Tag: NBA

How the NBA has mourned Kobe Bryant through sneakers

‘It’s not like wearing Kobes makes this feel any better.’


Washington – In their first home game after Kobe Bryant’s untuned you death, the Washington Wizards won the opening tip against the Charlotte Hornets, and the basketball found its way into the hands of Isaiah Thomas.

Instead of advancing past half court, Thomas dribbled in place for eight seconds before his team was sanctioned for an intentional eight-second violation. Following the turnover, the Hornets inbounded the ball and dribbled out their own intentional 24-second shot clock violation, as the crowd at Capital One Arena chanted — “KO-BE! KO-BE! KO-BE!” — all while Thomas stood by himself, staring down at his sneakers. On his feet were a pair of “Finals MVP” Nike Zoom Kobe 4s — the same pair Bryant wore the night he and the Los Angeles Lakers claimed an NBA title in 2009.

Thomas wore them four days after the 41-year-old NBA legend and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were killed, along with seven others, in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. The night of the Hornets game, Thomas arrived at the arena rocking a yellow throwback No. 8 Bryant Lakers jersey. And during pregame, he stumbled across the decade-plus-old pair of Kobe 4s, tucked in the bottom left cubby of his locker. He decided to lace them up in honor of his longtime hero and mentor.

“It was only right,” Thomas told The Undefeated. “I hadn’t seen anybody wear these this season, so I had to pull them out. But it’s not like wearing Kobes makes this feel any better.”

Bryant is the first player in NBA history with a signature sneaker to die. His legacy in basketball footwear is undeniable. He repped two major brands, Adidas and Nike, while receiving 22 different signatures and more than 20 team models bearing his name and logo. Since Bryant’s sudden death nearly a month ago, players across the NBA have mourned him through their sneakers. From breaking out exclusive shoes from Bryant’s storied signature line to scribbling personal messages on pairs and even abandoning brand loyalty, the tributes to one of the most important figures in sneaker history haven’t stopped.

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Perhaps most notably, for the first time since he entered the NBA in 2003, Lakers star LeBron James played a game in another player’s signature shoe — Kobes.

“It really speaks to how much our players admire him,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said. “For many of the young players today, Kobe was the NBA. They all admire him. Sneaker culture is so prevalent now in the NBA and the world that it’s so appropriate for them to honor him in this way. I know Kobe loved sneakers, and the fact that our players are rallying around sneakers as one way to show their love and admiration for Kobe is amazing.”

On Jan. 26, in the hours after news of the helicopter crash surfaced, more than 40 players across eight NBA games took the court wearing pairs of Bryant’s sneakers.

The first game on the schedule, a matchup between the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets, tipped off less than 40 minutes after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski confirmedthe death of Bryant, the retired 20-year NBA veteran. Seven players on the rosters of the Rockets and Nuggets laced up Kobes for the game: Denver’s Torrey Craig wore the “Galaxy” Nike Zoom Kobe 7s, which Bryant donned in the 2012 NBA All-Star Game. P.J. Tucker wore a pair of player exclusive (PE) Nike Zoom Kobe 7s, made for the basketball team at Los Angeles’ Westchester High School. Tucker, the NBA’s unrivaled sneaker king who wears multiple pairs of sneakers in any given game, typically ends games playing in Kobes. That afternoon, he pulled the Westchester PEs out of the 16-pair duffel bag he takes with him on Houston’s road trips.

Houston Rockets power forward P.J. Tucker in the “Westchester” Nike Zoom Kobe 7 PEs.TIMOTHY NWACHUKWU/GETTY IMAGES

“RIP KB,” Tucker wrote with a Sharpie inside the swoosh of each shoe. He also wrote “THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER” and “LOVE YOU KB24” on each midsole. The permanent ink on Tucker’s rare Weschester PEs will forever remind him of the day he, and the world, lost Bryant.

That same afternoon, San Antonio Spurs shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, a native of Compton, California, who has idolized Bryant since high school, when they first met, received a message as he arrived at AT&T Center to face the Toronto Raptors in the second NBA game of the day.

“I probably took like five steps away from my car and my cousin texted me asking me, ‘Is this real?’ ” DeRozan recalled. “He was like, ‘This Kobe thing … ’ I paused for a minute. Just like everybody, I didn’t wanna believe it. I think I was the only one who knew at that moment. I sat on the floor and tried to process it from there. We played an hour and a half after that. Everybody was asking what was wrong, and if I was OK. Once it hit everywhere, you could just feel the whole energy sucked out of everybody.” DeRozan last spoke to Bryant in December. “My daughter is getting older now and she loves basketball,” he said. “We were talking about getting her into the Mamba Academy.”

In a 110-106 Spurs loss, DeRozan scored just 14 points while wearing the “Big Stage/Parade” Nike Zoom Kobe 5 Protros, which were scheduled to drop on Feb. 7. Following Bryant’s death, Nike postponed the release. “It was, by far,” DeRozan said, “the hardest game I ever had to play in my life.”

San Antonio Spurs shooting guard DeMar DeRozan in the “Big Stage/Parade” Nike Zoom Kobe 5 Protros.LOGAN RIELY/NBAE VIA GETTY IMAGES

DeRozan represents a small collective of NBA players that includes Thomas and Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker, who exclusively rock Bryant’s Nikes on the basketball court. He’s worn Kobes since day one — Oct. 28, 2009, when DeRozan played his first NBA regular-season game in a pair of black and white Kobe 4s. The four-time All-Star has laced up Kobes in all 805 games of his NBA career with one exception. On Feb. 12, 2012, Bryant traveled with the Lakers to Toronto for a matchup against his protege and the Raptors. That afternoon, DeRozan tried to get into his opponent’s head by ditching his usual Kobes for a pair of Air Jordan 10s. Undoubtedly, the Black Mamba noticed.

