NBA: Sports World Pauses To Acknowledge Kobe On Mamba’s Birthday

By Drew Stevens (@lookwhatdrewdid)

It’s as simple as this, Aaron Rodgers.

If you no longer want any part of an organization whose general manager has begun to dig your grave even as you continue to withstand the rigors of professional quarterbacking with flying colors, then you should most certainly look for a change of scenery. You see how well things are working out for Tom Brady after he ended his longterm relationship with New England, right?

He found greener — and far warmer — pastures in Tampa Bay. Now while it may be tempting to move across country where friendlier climates and your childhood favorite 49ers play, remember, that team blew its chance with you years ago. Besides, the coldest dish of revenge you could serve that bay green and cheese gold-colored front office would be aligning yourself with its sworn enemy, the Chicago Bears.

That’s how you retaliate against Brian Gutekunst, who had the audacity to trade up to select Jordan Love in last year’s NFL Draft, and head coach Matt LaFleur, who was a little too eager to co-sign that move and chose Mason Crosby’s leg, not your invaluable arm, when it mattered most. After all, when you have a chance to really stick it to your ex you don’t date a stranger. You round the bases with the best friend.

Think about it.

Not only would you move from the hallowed ground at Lambeau Field to that at Soldier Field, but you’d also go from being one of the city’s most hated visitors to one of its most beloved residents a la Dennis Rodman.

Plus, you love it here. Or at least that’s what I took from how you talked about the chills you feel before game time listening to both Jim Cornelison belt out the national anthem and Bears fans equally resounding reaction. “Those tingles over the years have made that place a really special environment,” you said in December. “And I do have a lot of respect for the organization, the fan base, their team.”

And we for you, albeit begrudgingly.

But you can’t really blame us for that though, can you? I mean, you did author a 35-16 beat down with your 240 yards and four touchdowns just a few days after speaking so highly of practically all things Chicago. Not to mention that was the 10th victory of your career in the Windy City in the 13 times you’ve played here. Hard feelings are even harder to shake when they’re mixed with the envy of watching your arch-rival swap one hall-of-fame signal caller for another while our carousel of mediocrity at that position continues to turn nonstop.

You can change that. You can rip that ride from its lousy rails. It’ll take some convincing, maybe even a little acting on your part. You’re pretty believable in those State Farm commercials. How good are you at faking or threatening retirement?

As far as compensation goes, tell Gutekunst we can offer the 20th overall pick in this year’s draft and future first-round picks in each of the next two as well. There figures to be a nice crop of blue chip offensive lineman this summer. Something for him to keep in mind given his franchise left tackle, David Bakhtiari, will be playing the rest of his career on a surgically-repaired knee. Also, considering how Kevin King had two touchdowns scored on him and drew a crippling defensive pass interference penalty that essentially robbed you of the chance to play in your second Super Bowl, it seems an upgrade at cornerback is in order. We’ve got a promising one in Jaylon Johnson he might be interested in, too.

If that package doesn’t move him, perhaps we can throw in the tag-and-trade of Allen Robinson. We’d much rather have the two of you here, but if we must sacrifice our most lethal offensive threat then so be it. You’re that special to us. Even today, just a handful of months from beginning your 17th year in the NFL.

Look. Breaking up is hard. There’s no two ways about it. But once you finish sopping up the best comfort food our city has to offer, you’ll adjust. You’ll see that while the sum of the Bears’ current weapons don’t yet compare to that of Davante Adams, Aaron Jones and Robert Tonyan, you’ve had far less to work with in your career than David Montgomery, Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney.

None of this is to say you’d find the type of immediate success that Brady’s found with the Buccaneers. What it does mean is your arrival would, quite frankly, send an already rabid fanbase over the moon; push our mockery of a front office into credible standing; and our overworked defense into more favorable situations.

If nothing else, how satisfying would it be to flip the league’s oldest rivalry on its head, to force Gutekunst and LaFleur to forever rue the day they chose Love?

In Green Bay you had to escape the shadow of Brett Farve — who, against conventional wisdom, was cast out to the Jets of all teams after reaching near-deity status as a Cheeshead, his association with the Packers being the only one that can rival yours post-Bart Starr. Here, in Chicago, you’d cast a shadow as far as our franchise’s list of starting quarterbacks is long before you even threw your first pass in dark navy and orange.

The offseason is long. Our patience for a player your caliber has been woefully longer.

