The Lakers Try To Keep Things Lighthearted By Playing A Little Football After Kobe Bryant's Death
Anthony Davis ran down the grassy field as LeBron James guarded him, but the football was tossed at least five feet short of both of them.
They hung their heads and laughed. Davis waved his right arm in the air, dismissing the bad pass. Davis then bumped into James with a smile plastered across his face and said, "Damn," as they chuckled.
The Lakers had a bit of levity on a soccer field across the street from their practice facility on Thursday in their second real practice since Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died in a helicopter crash Sunday along with seven other people.
They stretched and did warm up exercises across the field, including pulling their feet behind them toward their buttocks, bending down and touching their flexed feet and running backwards. Then they tossed around a football.
They got some fresh air. They got some sunshine. They laughed. They teased each other.
And they got a much-needed ephemeral reprieve from the sadness that has engulfed them since one of the greatest basketball players of all time tragically died.
"One of the luxuries of living in Los Angeles, Southern California," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Thursday. "You have this great weather from time to time. It’s a beautiful day out. There’s always therapeutic benefits to sunshine and being outside in the fresh air. We have this field right across the street, which has just been great for us opportunistically to go out there and get a stretch out there."
For the second day in a row, Vogel was the only person who spoke at the Lakers' media availability.
Vogel said he's been trying to keep things as light has he can, trying to help the Lakers find bit of normalcy during this incredibly hard time for the team.
"Laughter is always a good remedy for something like this when it’s appropriate," Vogel said. "We’ve had stuff like that. [Thursday's] workout outside, it’s not the first time we’ve done that. But it does feel good to be out there. Just a change-up. It was really just a warm-up, and once we came inside it was business. Get back to business and lock into the work of what we have to get done in practice."
The Lakers will play their first game Friday against Portland since Bryant's death. Vogel said there will be tributes to Bryant, but he declined to reveal details.
"I would imagine it probably makes it a little harder than an ordinary game with all the emotions and all that stuff, but we shouldn’t do it any other way," Vogel said. "It’s the right thing to do and it will be an important night for our franchise and Laker nation."
In the Lakers' last game against Philadelphia on Saturday, James passed Bryant for third on the all-time scorers list. James wrote in an Instagram post that Bryant called him Sunday morning to congratulate him, hours before the deadly crash. The NBA canceled the Lakers' game against the Clippers on Tuesday to let the players grieve.
James and Davis haven't spoken publicly since the accident, but Vogel said their leadership has been crucial for the team the last few days. At times, they were vocal. At times, they poured themselves into basketball.
"Our mindset has just been let’s attack the work," Vogel said. "This is what we get lost in. This is our mindset from day one of training camp just to stay in the moment and focus on what we can accomplish today. [James and Davis] had that mindset the last couple days and [have] been great."
Lakers' general manager Rob Pelinka, who was Bryant's former agent and close friend, has been back and forth between Newport Beach -- where the Bryants live -- and the team's practice facility over the last couple of days.
"We've just encouraged him to be with his family as much as he can, and to be away from here, and to be here as much as feels right for him," Vogel said. "To his credit, he's done just a great job of striking that balance, just making sure obviously that his priorities are in the right spot to be down in Newport. But he's been in the last two days and we're concentrating on the work. There's therapy in the work. Our whole belief since I got here is we're just going to put our heads down, roll our sleeves up and grind and do the job. That really hasn't been any different for him the past few days."
Quinn Cook, who grew up idolizing Bryant, changed his jersey number from 2 to 28 to honor the Bryants. Gianna wore No. 2 in her youth basketball games, Bryant wore No. 8.
"He's taking this very hard," Vogel said. "The Lakers were very close to him and I don't want to get too much into his personal story, but this has impacted him a lot, like it's impacted all of us. I love what he did in terms of switching his number, the way that he did it, the meaning behind it. I admire that."
Everyone on the Lakers is grieving in their own way.
But spending time together has helped.
"Being around each other is good for all of us," Vogel said.