Kobe Bryant (right) of the Los Angeles Lakers protects the ball from DeMar DeRozan (left) of the Toronto Raptors during the game between the Toronto Raptors and the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 12, 2012, at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.RON TURENNE/NBAE VIA GETTY IMAGES

“It’s a thing early on in your career that you don’t ever wear the shoe of a player you’re going against,” DeRozan said. “I remember I wore some Jordans and as soon as Kobe walked on the court, he was mad as s— at me. He was like, ‘What the hell is going on!?!’ We laughed about it and I didn’t do it again. Ever since then, I’ve stuck with Kobes.” In 2017, a year after Bryant retired from the NBA, Nike released the Kobe A.D. DeRozan PE, inspired by one of the shooting guard’s earliest, and fondest, memories watching his idol play for the Lakers while growing up in Los Angeles. Two more of DeRozan’s Kobe PEs, a red limited edition Zoom Kobe 1 Protro, and a blue Olympic-themed Kobe A.D., dropped at retail in 2018.

“It’s always meant so much to me to be able to wear his shoes just because of our relationship and how he handpicked me to wear them,” DeRozan said. “I’ve always worn his shoe proudly, and continued to have his shoe live on. That was always my plan, even before his whole thing — to honor him and everything he stood for.”

Booker, along with Thomas and DeRozan, also played the night Bryant died — wearing Kobes, of course. The Suns shooting guard scored 36 points, fittingly on 24 shots, in a pair of all-purple Kobe 4 PEs, on which he penned in quotes a phrase Bryant once proclaimed to him: “Be Legendary.” After wearing a pair of Kobe 4 PEs in Wizards team colors against the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 26, Thomas turned to PEs from his brief stint with the Nuggets during the 2018-19 season. Coincidentally, the yellow, navy and red Kobe 4s are the same shoes Thomas took the court in after his close friend, West Coast rapper Nipsey Hussle, was shot and killed in March 2019. “RiP Nip RiP Kobe,” Thomas wrote on the side panel of the right shoe’s heel, while adding a line from Hussle’s 2018 track, “Victory Lap” — “I say it’s worth it, I won’t say it’s fair.”

When the Wizards returned to Washington to play the Hornets on Jan. 30, Thomas inked messages calling out the late Hussle and Bryant on his “Finals MVP” Kobe 4s, and added another line — “I Love You Chyna!!” — to honor his late sister.

Former Washington Wizards point guard Isaiah Thomas in the “Finals MVP” Nike Zoom Kobe 4s.PATRICK MCDERMOTT/GETTY IMAGES

On April 15, 2017, Chyna Thomas was killed in a one-car accident in the family’s home state of Washington at the age of 22. The following night, Thomas, then playing for the Boston Celtics, opened the 2017 NBA playoffs wearing a pair of green, gold and black Nike Kobe A.D. PEs.

“Kobe was one of the first people to reach out after my sister passed. He helped me through it for a while. It wasn’t just that day,” Thomas said. Two-and-a-half weeks later, Thomas broke out the green Kobe A.D. PEs again, and scored a career-high 53 points in a game that fell on the day Chyna would’ve turned 23. “I still have that pair, because that was my sister’s birthday,” Thomas said. “It was one of the biggest games that I ever played. One of the biggest games in playoff history … a special night for me in Kobes.”

Thomas is now an NBA free agent after being traded by the Wizards on Feb. 6 and waived by the Los Angeles Clippers. He played his final game in Washington on Feb. 3 wearing the “Prelude” Kobe 4.

“I’ve been Team Kobe my whole life … ,” Thomas said. “I will always wear Kobes and pay homage to, in my opinion, the greatest player to ever play.”

It wasn’t until five days after the tragedy that the Lakers took the court for the first time. On Jan. 31, during a game against the visiting Portland Trail Blazers, nearly every player and coach on the hardwood at Staples Center that night had on a pair of shoes that the late Lakers legend made timeless.

“I just wanted to find some special Kobes to wear,” Lakers shooting guard Troy Daniels told The Undefeated. “I had a pair that I made three or four years ago through Nike I.D. but had never actually worn them. I figured it would be a good time to wear them.”

That night marked James’ first time playing an NBA game in another player’s shoe. James, who’s received a signature sneaker every basketball season for 17 years, laced up a pair of Nike Zoom Kobe 1 Protros — a performance retro model of the shoe Bryant wore while dropping 81 points at Staples Center on Jan. 22, 2006.

Left: LeBron James points at the late Kobe Bryant’s two retired jerseys hanging in the rafters of Staples Center, while wearing the ‘‘81 Points’’ Nike Zoom Kobe 1 Protros. Right: Kobe Bryant, wearing the Nike Zoom Kobe 1s, points into the air after scoring 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006.

“To see that is beyond crazy,” DeRozan said. “It shows the relationship between Kobe and ’Bron, who looked up to Kobe even before he got in the league. It shows the amount of respect that Kobe had amongst his peers and amongst the greats. I don’t know the last time we saw ’Bron in some shoes other than his. So for ’Bron to throw on them shoes — that says a lot.”

On his pair of Kobe 1s, James wrote “Rest in Paradise KB + GG” and “#Mamba4Life.” During the game, he also wore a pair of the “Big Stage/Parade” Nike Zoom Kobe 5s.

