That’s how much time ran off the clock after Marc Gasol won the tip against LaMarcus Aldridge. Fred VanVleet held it at half, and all 10 players on the court paused until the buzzer sounded. And when the Spurs got it back, they did the same for the next 24 seconds as a tribute to the passing of Kobe Bryant.
The Raptors went on to beat the Spurs. Pascal Siakam set a franchise record with 25 points in the first quarter, before finishing with 35. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson twisted his ankle. The Raptors led by 19 at one point, but had to battle back to win it in the end. Fred VanVleet has ice in his veins, and Kyle Lowry is all heart and brains. The win moves Toronto past Miami for the second seed in the East.
But truth be told, this game did not matter.
A daze washed over San Antonio, the same that did in every corner of the basketball world. The sudden passing of Bryant in a helicopter crash, who was reportedly taking his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, to practice, loomed over every move. It’s impossibly sad, it’s senseless, and it left us numb.
For the players, the staff, and the fans in attendance, this game was surreal. Forging ahead despite the circumstances took immense courage and you could see how the players were picking up the pieces in real time. Tim Duncan, a longtime adversary of Bryant, shed tears alongside fellow Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon. DeMar DeRozan, the Los Angeles native who patterned every aspect of his game after Kobe, was either inconsolable or wore a blank stare for most of the night.
Basketball is a refuge from real life, so what do you do when that’s what pains you? For two hours on Sportsnet it was more a funeral than a broadcast, and yet I couldn’t flip the channel. The Raptors and Spurs traded runs in a game that was objectively thrilling down to the final play, but there was no emotion on the faces of the players. Life was impossible to ignore, as the sport of basketball lost an icon.
Statements rolled in from NBA commissioner Adam Silver, the Raptors organization, various coaches, and countless players. They didn’t focus on the five championships, the 18 all-star game appearances, the two gold medals, the 81-point game, nor the 60-point walk-off. It was about what Kobe meant to basketball, and how his singular drive to master the sport inspired those across all walks of life.
The scene in San Antonio said it all. Bryant eliminated the Spurs four times in his career. In at least three of those seasons, they were favorites to win the NBA Finals. The Lakers are bitter enemies of San Antonio, and once, celebrating Bryant would have been unthinkable. But tonight, it was the Spurs fans who sparked a “Kobe” chant prior to tip-off. That’s the type of respect Bryant garnered as a competitor.
That’s the legacy that he passed on, and why he is so beloved. Bryant wrung everything he could out of the game and we are all his inheritors. He was treated to a farewell tour in his 20th and final season because he was owed that respect. Bryant trained countless players, from the likes of Kyrie Irving to Kawhi Leonard, and launched an entire training academy. In his retirement, Bryant poured his love of the game into his daughters, became a dedicated advocate for women’s sports, and was routinely seen at WNBA games alongside his late daughter Gianna, who followed in her father’s footsteps until the very end.
The game goes on, but Kobe is not forgotten, nor will he ever be. Through every Raptor and Spur that played through a heavy heart, the spirit of Kobe lives on. Life can always be taken away at a moment’s notice, and there may not be any justice at all. It’s what you do with the time we have that counts.
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