It has not been an easy year in the NBA. January 1 struck with the death of one of the most transformational commissioners in all of sports and the predecessor of Adam Silver, David Stern, and was followed just weeks later with the tragic death of Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who retired in 2016, in a helicopter crash.
Five weeks after that, the spread of the novel coronavirus forced Silver to put a halt to the NBA season, putting it into a four-month hiatus that only started again with players set apart in a sterile “bubble” environment in Orlando, without fans or even family members on hand.
It might be only fitting that, if the Lakers should proceed in the playoffs, the team will bring this woebegone season back to Bryant by wearing the “Black Mamba” uniforms that Bryant helped to design for the team’s 2017 City Series alternate uniforms. That comes according to Los Angeles Times reporter Broderick Turner, who wrote that if the top-seeded Lakers can beat the Trail Blazers to start the NBA playoffs, they, “plan to wear the Black Mamba jersey in honor of Kobe Bryant during the following rounds.”
Kobe Bryant Designed the Black Mamba Uniforms
When the NBA began having teams introduce the City Edition of uniforms, the Lakers put the designs in the hands of team legends and dubbed the collection the, “Lore Series.” Shaquille O’Neal also designed one of the Lakers’ uniforms.
Bryant chose to have his uniforms be black with a subtle snakeskin pattern in the fabric. That was a tip to his nickname, the Black Mamba.
There will be 16 stars on the side panels of the uniform, Turner wrote, one for each of the 16 championships the Lakers have won.
Getting the Lakers into those uniforms might take some effort, because the team will only wear them after the first round and their initial opponent is no cupcake. Portland went 6-2 in its seeding games in Orlando and beat Memphis in the final-seed play-in game on Saturday.
Portland has a league-best 122.5 offensive rating in the bubble games. Point guard Damian Lillard won the awkwardly titled NBA Player of the Seeding Games which will look dandy on a trophy. In the seeding games, he averaged 37.6 points and 9.6 assists, while shooting 49.7% from the field and 43.6% from the 3-point line.
The Blazers also got an enormous contribution from center Jusuf Nurkic, who was out for the entire year recovering from a broken leg before returning for bubble games. Nurkic averaged 17.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.0 rebounds in eight games.
The Lakers went 3-5 in what were mostly meaningless seeding games. Still, they were disturbingly unable to make shots in those games, finishing 21st of 22 teams with an effective field-goal percentage (which takes into account 3-point shooting) of 49.5.
Lakers Have Wanted to Honor Kobe Bryant
The Lakers have been wearing “KB” patches on their jerseys honoring Bryant since he died in the helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
Several players have spoken about the importance of Bryant to their careers and how meaningful it would be to have the Lakers win a championship in what has been such a dark and bizarre season. They’ve also given him acknowledgment at several points during the restart.
Anthony Davis arrived at the Orlando bubble last month wearing the shirt that was given out to those who attended Bryant’s memorial in Los Angeles in February.
In a win over Utah, Davis scored 20 points in a half, becoming the first Laker to accomplish that 20 times in a season since Bryant. Asked about it after the game, Davis told ESPN, “I just got chills. It’s tough always talking about him but to be in a category with him, it means a lot. I know he’s looking down on us and cheering us on, so we want to do it for him. It’s an honor to even be mentioned with his name.”
LeBron James also expressed his desire to honor Bryant’s memory in a virtual press conference last month.
“A day doesn’t go by where I don’t think about him,” James said. “A day doesn’t go by where our organization doesn’t remember him and think about not only Kob’, but Gigi, Vanessa and the other girls.”
The Lakers will have a chance to honor Bryant with the uniforms he designed—if they can get past Portland, that is.