“LeBron actually practiced in them a couple times,” Daniels said. “But I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He never wears low-cut shoes. For him to put those on, it was powerful.”

Sneaker salutes continued across the NBA in the week following James’ unprecedented moment. At Staples Center on Feb. 6, Houston Rockets star James Harden, a native of Los Angeles, broke out a pair of white, yellow and purple Reebok Question PEs, which Bryant wore during his sneaker free agency during the 2002-03 NBA season before signing with Nike. Harden had the freedom to wear a pair of the Questions as a signature athlete for Adidas, which has owned Reebok since 2005.

On Feb. 8, Brooklyn Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie released a special edition pair of the K8IROS Mark II, his personally designed signature basketball sneaker. Dinwiddie — who changed his jersey number from Bryant’s famed No. 8 to No. 26 — pledged 100% of the proceeds from sales of the shoes in the first nine days following their release to the MambaOnThree fund in support of the loved ones of the seven other victims involved in the helicopter tragedy.

“While I continue to mourn this tremendous loss alongside the millions he impacted globally, I wanted to do my part to honor him in my own unique way,” Dinwiddie wrote in an insert included in the promotional packaging of the K8IROS Mark II. “As a native son of L.A. who grew up idolizing Kobe, I have learned many lessons from him, both on and off the court. One of those is his entrepreneurial drive, which inspired me to create my own shoe.”

“One of the top sneakers to ever be played in,” Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant said of Bryant’s signature line at media availability before the Rising Stars Challenge during 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago. “I’m a big fan of them. I got a lot.”

In a 114-109 Grizzlies win over the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 26, Morant wore the “Chaos” Nike Zoom Kobe 5 Protros — the last pair of Kobes Nike released before Bryant’s death. Morant hasn’t worn Kobes since.

Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant in the “Chaos” Nike Zoom Kobe 5s, the last pair of Kobe Bryant’s shoes that Nike released before his death.JOE MURPHY/NBAE VIA GETTY IMAGES

“I just don’t want to wear them no more now,” said Morant, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft who’s in the conversation to become Nike Basketball’s next signature athlete.

“Man, to be honest,” New Orleans Pelicans rookie, and Jordan Brand athlete, Zion Williamson told The Undefeated at All-Star Weekend. The question: What is Kobe Bryant’s legacy when it comes to basketball sneakers? “It’s up there with Jordan’s. Especially in this generation, because he was this generation’s Michael Jordan. If you look … a lot of players wear Kobes when they’re playing basketball. His impact on the shoe game was incredible.”

Throughout All-Star Weekend, Bryant’s sneakers surfaced on the feet of multiple players, dominated by pairs of the unreleased “Big Stage/Parade” Kobe 5s, worn by Bam Adebayo, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Joe Harris, Buddy Hield, Khris Middleton, Josh Okogie, Duncan Robinson and Domantas Sabonis. For the All-Star Game, Adebayo unveiled a custom-painted pair of Nike Kobe A.D.s, while Lakers big man Anthony Davis hit the free throw that gave Team LeBron a 157-155 win over Team Giannis while wearing a purple and yellow pair of Nike Zoom Kobe 5 Protros.

“I always wore high-tops and mids, honestly,” Davis told The Undefeated in an interview five days before Bryant died. “Then maybe two years ago, I was trying different shoes, put the Kobes on, and I just felt like I was faster. I jumped higher. I shot better. I just felt like Kobe. So I stuck with them … I love Kobes.”

At the All-Star Game, Lakers assistant coach Phil Handycollaborated with Brand Aces on a custom-designed pair of “Chaos” Kobe 5s. The sight of the pair, which feature “KOBE” on one shoe and “GIGI” on the other, brought tears to Handy’s eyes when he unboxed them for the first time.

“As someone who actually had a chance to get to know Kobe a little bit and understand what he was about,” Handy said, “it’s an honor to have a shoe like this to represent him, his family and everything he stood for. That’s what this means to me.”

Bryant meant everything to basketball — and, as a result, sneakers. The tributes will keep coming and extend far beyond the shock of his death because Bryant’s legacy in footwear is truly everlasting.

“I’ll never play in another player’s shoes as long as I’m in the league from now on,” DeRozan said. “That’s how much I love Kobe’s shoes.”

Andre Iguodala’s power move pays off with Miami deal: ‘I just knew to be patient’

Iguodala on his decision to sit out, criticism by Grizzlies, and joining the Heat

Marc J. Spears

MORAGA, Calif. – On Wednesday night, Andre Iguodala took a new pair of Nikes out of his gym bag, laced ’em up and got back to work knowing he’ll soon be back playing in the NBA.

The Memphis Grizzlies have agreed in principle to send Iguodala to the Miami Heat, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported on Wednesday. The three-time NBA champion also agreed to a two-year, $30 million contract extension with the Heat.

Iguodala told The Undefeated from a practice gym at St. Mary’s College on Wednesday night that he expected to take a physical with the Heat in Sacramento on Friday, but is uncertain when he will make his debut. The 15-year veteran never played for the Grizzlies after being traded from the Golden State Warriors last offseason for a 2024 first-round pick. Instead, he sat out the first three months of the season — a decision that has drawn criticism from Grizzlies players, namely Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks.

In the end, Iguodala’s decision to not report to Memphis paid off for him. He is headed to an Eastern Conference contender with two All-Stars in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, he landed a contract extension and he will be in sunny Miami.

