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One year after Kobe’s death, Lakers, fans still trying to process it

One year after Kobe Bryant's death, Michael Holley and Michael Smith reflect on the Lakers icon's legendary career, personality off the court and accomplishments after his retirement.

LOS ANGELES — Lakers’ center Marc Gasol wouldn’t even let the reporter finish the question.

“I’m not comfortable talking about it. Still, to this day, I have never really talked about it,” Gasol said when asked on a postgame media Zoom about the anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s death.

He’s not alone, either on the Lakers or around the NBA.

On the one-year anniversary of the death of Kobe, a lot of people — fans and players — are still trying to come to grips with it. For example, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue — a former teammate of Bryant’s — said he had not put up pictures of him and Bryant in his new office because it was too painful.

“I try not to put myself back in that headspace because it’s just too dark,” LeBron James said. “For not only myself but for our organization and for everyone that’s involved in it.”

The sudden death of Kobe, his daughter Gigi, and seven others in a helicopter crash in Southern California on the morning of Jan. 26, 2020, shocked the NBA and the nation. Kobe was an icon whose personality and message reached beyond his five NBA championships or even the Oscar he won in his post-basketball career.

Kobe’s “mamba mentality” — “focusing on the process and trusting in the hard work when it matters most” — had become a rallying cry for people trying to give their all, from high school sports fields to restaurant kitchens to insurance offices.

Most directly, Bryant impacted a generation of hoopers who took his work ethic to heart and tried to match his killer instinct on the court.

That legacy and mentality of Kobe are still around the Lakers — Kobe’s 8 and 24 jerseys both hang over the court at Staples Center. When the Lakers break huddles, it’s with “1-2-3 Mamba.”

“To this day it’s, ‘Mamba on three’ anytime we bring it in because we still want to recognize that he’s a part of our organization,” Lakers big man Anthony Davis said. “And ever since the tragedy happened, we had a mindset that this is bigger than, you know, ourselves.”

“He will be part of the team, the franchise, the city, for each player,” Gasol said. “We have talked about it, each player has said their piece, it’s very emotional. He’s someone we obviously looked up to.”

Lue — who won a title with Kobe in 2001 (with Lue guarding Allen Iverson to take some pressure off Kobe) — says for him the wound of Kobe’s passing is still fresh, as he told reporters in a recent interview.

“Still, to this day, just tough,” Lue said... “When you look and just watch old clips, when they are showing stuff from old games or commercials, it’s just tough for me to see.

“I don’t really deal with death well. I always try to forget about it. It’s just something that is tough for me, especially with someone I was so close to. It’s just hard.”

The saying is time heals all wounds.

Some wounds just take much longer than others. Kobe’s passing hit especially hard.

“Man, it’s a saying that time heals all…" LeBron said. “And it takes time. Everyone has their own grieving process.”

What will live on is Kobe’s legacy.

“I’m able to wear the 2-4 on my finger every night,” LeBron said, referring to what is written on his taped fingers every game. “And then when we play at Staples Center, you see that 8 and 24 in the rafters and be able to just live his legacy on.

“There’s a lot of things that die in the world, but legends never die, and he’s exactly that.”