Just give it some thought.

Ok?

With all respect due to the good people at Nike and at Visual Concepts, their respective posthumous commemorations of Kobe Bryant — done in time for Sunday, what would have been Bryant’s 42nd birthday — fall dreadfully short of softening the gut-punch from which we’ve all yet to recover from some six months later.

All anyone really wants is for Bryant to still be here with us instead of being acknowledged in memoriam on a day officially named in his honor by Los Angeles and the Southern California county where he made his home.

Bryant’s heartbreaking death — as well as that of his daughter Gianna, her teammates Payton Chester and Alyssa Altobelli, their parents Sarah Chester and Keri and John Altobelli, coach Christina Mauser and helicopter pilot Ara Zobayan — continues to feel as inconceivable as it did when what started as an innocuous Sunday one week before the Super Bowl was stopped in its tracks by news of the fatal crash on the morning of January 26.

Word of the accident spread both online and off-line like lightning throughout that afternoon. Much misinformation was bantered about and that unfortunately sparked speculation as erroneous reports pinned Bryant’s other children — Natalia, Bianka and Capri — as well as other famous names (Rick Fox) as having accompanied the Bryants on the flight charted for the formerly-known Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California when it crashed into a Calabasas hillside.

Perhaps on this day, the 24th of the eighth month of the year — representative of the two jersey numbers Bryant immortalized and split time wearing during his National Basketball Association career that spanned the length of two decades — paired with the birthday acknowledgments from Sunday, will provide a requisite cathartic release in a year rife with conflict.

There are profitable companies are banking on such a thing, to be sure.

One is the previously mentioned Visual Concepts, makers of the NBA 2K series. Bryant is one of three players who will be featured on the covers of the newest upcoming edition of the popular franchise. One cover, which will be available for current generation consoles, shows him dunking in his No. 8 jersey. The other shows Bryant waving in his No. 24 jersey after his 60-point career finale in 2016 and will be exclusive to next-generation consoles.

Nike, the company with which Bryant was most associated as a pitchman, is dedicating this entire week to the late legend as #MambaWeek, whose festivities began with the release of various colorways of one of his signature shoe models Sunday, the first new Kobe merchandise that’s been made available since his death.

The Los Angeles Lakers are unveiling “Black Mamba” alternate jerseys tonight for Game 4 of their first-round series against the Portland Trailblazers. The jerseys are named after Bryant’s self-given moniker and will be embossed with a heart patch and “2” on the shoulder in a concurrent tribute to Gianna, who wore the number as a member of his Mamba Sports Academy middle-school aged basketball team and aspired to play for the University of Connecticut.

Credit: Phoenix Mercury
WNBA great Diana Turasi wears Kobe Bryant’s name and No. 8 in tribute Sunday in action against the Washington Mystics Sunday

Pay close enough attention to detail and you’ll find Bryant’s influence is as embedded into the skill sets of the stars he;s mentored as the snakeskin stitching sewn onto the uniforms he helped design.

Whether it’s how Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum has enjoyed a near double-digit increase in his scoring average due in part to a more deliberate use of jab steps and pump fakes to shed defenders or the practical application of Bryant’s infamous “Mamba Mentality” by Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo’s relentless invasion of the painted area, where the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player scores nearly 70 percent of his points. Or the revamped repertoire of step-back jumpers, mid-range fade-aways and three-point shooting deployed by NBA Finals MVP and Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard during his recent inclusion into discussions about the league’s best players.

For all intents and purposes, the helicopter accident that claimed the lives of three teenagers and six adults might as well have been what jarred free the other hellish events that have since spilled over into existence.

The deaths of the Bryants and their co-passengers welcomed us officially into a brutal year that’s also seen the merciless throttling of George Floyd and the unconscionable shooting deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor along with the prevalence of a still at-large infectious disease responsible for the loss of more than 170,000 lives and the peril of countless others while a conniving narcissist of a commander-in-chief, whose latest antics include blatant stabs at manipulating the impending presidential election in his favor by withholding proper funding for the United States Postal Service, doing so because of an unsubstantiated fear that universal mail-in voting will lead to voter fraud.

Much like the enduring impression Bryant left on the game of basketball, it’s become frightfully apparent that no matter how many dollars are spent — to honor Bryant on a corporate level or on a consumer level — the sorrow and longing to wake from the collective nightmare sparked by his death isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

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