“My wife is always 100 percent honest with me,” Iguodala said. “I try to play everything cool. She was like, ‘Are you excited?’ I was like,‘No, I’m cool.’ But she knows me best. I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it. I want to be smart and not go out there and try to prove anything. You turn 36 and everyone thinks your game is fading away. But that IQ doesn’t show up in analytics. So, I have to make sure that I keep making the same winning plays and be patient. I’ll be ready to go.”

Iguodala talked to The Undefeated about his decision to sit out, the criticism from Grizzlies players, and joining head coach Pat Riley and the Heat.

How did you find out about the trade?

We’ve been on the horn. [Thursday] is the trade deadline. Everybody has been in position, ramping it up. I’ve been trying to find a good situation for both sides. That is something I wanted to do this entire time, to be able to compromise. Those are the best negotiations. The ones where both sides feel like they won and feel they got something out of it. … That is what I had in the back of my mind. ‘Hey, I wasn’t trying to screw y’all over. Don’t try to screw me over. We can do this without any harm when it’s all said and done.’ But you know how the game is played. I’ve been around it too long. People are going to posture themselves like they’re the one doing a deal in good faith.

It might get ugly from time to time. But you have to be patient and weather yourself through it. … I just knew to be patient. And when the right thing came along, be ready for it not knowing when it was going to be done. It could have been September. It could have been December. It could have been now. It could have been July 1st. I was just ready for whatever came my way and was prepared after the decision was made.

What would you tell your critics in Memphis?

Athletes are looked at in a different light. Talking to Kevin [Durant], when an athlete makes a smart business decision for themselves, I think [athletes] are scrutinized a little bit more because people deal with athletes with their feelings. Their feelings are a little more involved. We are a little bit more under the microscope. When you win in the [stock] market, someone is losing in the [stock] market. That money doesn’t just go into thin air. Some of those businessmen are making great deals.

But at the end of the day, if you’re winning, someone is taking somewhat of a loss. When those decisions and those deals are being done, they are looking at them as what? ‘That’s a great businessman. They keep winning. Look at the deals they’ve done.’ When you look at some of these agents that they’re getting for their players, it’s usually a white agent. That is what bothers me sometimes. ‘This guy is a great businessman. He’s doing great deals.’ But when athletes are in that situation, there are more feelings involved in all this. I am willing to just stand in there and take the heat. … The player that I am, I’m usually the most unselfish player. Sometimes I know when I’m handling my business. Sometimes you got to be selfish even though you are taking some heat with it.

What gave you the confidence to make that power move and was it hard to do?

No, it wasn’t hard. Everything I try to do, I try to prepare for ahead of time. All the work you put in is for a reason. Whether it’s on the court or off the court, you never want to be in a position where you have to show your hand or you’re going to fold or you’re panicking or get a little nervous. Everything I am doing off the court is to set myself up so I don’t have to rely on someone else.

So for me, I’m just trying to relax and wait it out. I got this other thing going on [working in the tech world] that I can dive into and learn as much as possible. I don’t do well with idle time. The brain has to be active and the brain has been active. It was kind of a blessing in disguise because I got some load off my legs. The last six years have been crazy. Only one of our six guys [Draymond Green] is playing basketball right now. And he is only playing in one of three games. And nobody is even thinking about that. We played a lot of basketball, and it showed with the injuries that we had.

So, it sounds like the Heat don’t have to be worried about you being out of shape or your past injuries?

I need to put on some weight, which is usually the opposite. Usually, it’s like, ‘He needs to lose some weight and shed some pounds.’ But for me, I was doing a lot of boxing. I was on the court a little bit. I was working strategic. I was working smarter, not harder, on the court getting into basketball shape. I was always getting my reps. But in terms of my endurance, I am ready to go.

What did you miss the most about not being on the court?

I occupied my mind so much that I didn’t give myself an opportunity to miss it. I was waking up 6 a.m., 7 a.m, every day. Playing ball, you don’t have to work out that early. You can sleep in late and get in 8, 8:30 at the earliest. But during this stretch I was waking up at 6 and 7 a.m. to start my days. I was making sure I was getting my work in whether it was in the gym or doing my other workout stuff. Then, I was going to my office in downtown San Francisco [from the East Bay Area].

Then I had my CEO fireside chats. I had 12-15 of those. I was just getting to it and getting to work. I wasn’t going to sit around and just wait. I was going to take some action and do what I had to do.

What is your message to players?

What I’ve learned is you got to learn what you can and can’t leverage. You got to know your situation. And then, you also have to understand more so than anything is that any opportunity can come at anytime. And you have to be prepared for it. You got to have a broad understanding of the history of the game, the business of the game. You have to know the people that are really well-respected throughout the league. Pat is one of those guys.

My homework was done before. [The Heat] kind of came in late as a team. They were really smart. If you get in too early, you can get leveraged because you show you have interest. Then, you can be used as leverage for someone else. They moved in silence, which was pretty smart.

What makes Miami a good place for you?

I know their makeup a little bit. I’ve seen their young guys play. Kendrick Nunn was on [the Warriors’] training camp roster [last year]. … Bam Adebayo, I knew a lot about. [Ex-Warriors teammate] Shaun Livingston has spent a lot of time down there and was telling me about it. You keep an eye of what is going on in the league.

I got a 2-year-old and a 12-year-old. It was more so getting comfortable with living so far away and what that would look like. One thing I didn’t want it to be was a rental-type situation where you can be there for like 80 days. You can’t really buy into that. You can’t settle into 80 days on any job. So, it’s let’s build for something.’ That really piqued my interest.

