Bill Plaschke: Kobe Bryant embraces us again as he heads to basketball’s Hall of Fame

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LOS ANGELES — The announcement was perfectly timed, blaring into a somber shutdown Saturday morning, bringing an old friend through our locked doors and back into our lives.

You can’t quarantine Kobe.

The world has stopped, but the memory of Kobe Bryant pushes forward, the late legend still figuring out how to score when it matters most.

Bryant was one of eight basketball figures selected for enshrinement into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, a foregone conclusion that felt like a surprise blessing.

Two months after his death, several weeks after a mourning country turned its focus to an entirely different sort of tragedy, Kobe was suddenly back, and it was sweetly comforting.

His face was again in the news, check out the appropriate photo that accompanied Dan Woike’s story on the L.A. Times website.

It looks like he’s literally jumping into our arms.

His memory was being summoned again during interviews, listen to the compelling words of Vanessa Bryant in a video chat with ESPN:

“Obviously we wish he was here with us to celebrate,” she said, fighting back tears while sitting next to oldest daughter Natalia. “But it’s definitely the peak of his NBA career.”

His praises were again being shared by those who knew him best, witness the statements from Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss and general manager Rob Pelinka:

“His fierce competitiveness, work ethic and drive were unmatched,” Buss said. “Those qualities helped Kobe lead us to five titles — and have now brought him to the Hall of Fame … no one deserves it more.”

Pelinka actually addressed Bryant, saying, “The highest of congratulations to you, dear friend … now a part of you will live in the Hall with the rest of the all-time greats, where your legend and spirit will continue to grow forever.”

That legend and spirit is especially useful now, when Bryant’s legacy carries an even more powerful resonance. As this country deals with the devastation of the novel coronavirus, it seems like a good time to adopt, “The Mamba Mentality.”

“The process is the journey,” he would say, and don’t we all need to believe that?

“Trust in the hard work,” he would preach, and isn’t that the difficult truth?

During a time when it’s tough to know where to place your faith, Bryant constantly preached believing in yourself, and his Hall of Fame enshrinement — along with Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and others — is a powerful reminder of that belief.

It’s crushing to think Bryant, who perished in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash with daughter Gianna and seven others, won’t be in Springfield, Mass., on Aug. 29 to speak at his induction.

Can you imagine what he would say? Remember, his words once helped win an Oscar. Here’s guessing he would have been kind, embracing, inclusive, a reflection of a personal evolution that was evident in the final years of his life.

There are not many people strong enough to speak for him. Vanessa, who gave such a compelling eulogy at his public memorial service, would be one.

When Saturday’s announcement was made on a pretty spring morning in Los Angeles, it reminded me of two appropriately compelling spring moments in Kobe’s life.

On April 12, 2013, Bryant suffered a torn Achilles tendon against the Golden State Warriors, an injury which some thought would end his career.

“There are far greater … challenges in the world than a torn Achilles,” he wrote on a Facebook post later that night. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself, find the silver lining and get to work with the same belief, same drive and same conviction as ever.”

On April 13, 2016, he capped his three-year journey back from the injury by scoring 60 points against the Utah Jazz in the headed-into-retirement game of a lifetime.

“I gave my soul to this game,” said Bryant afterward. “There’s nothing else I can give.”

Yet, as Saturday’s Hall of Fame announcement showed, through memories and musings that will live forever, Kobe Bryant is giving still.


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