LOS ANGELES: LeBron James said on Monday memories of Kobe Bryant are still looming large for the Los Angeles Lakers as the team step up preparations for the NBA’s relaunched season in Florida.
Six months after Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other people died in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles, James said he still thinks of the late Lakers legend every day.
“A day doesn’t go by where I don’t think about him,” James said when asked about Bryant. “A day doesn’t go by where our organization does not remember him and think about not only Kobe, but Gigi, (wife) Vanessa, and the other girls.
“They’re part of this family. Just as big as anybody in this organization’s history, so we still wear 24 and 8 and No. 2 with pride and remembrance of how great they were.”
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he believed Bryant’s death, which sent shockwaves around the world of sport, had bound his team closer together.
“Any time a group like ours goes through something so emotionally deep, I just think it forms bonds, strengthened our group,” Vogel told reporters in Orlando.
“You never want something like that to happen, but I do think that’s the effect of something like that. We always, even prior to this happening, we wanted to embody what he stood for and even more so now with what happened. We want to honor his memory.”
Vogel said the sense of shared purpose among the Lakers squad could serve the team well once they enter the playoffs determined to honor Bryant’s legacy.
“I think there’s going to be a daily mindset of honoring the work and having that toughness about us,” Vogel said.
“When we get into the playoffs, there will be opportunities and situations where we’ll refresh our mindset of things that he stood for and what his approach was from a competitive spirit standpoint.
“I think will help us in our mission this year.”
The Lakers enter the NBA restart having already assured themselves of a playoff berth.
When the season was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 11, the Lakers led the Western Conference standings with 49 wins against 14 losses, 5.5 games ahead of the second-placed Los Angeles Clippers.
James, meanwhile, said he was unfazed by news that this year’s NBA Most Valuable Players award would be decided before the league restarts on July 30.
That decision by the league leaves Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo in pole position to claim MVP honors.
“I’m not disappointed because things happen,” James said Monday. “Control what you can control, and I can’t control that.”
James instead took satisfaction from the fact he had proven himself in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
“There was a lot of conversation about, ‘LeBron can do those things in the East, but if he ever came to the West, what can he do?’,” James said.
“I heard all of that. To be able to have our team at the top of the Western Conference and playing the way that we were playing at that time and the way I was playing, that’s definitely a good feeling.”