Pat really reminds me of [former Warriors executive] Jerry West. They’re very good. I am a huge fan of Jerry. He’s my guy. They’ve been around the league so long. They have been around so many eras. They’ve seen so much. I read Pat’s book [The Winner Within: A Life Plan for Team Players] about four years ago. [West and Riley] have that smoothness to them. They can sell you anything, but it’s genuine. It’s not a fake dream. It’s a dream, something you can see in your realm.

Have you talked to Jimmy Butler?

No, they’re playing right now. Someone was asking me what I thought about playing with Jimmy. Everyone has their perception of somebody. I was like, ‘It is going to be very easy.’ I played with superstars when I was rookie in the league and some of the top players in the league in my 15th season. I’m going to complement him very well, and I’m looking forward to it.

What was your reaction to what the young players were saying in Memphis about you?

You got to take everything with a grain of salt. Rules shift from time to time across generations. There is a 10- [to] 15-year age difference. They don’t move how we move and the same wasn’t said about us when we were that age. ‘What are young guys doing now? What is respectful now?’ … It’s different.

So, I don’t look at it as personal. I don’t know if it’s from them. But the only thing I will tell them is that I love them. Those are my guys. [DeMar] DeRozan said Lou Williams. He said Lou is my brother and he would give him his last dollar. I feel the same way about every player in this league. I felt the same way about those two guys. Ja is going to be rookie of the year and he is playing amazing basketball. I’ve been watching him this year even though I knew we’d never be teammates. This guy is a talent.

Then-Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala addresses the reporters during NBA Finals media day at Oracle Arena.KYLE TERADA/USA TODAY SPORTS

You could have [gone] into free agency instead of signing an extension. There were rumors that you could re-sign with Golden State as a free agent. What made you comfortable agreeing to an extension with Miami?

I really sat and thought about it. You try to assess what that means for yourself, for the family. You have to look at the landscape, too. You go across the salary caps of every team. You do your homework as well. You have an agent run a number so it all makes sense. All of that plays a part in it.

The makeup of the [Heat] had a lot to do with it. We have a lot of young talent. A lot of guys that are fearless that can play. What I feel that not so much they are missing, but what they can improve upon greatly, I can bring that whether it’s showing them on court or showing them in film or just being around me every day. I am going to take that level of play up a couple notches. Offensively, they’re really good. Defensively, there is some gamesmanship things I can put in the arsenal to make everyone better on the court.

What did you tell your son about the news of you going to Miami?

He is 12 now. It’s an interesting phase for him. He didn’t quite [understand]. He said, ‘Are we gonna leave right now? Do we have to leave, the whole family?’ I was like, ‘No, no, no. You can finish out the school year and leave in June. He relaxed a little bit after that. I told him that we might be there for a couple of years. Kids these days, you got to be a little sensitive about how you drop news on them. You have to lay down the plan going forward to ease the transition.

He’s a good kid. He has some really good friends. As Kevin Hart said, ‘These soft private school kids. …’ [My son] is going to be mad I said that. He’ll be 6-8. When he’s 6-8, fills out and starts looking like me, he will be tough.

Have you talked to Dwyane Wade?

D-Wade and I have a mutual friend. He is really close to both of us. So, I talked to [my mutual friend] for a hot second and we were just together two weeks ago. He hit D-Wade up and we are supposed to connect sometime soon.

Any of your former Warriors teammates text you?

Draymond [Green] texted me. Draymond and I have this funny, interesting relationship on how we view negotiations or the business of basketball or team dynamics or what team would I fit with, what team would he fit with. So, we think the same way in basketball terms. We think with a high IQ. So, when it got done [with Miami], he texted me and we had a really good laugh.

When he signed his deal, we had a really good laugh about that. When he made the All-Star team, we had a really good laugh. This, we felt, was another accomplishment in terms of getting back on the court. I’m excited for this opportunity.

What can pro athletes, in particular black athletes, take from your power move?

More than anything, especially this stage in my career, having yourself set up to make decisions on what you want to do. Not what you have to do. That more than anything. It’s not about I got a good deal out of it or I still get to play. But yes, I still got a good deal and I still get to play. But it is because I wanted to. Not because I had to. And everything I was doing when I was out was a testament to that. I still have something that I really love doing. …

It’s the same with black athletes. We don’t have an opportunity to have some of these doors that I have been able to step foot in opened for us. That’s what the Players Tech Summit is all about. I have had an opportunity to get into these [tech] doors, but I am bringing my [fellow NBA players] with me now. The fund [Catalyst Fund] that I am representing is a fund for entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. We’re focusing on areas that haven’t been funded historically. It’s not about, ‘We got to make some room or place for a minority group.’ We don’t even call it that. There is great talent coming from great backgrounds. Great entrepreneurs that will have opportunities. We’re going to tap into that the same way we do any other company.

At the end of the day, it’s a business. We always say it’s a business. We all have business minds. We just have to find it. We know how to speak it in our own language. But, it’s just about coming up, figuring out how to speak it in their language and take their expertise. We always talk about generational wealth. Jay Z’s album, 4:44, was eons above people’s thought process. The whole album was about us getting together. Husbands building the kind of wealth that is going to last beyond our kids. I still listen to the album to this day.

Chronicling the career and life of Kobe Bryant

Kobe, thanks for all the memories. Rest In Peace.

By Marc J. Spears

People have asked me time and time again: What’s Kobe Bryant like?

“Simply the best,” I always answered.

I first learned about how much he cared when he showed up for a charity game for Hurricane Katrina victims in Houston on Sept. 11, 2005. I will never forget the image of him sitting next to a young black boy on the bench during the charity event. Nor will I forget how he took the time to ask me questions about my New Orleans-based parents and family, who were affected by Katrina. It meant the world to me. There were other NBA stars there that day, including LeBron James and Allen Iverson, but Bryant was the star of the stars.

