The 2019-20 NBA season was among the most difficult in league history for a number of reasons, including the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the Walt Disney World Bubble. However, for the Los Angeles Lakers, there was an extra layer of difficulty, as they dealt with the death of legend Kobe Bryant.
Lakers assistant Phil Handy — who was in the first season of his second tenure with the team — witnessed first-hand how the team struggled and bonded together over Bryant’s untimely death. Handy served as a player development coach with the Lakers for three years during Bryant’s tenure in L.A., so he understood the Black Mamba’s impact on the organization and the players on the team last season.
He spoke in detail about the process of grieving Bryant’s death and playing to honor him during the magical 2020 championship run, via the “All the Smoke” podcast:
“At first it was tough, man, That was a tough adjustment for the team because you know how when you get to that initial stages the first few days, you kind of get used to it. But every time we went on the road, teams did a Kobe tribute that season. So it was tough to kind of put it behind you. But I think once we got to the bubble, you kind of felt everybody’s motivation, and then they pulled out the Mamba jerseys. They pulled out the Mamba jerseys and you saw just a whole different, for some reason, they played at a different sense of urgency. But you kind of felt everybody was really pulling in that direction and trying to do something special.”
Fans saw how the Black Mamba jerseys energized the Lakers in a way that unlocked a new level of their game. However, fans likely didn’t think about how seeing constant tribute videos to Bryant could have affected their mental state.
While they had the best intentions, opposing teams playing Bryant tribute videos when the Lakers were in town probably did not help. The players and coaches were simply trying to move on and put their focus back on basketball but had to be reminded every single road game.
Luckily, Handy and the Lakers were able to use this to band together and bring home a very special championship from within the Bubble.
Handy discusses personal relationship with Bryant
Because Handy got to spend three years working with Bryant, he was able to get a sense for the mentality that made the Black Mamba famous. After a couple years of not spending a significant amount of one-on-one time with Bryant, he told a story of a workout that he was invited to.
Handy said that Bryant wanted them to work out together at 5:45. Handy, thinking it was 5:45 p.m., assumed Bryant bailed on him, only to find out the next day that it was 5:45 a.m. as he actually bailed on Bryant. Perhaps no story describes Bryant better than the one Handy described.
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