Honoring a legend is a big task, and doing so in the Staples Center – “the House That Kobe Built” – was especially daunting. After the Los Angeles Lakers – Los Angeles Clippers NBA game was cancelled on Tuesday, the weight of expectation fell onto the Los Angeles Kings. Could they provide the appropriate send-off for the man whose spirit filled every corner of the building?
At the Staples Center, half of the crowd wore the Kings’ royal silver and black, while the other half donned the Laker purple and gold, chests emblazoned with No. 24 or No. 8. The sea of purple and gold made the arena seem fuller, and it was, with around 2,000 more fans than at an average home game.
The Staples Center on nights when the Kings play is often more somber than anyone would like it to be, with many games leaving little to cheer for. Last night, though, the quiet was different and thicker. Before entering, each fan had walked by a mountain of flowers, basketballs and other makeshift memorials outside the Staples Center, and the weight of people’s grief stayed with them. The loss, until now an abstraction, was made tangible – a legend, his daughter, and seven others were gone.
No, this was not a normal kind of silence.
In Los Angeles
From the moment news broke of the accident, Angelenos made their way to the Staples Center. It wasn’t thought-out, there was no planned memorial, instead it seemed to fulfill the longing to be close to Kobe one last time.
LA is an industry town, however, and the show must go on. Mere hours after the crash, the Grammys began, and, in a bizarre juxtaposition of celebrity and tragedy, musical artists of all genres made their way past grieving sports fans and into Kobe’s House.
Kobe, Gianna and the other victims were beautifully memorialized during the Grammy Awards, the music industry still shocked by the accident earlier that day. As artists paid tribute to Kobe, it became clear, he had transcended the industry that made him famous. He was a philanthropist, an advocate, and an artist himself.
When the Grammys were over, and with the news that the Lakers – Clippers game was cancelled, it became clear that the first game to be played in the Stapled Center after the accident would be played by the Kings.
The Kings released a lovely statement, but still, the pressure was on.
As game time approached, the starting lineups were announced, the lights went down, and Hall of Famer and former Kings broadcaster Bob Miller was introduced as the MC for the event. He spoke briefly and movingly about the tragic loss of all the victims and the relationship between the Lakers and Kings.
Then, he directed attention to the Jumbotron. The crowd, already quiet, lapsed into a reverent silence, anticipating the video, anticipating the tears. First, though, into the silence came sound; the bounce of a basketball dancing on the hardwood, followed by the swish of a ball through the net, and then an ethereal chant, Kobe, Kobe, Kobe.
The Jumbotron lit up with a narrated slideshow that began with heartbreaking shots of Kobe and Gianna, followed by photos of some of Kobe’s greatest moments from his extraordinary basketball career.
As the video came to an end, there was the 24-second moment of silence during which photos and names of the nine victims were displayed.
And the tribute was…fine.
Quite frankly though, more was expected from the Kings.
After all, the Kings and the Lakers had a strong connection with each other starting in 1967, when Jack Kent Cooke, the owner of the Lakers, established the Kings franchise. He then went on to sell both franchises to another single owner, Dr. Jerry Buss, in 1979. The teams shared the Fabulous Forum and then went on to share the Staples Center. Their relationship ran deep. They were a family.
So, it was appropriate that the Kings players scrapped their traditional game-day suits in favor of Kobe Bryant Jerseys.
And that Bailey, the team mascot, ditched his traditional Kings No. 72 jersey in favor of a Lakers No. 24.
It was simple. It was elegant. It was nice
But this is La La Land. Hollywood. Home to the greatest filmmakers and storytellers in the world. Any one of them would’ve jumped at the chance to build a more beautiful, touching, and appropriate tribute. A short film with actual video clips instead of still photographs would have been more powerful. Most certainly, the narrator could have been replaced by the voice of Kobe himself, taken from the millions of insightful, inspiring, and emotional sound bytes he has given us over the years.
It fell flat and felt thrown together, as if made by an intern in the AV department searching the stock photo library and stringing together photos, rather than giving us the story of Kobe, reminding us of the magic of Kobe, the player, the parent, the person.
The crowd wanted to see a video of him shooting a game-winning shot, a video of him celebrating his championships. They wanted to see a video of him being a father, and being a husband.
But, the tribute ended almost as soon as it began, and disappointed fans now had only the game to focus on.
Ultimately, it didn’t matter. There’s no playoff spot they’re fighting for. Tonight was for Kobe and his fans, playing out through the Kings organization. So yeah, a win would have been nice.
To give the Kings credit, they sure as hell tried.
They went through the proverbial emotional rollercoaster, from tears to adrenaline in zero seconds flat, and the Kings came out flying and jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Toffoli (with a secondary assist from Anze Kopitar, who himself may soon be considered the best King ever) and the second from Iafallo.
But unfortunately, it’s the Kings, and on the other side of the ice, it was the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team against whom no lead is big enough and who can seemingly score at will.
Sure enough, they went on a tear.
The Kings played with heart and with speed, and they even put the puck on net a solid amount, 34 times to be exact, and scored those two goals, not bad against a good defense and Andrei Vasilevskiy, last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, an All-Star again this year and the third-ranked goalie through the first half of this year.
The Kings also did a good job of being stingy in their own zone, only allowing 24 shots. But, between a combination of screens and snipers, three of those shots went in. We won’t even talk about the empty-netter Steven Stamkos scored with half a second left, to make the final 4-2.
A good attempt, but they just fell short.
Seems like that was the theme for the night.