I first learned about Kobe’s graciousness on Oct. 24, 2008, when my former college basketball teammate Troy McCoy took his 7-year-old son, Cameron, and two of his friends to a Los Angeles Lakers preseason game as a birthday present. After hearing the kids cheering loudly for the Lakers in an otherwise quiet game, Lakers media relations director Alison Bogli gave McCoy and the kids postgame passes to meet some players. Long after the game, Bryant came out of the locker room looking around and saying, “Where’s Cameron at? Where’s Cameron?”

A stunned Cameron put his hand up in the air, but was too shy to say anything. Kobe walked up to the boy and said, “Hello, my name is Kobe. What’s your name?” Bryant got Cameron to respond, then offered the kids words of wisdom and took a picture with them.

Kobe Bryant (right) of the Los Angeles Lakers high-fives fans after the game against the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 28, 2015, at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina.NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE VIA GETTY IMAGES

Kobe approached many of the people he was asked to meet postgame with attention to detail and focus, much like how he played ball.

“He would do a lot of due diligence on his own,” Michelle Obeso-Theus, who worked for Bryant from 2011-15, once told The Undefeated. “Regardless of how people view him, he is a genius. Very tenacious. Resilient.

“He taught me dedication and sacrifice to be great. His vision to see the future was crazy. When he said he wanted to meet someone, he always wanted to know what made them great. It didn’t matter if they were a wood-carver. He wanted to understand the mentality of what it takes for them to be a wood-carver.”

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On Sunday morning, Bryant died at age 41 in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others. He leaves behind a basketball legacy as one of the greatest NBA players of all time and one of its fiercest competitors. He was an NBA MVP, five-time champion, 18-time All-Star, 11-time first team all-NBA selection and two-time Olympic gold medalist. But he was so much more.

Kobe wasn’t just another player I covered.

After he suffered a torn Achilles tendon injury in 2013, Bryant, showing his competitive fire, said via e-mail: “Please do me a favor though and write a piece about what I was doing prior to getting hurt and the numbers I was putting up and bringing the team to the footstep of the postseason. I feel they are forgetting how good I was for ANY age. And that nothing in my career suggests that I won’t come back just as good or better next season.”

Another time, when I mistakenly asked a question and referred to his four NBA championships, he quickly corrected me — it was five — and gave me that Mamba glare.

Kobe was often accommodating to me when doing interviews after games and practices. He called me “Big Spears” and used to give me a hard time for asking thought-provoking questions, once saying, “Man, you always asking me those Dr. Seuss a– questions.” He knew I could take his joking. Kobe had a sharp sense of humor.

Marc J. Spears (left) interviews Kobe Bryant (right) at NBA-All Star weekend in 2013 in Houston.MARC J. SPEARS

One time with his Nike right-hand man Nico Harrison by his side, he playfully objected to doing an interview with me after a Lakers practice unless I changed my wardrobe that day: an adidas sweatsuit and shoes. Keep in mind that Kobe was then a Nike endorser who had a bad breakup with adidas. After some good-natured ribbing, he did the interview.

But when it came down to it, Kobe was thoughtful. In March 2016, I landed a job as the senior NBA writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated and I gave him the news via e-mail. Bryant responded by writing: “Happy for you my brotha!!! Write from the heart!!! Always here for you.”

On Dec. 17, 2018, I was on hand as the Lakers retired both his No. 8 and No. 24. It was his night, but on his way out, he caught a glimpse of me and yelled, “Big Spears.” We shared an embrace and had a brief conversation before he was whisked away. And I am far from the only reporter who Kobe was gracious to, as he made time for countless other media people in sports and beyond.

I last had an in-depth conversation with Kobe in a phone interview last February. He told me about his busy schedule when I asked if he was keeping an eye on the Lakers.

“Look,” he said, “between building an entire studio from scratch, hiring a publishing-production company, licensing, building an animation studio, writing the book, between that and coaching my daughter’s team every single day, I have no time. I mean I have no time. None.”

He remained driven and dedicated to his family.

On March 19, 2019, Bryant released his first sports-fantasy book, The Wizenard Series: Training Camp. Written by Wesley King, Bryant’s youth series features characters of different races and background. He believed his daughters needed to see characters who looked like them.

“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that the characters would be children of color, mixed-race, because that’s what I have at home,” Bryant said. “And that’s what I grew up with. But in the industry, itself, it is very hard to find that. Very, very hard to find that because we tend to … the general argument is that, ‘Well, they can’t appeal to the masses.’ ”

Kobe did.

The basketball world won’t be the same without him. Neither will mine. Rest in peace, Kobe.

Lebron James missed an opportunity with his comments about China

The NBA star used a lot of words to say nothing

By Jesse Washington

LeBron James had more than nine days to study the conflict between China and the NBA and formulate an opinion. What he finally said was disappointing for a man who is “more than an athlete” and built much of his brand on social justice and awareness.

On Oct. 4, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for protesters in Hong Kong who say they are seeking to hold China to its promises to protect certain freedoms. China characterizes the protests as rebellion against its sovereignty. Hong Kong has seen increased violence between demonstrators and police during four months of protests sparked by China’s attempt to legalize extradition from the semiautonomous territory to mainland China.

The context for all this is China’s treatment of its own citizens, which according to Human Rights Watch includes “arbitrary detention, imprisonment, and enforced disappearance”; persecution of religious communities; censorship of the media and public speech; and the mass detention and torture of Turkic Muslims.

