and still makes life miserable for a guy like Joel Embiid. As for Lowry, I feel this would need to be some blow-you-away kind of package to blow up a team on their championship victory lap that only has fewer wins than the Bucks, Lakers and Clippers.
Sam: The league feels very cautious currently and I’m not sure we’ll see any blockbusters before the deadline. That said, those three could be real assets for a contender, so maybe we’ll see somebody put in an offer which would grant the Raptors what they need.
Ryan: Masai Ujiri has a well-earned reputation for being a wheeler and dealer, but I don’t expect him to trade Kyle Lowry or Marc Gasol before Feb 6. The former All-Stars are an integral part of a Raptors squad that has won seven straight and finds itself in second place in the Eastern Conference. Ibaka, on the other hand, will be dangled like a worm on a hook. Toronto has been linked to Minnesota’s Robert Covington, Oklahoma City’s Danilo Gallinari, and New York’s Marcus Morris, and Ujiri won’t hesitate to trade Ibaka to get any of those players in return. The Raptors also have their own first and second round picks in 2020 and first round picks in 2021, 2022, and 2023, and it wouldn't shock me to see Ujiri mortgage the team's future for another shot at a championship.
The NBA has tinkered endlessly with its All-Star weekend format over the past few years. What new addition would you most like to see?Andrew: Two thing here. One: I just want stars in the slam dunk contest every year. No event toes the line between “greatest show on earth” and “shockingly boring” more than the dunk contest. So, c’mon stars! Get dunking! Second: The NBA needs to follow the NHL’s lead and move to a three-on-three pickup style format for the game. It’s the shakeup the game needs. And don’t do the draft early. Do it right before the game on live TV. Or at the very least during the All-Star Saturday before the events start. I think that would be awesome.
Sam: I know what I’d like to see less of Kevin Hart. I actually don’t mind the All-Star weekend, and think it’s a million times better than what the NFL offers. The real issue is that the players don’t care about the game. What they do care about is making bank and getting accolades. With that in mind, I think you need to offer them a reason to compete. The dunk contest never features the biggest names, so maybe a $1 million prize to the winner would change that? Is there anything that we could offer the winning team of players that money can’t buy? Special badges for their jersey throughout the year? Higher rated players on NBA2k? Whatever it is, it needs to feed their ego.
Ryan: It will likely never happen, but I would love to see a real-life NBA Jam tournament featuring duos from 16 different NBA teams playing full-court 12-minute games. Just imagine LeBron James and Anthony Davis going toe-to-toe with James Harden and Russell Westbrook, or hearing an announcer shout “Boomshakalaka!” when Zach LaVine throws down a thunderous foul-line slam. The NBA is at its best when players play above the rim, and this fast-paced, open court exhibition would easily become the highlight of the season.