Like so many of us, the sudden death of Kobe Bryant left me without words.

Lee Eric Smith

I knew I’d be writing about it, – or trying to, anyway. But still I struggled. Kobe’s last game in Memphis seemed like a natural place to look for inspiration.

That’s where I found my GritGrindGrizz column covering that game, and realized that the words hadn’t escaped me – I’d already written them, but in a far different context.

With minor edits for space, here is that column. Context always changes things, and reading it now . . . well, see for yourself:


Back in the day, before the Grizzlies were a perennial playoff team, one of the main reasons to come to games was to watch the star teams and their star players come to lil ol’ Memphis.

In that era, no team was more popular than the Los Angeles Lakers. And most of them would show up wearing their purple and gold No. 8 jersey, in honor of Kobe Bryant. Some Grizz fans would complain about there being more Laker jerseys in the stands than Grizz jerseys. They’d grouse over how Kobe got more cheers than the Grizzlies did.

So, last night’s game – Kobe’s final game in Memphis – was a delightful throwback. It was a night when everyone was a Kobe fan, and everyone was OK with that.

The Black Mamba gave the sellout crowd what they wanted too. He started off hot, nailing his first three-pointer en route to seven points in the first quarter. He played for 29 minutes and finished with 13 points on 5-14 shooting.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Grizzlies jumped on the Lakers early, riding Matt Barnes’ hot shooting to an early 15-point lead that they were never in danger of losing. The Lakers are awful this year, so it was the best of all worlds: You could be a Grizzlies fan and a Kobe fan without betraying any loyalties.

Several times, fans were chanting “Ko-Be! Ko-Be!” Sometimes, the refs even heard about it when Kobe didn’t get the benefit of a call. Some of that chanting came in the fourth quarter, with the game already decided, as an attempt to get Coach Byron Scott to put Kobe back in for one more run. It actually worked too – Kobe came back in with under five minutes to go.

The whole night was about the Mamba. Before Memphis had its own NBA franchise, many Memphians adopted the Magic/Kareem Lakers as their “home team.” It’s taken some time and thrilling moments for the Grizzlies to claim their own arena when the Lakers come to town. I doubt the team will have to worry about that for a while. It’s going to take some time for the Lakers to become relevant again.

And Memphis won the game 128-119. But for one more glorious night, FedExForum became StaplesCenter Mid-South, awash in purple and gold, people cheering for No. 24 like it’s the last time.

Because it was.