These are all topics that the LeBron James we’ve come to know would care about.

When Morey sent his tweet, James and his Los Angeles Lakers were headed to play two exhibitions in China, which is a $500 million market for the NBA. China also is an essential partner for Nike, which employs James under a $1 billion lifetime contract, and a key market for James’ growing TV and film empire. (The Undefeated is an ESPN platform; ESPN and its parent company Disney have various business relationships in China.)

China responded to Morey’s tweet with the cancellation of both Lakers-Brooklyn Nets broadcasts and several NBA community events, and the suspension of a smartphone company’s NBA sponsorship. Also suspended were the Rockets’ TV broadcasts, its relationship with the Chinese Basketball Association, and its online news and game streaming deals. NBA commissioner Adam Silver tried to mollify China while standing up for the principle of free speech. The response from Chinese state broadcaster CCTV: “We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression. We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”

On Monday, this is what James told reporters before the Lakers game:

“When I speak about something, I speak about something I’m very knowledgeable about, something I’m very passionate about. I feel like with this particular situation, it was something not only I was not informed enough about, I just felt like it was something that not only myself or my teammates or my organization had enough information to even talk about it at that point in time and we still feel the same way.”

That’s implausible. As if James couldn’t get any historian, diplomat or other China expert on the phone in the nine days since Morey’s tweet. As if there is no Google.

What makes this sadder is that Chinese citizens have no Google. It’s blocked.

James doesn’t need to denounce or boycott China, no more than Walmart, Coca-Cola or the NBA should. We all use Chinese products every day, and that relationship creates more opportunities for change. If James had simply said, “No comment because I do big business in China,” at least that would have been honest. Or he could have courageously affirmed the principle of human rights while expressing respect for China’s people and sovereignty.

Instead, James said Morey was “misinformed or not really educated on the situation,” which would be hard for James to judge after just claiming he was not informed himself. (Later Monday night, James tweeted that he was referring to the consequences of Morey’s tweet, not the substance.)

James also said that “social media is not always the proper way to go about things,” which is hypocritical for a man whose primary means of engaging with fans, building his brand and calling out injustice are Instagram and Twitter.

“We all talk about freedom of speech,” James told reporters, “Yes, we do have freedom of speech, but at times there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you are not thinking about others and only thinking about yourself.”

Morey has been silent since deleting his tweet, but he was likely thinking about millions of Hong Kong residents. Morey had nothing to personally gain. James, on the other hand, had his business empire to think about when he implausibly claimed ignorance on all things China. Besides basketball games and shoes, James will be selling his upcoming Space Jam reboot, which could earn nine figures in the nation that James has chosen not to be informed about.

I respect and appreciate James’ activism for social and racial justice, which began in 2012 when he and his Miami Heat teammates tweeted a photo supporting slain teenager Trayvon Martin. In many ways, that photo launched the current resurgence of black athlete activism. Back when Trayvon’s shameful killing gave rise to Black Lives Matter, few top athletes engaged in racial advocacy, fearful that fans would stop watching or buying. James had something to lose when he and his team were photographed in hoodies, but he did what was right. That’s part of what makes his China comments more hypocritical and disappointing.

I’m not one of the critics who want to silence James on racial justice, who want him to “shut up and dribble.” I believe in James’ proclamation that he’s “more than an athlete.” This is his time to be that, to fully inhabit the activist legacy of a Muhammad Ali or an Arthur Ashe. James once had the gumption to call out Donald Trump in a tweet, and the president stayed silent — Trump “did not want it with the King.” Now James is cowed by Xi Jinping? Or maybe he should be leery of the Chinese president ruthless enough to disappear Winnie the Pooh.

James’ voice is so influential, he could help crack the great wall of silence that China has erected against dissent. If James chose to speak on China, how many athletes would follow, as they did after Trayvon? Or do we expect that human rights will never come to China?

On Tuesday, James followed up on his previous comments by basically saying that China is not his problem: “I also don’t think every issue should be everybody’s problem as well. When things come up, there’s multiple things that we haven’t talked about that have happened in our own country that we don’t bring up. There’s things that happen in my own community in trying to help my kids graduate high school and go off to college; that’s been my main concern the last couple of years with my school [in Akron, Ohio]. Trying to make sure the inner-city kids that grow up in my hometown can have a brighter future and look at me as an inspiration to get out of the hellhole of the inner city.

NBA players are getting a wake-up call about the business side

By William C. Rhodes.   July 23, 2018

We’ve written a great deal during the last couple of years about the empowerment of professional athletes, especially black athletes. Many are speaking out on issues, joining movements and using their considerable platforms to call attention to issues they feel are important.

But one thing many young athletes, and many old ones, lose track of is that professional athletes are employees. Unlike their fellow workers, professional athletes can be traded, dispatched from one part of the country to another without much consideration given to how trades affect the player’s equilibrium, family life or causes.

Many of the college players drafted last month into the NBA, for example, will not finish their careers with the teams that drafted them.

No matter how popular or even how talented they are, pro players are checkers and chess pieces to be moved around in a way that helps the franchise, not the player, reach its goal.

While most players say they know this, I’m always astounded by the reaction of veteran players when they are traded or released by a team for whom they have toiled for several seasons.

Two seasons ago, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, after completing an emotionally taxing season, expressed hurt and anger when he was traded from Boston to Cleveland.

Last week Kawhi Leonard, after weeks of lobbying for a trade, was shuttled from San Antonio to Toronto in exchange for Raptors star DeMar DeRozan. Each case involved muscle-flexing by the respective organizations that did what was best for the team, not necessarily for the player. In fact, the trades were executed with complete disregard for each player’s wishes.

