It has been more than six months since Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other passengers died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. It seems like an eternity ago considering what has happened since the tragic accident, including a global pandemic that halted the NBA season.
But for Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, the memory of Bryant is as fresh as ever. “Kobe’s with me every day,” Booker, wearing a Kobe shirt, said after a 114-99 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Thursday.
There undeniably was a special bond between Bryant and Booker. The young guard, often dubbed “Young Kobe,” has been vocal about the influence the legendary Laker, his fabled Mamba Mentality and mentorship, has had on the Suns star’s career and life.
Bryant signed Booker’s shoes after the two players faced each other in 2016, which was his last ever game against Phoenix. The message was simple but powerful: Be legendary. Booker had the phrase tattooed, and also scribbles is on his shoes — often a pair from Bryant’s signature line with Nike — before games.
“You guys see what I put on my shoes, ‘Be legendary.’ That’s a reminder for me,” Booker said. “Even without that reminder, in 24 hours at least two or three times a day, it crosses my mind, if not more.”
Booker and his Suns have been in a tremendous form during the NBA restart. Phoenix has won every seeding game so far, defeating the likes of the Dallas Mavericks and L.A. Clippers along the way, and are currently sitting in 10th place in the Western Conference standings.
Booker acknowledged he has not had much success in his five-year time in Phoenix. But he warns the Suns are not done yet in the Orlando bubble. “We’re going to keep our head down, keep working,” Booker said.
“I don’t think anybody here is worried about 4-0. We still have plans and goals for this team to reach, and 4-0 wasn’t it.”
The Lakers should take note of Phoenix’s run. They are 1.5 games behind the Portland Trail Blazers and two behind the Memphis Grizzlies, who are yet to win a game in Orlando. If the Suns can extend their run, they could suddenly join the battle for the No. 8 seed which LeBron James and Co. will meet in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
Seeding games tough to approach after clinching No.1 seed
Ahead of the 113-97 loss to the Houston Rockets on Thursday, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel admitted approaching the remaining seeding games with the right mindset is difficult having already secured the top spot in the Western Conference.
“It is a challenge, to be honest,” Vogel said. “Especially with the environment without fans. We can’t let that impact our play.
“The habits and way we play have to continue to improve. Obviously it’s not going to feel the same as Game 1 of the playoffs, but we have work to do to try and get better each time we take the floor.”
Have you subscribed to our YouTube channel? It’s the best way to watch player interviews, exclusive coverage from events, participate in live shows, and more!