Leonard made it clear that he wanted to be traded to Los Angeles. He wanted to go home. Maybe San Antonio, out of respect for all Leonard had done for the team and its community, could have accommodated the star’s wishes.

Instead, the organization sent Leonard out of the country, as far north as it could. If Mars were an option, they might have sent Leonard there. The Spurs’ message was clear: We don’t care where you’d rather be. You’ll go where we want you to go.

DeRozan’s case is a bit different, and while it’s hard to feel sorry for someone who will make $27.7 million a season, DeRozan is a sympathetic figure who is emblematic of the business of basketball. He did not see this coming and wanted to stay in Toronto.

DeRozan and Cleveland’s Kevin Love bravely recorded moving PSAs about suffering from depression. When he spoke to reporters last week, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri sang DeRozan’s praises. Ujiri also conceded that he may have misled DeRozan weeks ago in a conversation during the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League when the two discussed what the team would need from DeRozan going forward. The inference being that DeRozan would be on the team.

Thomas tweeted: “Just learn from my story. Loyalty is just a word in this game SMH.”

Perhaps it was because of all the pushback the organization received from NBA players, and from DeRozan himself. One player said Ujiri had stabbed DeRozan in the back.

Thomas tweeted: “Just learn from my story. Loyalty is just a word in this game SMH.”

On the other hand, players hear what they want to hear, and DeRozan may not have seen, or may not have wanted to see, the writing on the wall. What was peculiar about Ujiri’s news conference is that he apologized to DeRozan. In all my years of covering these sort of player wakes, when team officials explain why they traded a player, I cannot recall a GM apologizing to a player.

“It’s one of the tough things in this business,” Ujiri said. “We want to win, and I have to do everything to get us to a championship level, but there’s also the human side of this business. That’s the part I really struggle with the most. That’s what’s most difficult.”

Ujiri added: “I’m a loyal person. You build relationships in this business over the years. You have relationships with players and people, and the human part doesn’t make it easy at all.”

I know Ujiri to be a good human being. Unfortunately, the business he’s in, the business of pro basketball, is not first and foremost about being a good person when winning and your job are on the line.

Ujiri added: “I’m a loyal person. You build relationships in this business over the years. You have relationships with players and people, and the human part doesn’t make it easy at all.”

As he said: “I understand sports, and sports is about winning. I have a mandate to win, and that’s what I want to do is to win a championship, put the Toronto Raptors in a position to win.”

Toronto had gone as far as it could go with the team it had constructed, and team officials decided they could not go further unless a major change was made. Leonard is the change, but to make the change they had to sacrifice DeRozan.

“We’ve given a chance to this team. We tried to build it as much as we can,” Ujiri said. “We got to this level where this opportunity came in front of us and we had to jump on it.”

Although he plays a different sport, New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis understands why players react so emotionally to being traded, even when they know that’s what they signed up for. Davis was drafted by the New York Jets in 2012, signed with Cleveland in 2016 and then was sent back to the Jets in 2017.

“Most guys have always been loyal to the team they played for,” he said during a phone interview. “In high school, you represent whatever school you go to; whatever side of the city you’re on, you represent that. In college, it’s all about representing your college. When you get to the professional league, its different. Teams do what they feel they need to do for the next five years to make the team better. If a guy’s never been traded before, it comes as a shock.”

On the other hand, being traded is what you make of it and, more importantly, whether you choose to look at it as a positive or a negative.

Larry Nance learned that he had been traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Cleveland Cavaliers when he reported to the Suns’ arena on Feb. 25, 1988. Born in Anderson, South Carolina, Nance spent his first 6½ seasons with Phoenix before being traded to Cleveland, where he played for another 6½ seasons.

Being traded for the first time can do a number on a player’s psyche. “First of all, coming from South Carolina, I thought the only way you get traded is that they don’t want you or you’re doing something bad or something like that,” said Nance.

As Nance got older in the league he realized, in his case, he was in fact added value. “I got traded because I was a good player,” he said, referring specifically to the 1988 trade from Phoenix to Cleveland. “They decided to go in a different direction, so they used me to get some pieces to make their team better.”

When his son Larry Nance Jr. was traded from the Lakers to Cleveland in last midseason, Nance told him to look at the glass as being half full. “I warned him about all this stuff and that it doesn’t always mean that it’s something negative if you get traded. A lot of people think that,” Nance said. “It’s all a matter of how you look at things.”

Basketball is a game and a multibillion-dollar industry where the only things that really matter are the top line, the bottom line and fan satisfaction.

“I warned him about all this stuff and that it doesn’t always mean that it’s something negative if you get traded. A lot of people think that, “Nance said. “It’s all a matter of how you look at things.”

Some players learn this lesson later in their careers, while others find out immediately. Last month, the Philadelphia 76ers drafted Villanova’s Mikal Bridges. Great story: Hometown kid gets drafted by his hometown team. In addition, Bridges’ mother works for the 76ers’ vice president of human resources.

The bubble burst within minutes when the 76ers announced that they had traded Bridges to Phoenix for Zhaire Smith and a future draft pick. Bridges was initially crushed, but in the long term he should be flattered: The Suns wanted him badly, and that trumped the excitement of a great story.

That is the business of basketball.

A handful of players may have the ability to call their own shots.

The reality is that the vast majority are merely employees on leashes — gilded leashes, but leashes all the same.

They were all reminded last week that whenever it makes business sense, those leashes will be jerked.