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Kobe Bryant created a mythology around himself that transcends sports – Sportsnet.ca

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One of the most remarkable athletes of our time died in the most relatable way imaginable.

It was Sunday morning and Kobe Bryant was going to his daughter’s basketball game.

In that moment he was like any other parent, accompanying their child to something they loved and shared – excited, maybe a little nervous or anxious. There are few better feelings.

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But they never made the game, as everyone knows.

And the sports world is left to mourn an original – a competitor and a showman who was cooler than Hollywood and real as a heart attack.

Bryant was image conscious – how many public figures can give themselves their own savage-sounding nickname, make it stick, develop it into a brand and a hashtag and then go out and live up to it?

Not many. But when you break into the best basketball league in the world as an 18-year-old and bow out 20 years later as a five-time champion, 18-time all-star, the fourth all-time leading scorer and possibly the most revered player for generations, you can call yourself whatever you want.

Mamba it is.

Bryant’s on-court legacy is unassailable. He was awesome, and debating how awesome he was is an exercise in splitting hairs that doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Was he the greatest Los Angeles Laker of all time, or was it Magic Johnson? Was Bryant one of the top-five players in NBA history, as so many will argue so passionately, or maybe – as I have argued in the past – somewhere between 10 and 20?

He broke into the league as an athletic colt that could barely be reined in – he was 18 when he shot four air-balls in the fourth quarter and overtime of an elimination game, but was a master technician by the time his career was over.

He was neither shy nor scared. Ever.

Over the years he added layer upon layer of skill and wisdom that, when combined with his six-foot-six frame and world-class athleticism, made him one of the most lethal scorers ever. And he was 12 times all-defence to boot.

He wasn’t perfect. He was stubborn and bordered on selfish at times. His brand of ‘hero ball’ was proven – as analytics become more mainstream – to be an uncertain path to the best basketball outcome.

But no one has ever questioned why Bryant played the way he did: He wanted to win. And more than almost anyone else, he did.

His fellow professionals understood what it took to play at the level he did for as long as he did, and that, combined with his willingness to share his knowledge, made him a walking legend among his peers.

That’s what matters.

But, as the reaction to news of his shocking death in a helicopter crash in the foothills of north of Los Angeles shows, Bryant means more than anything that can be captured by record books or even highlights. Basketball was the just the vehicle for a broader message.

He created a mythology around himself that transcends basketball, or even sports.

Kobe Bryant (Darren Abate/AP)

Consider this excerpt from his best-selling book, Mamba Mentality:

“I liked challenging people and making them uncomfortable. That’s what leads to introspection and that’s what leads to improvement. You could say I dared people to be their best selves.

“That approach never wavered. What I did adjust, though, was how I varied my approach from player to player. I still challenged everyone and made them uncomfortable, I just did it in a way that was tailored to them. To learn what would work and for who, I started doing homework and watched how they behaved. I learned their histories and listened to what their goals were. I learned what made them feel secure and where their greatest doubts lay. Once I understood them, I could help bring the best out of them by touching the right nerve at the right time.”

Bryant’s magic was creating the convincing illusion that things can be willed into existence, that we can control our destiny and that he could create your destiny, too.

It’s an alluring concept, if unreliable. A single-minded focus and the commitment to make any sacrifice required to reach a goal is one of those things that proves itself because few great things have been achieved without going all-in.

The flip side is going all-in doesn’t guarantee great things, and more than a few young NBA players have had to learn that trying to play Bryant’s style with half his talent is a recipe for a short career.

Bryant himself enjoyed some of his most dominant statistical seasons in the years between the championship three-peat he earned when he teamed up with Shaquille O’Neal and the back-to-back titles he won when Pau Gasol was his Lakers co-star. For example, from 2004-05 to 2006-07 Bryant averaged 31.8 points per game – it was in this stretch that he famously dropped 81 on the Toronto Raptors – but the Lakers managed just about 40 wins a season.

And Bryant’s willfulness got him into trouble. He clashed with O’Neal, prematurely undoing one of the most potent partnerships in sports long ahead of its best-before date. He clashed with head coach Phil Jackson early in his career, with Jackson writing in his book Last Season “he couldn’t coach him anymore” – although, they would later reconcile.

Los Angeles Lakers’ Shaquille O’Neal talks with Kobe Bryant during their time as teammates in 2002. (Lucy Nicholson/AP)

Off the court, he allegedly forced himself on a 19-year-old hotel employee in Eagle, Colo. He was charged with sexual assault. The charges were eventually dropped and a civil suit was settled out of court, but a negotiated apology letter by Bryant read, in part: “I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident, I want to apologize to her for my behaviour that night. … Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual I recognize now that she did not believe this encounter between us was consensual. … I now understand how she sincerely feels that she did not consent.”

But as the memories of Colorado faded and Bryant’s on-court accomplishments mounted, it was hard not to see something bigger taking shape than merely a basketball career.

When the NBA All-Star game was in Toronto in 2016 he was the keynote speaker at the annual technology summit. He turned out in a blazer and dark turtleneck, looking every inch a Silicon Valley mogul. It was there he wowed a conference hall full of businessmen and entrepreneurs. The message: He was just getting started.

He had left everything he had on the basketball court. At age 34, and playing his 78th game of the 2012-13 season, Bryant tore his Achilles tendon and then knocked down two free throws to tie a must-win game. Season-ending injuries to his knee and his shoulder followed the next two years and still Bryant refused to leave on anything but his own terms.

At age 37, in 2015-16, Bryant suited up for 66 games and was mostly a shadow of himself, but fans in arenas around the NBA got to celebrate him one last time. And if they didn’t get there in person, he had a documentary crew following him to preserve the moment. In the final game of his career he scored 60 points while taking a career-high 50 shots.

His Hollywood endings were just beginning, and as with his playing days, little was left to chance. His first project was an animated short film, Dear Basketball, an adaptation of the poem of the same title he wrote for the Players’ Tribune announcing his retirement. Bryant teamed with legendary Disney artist Glen Keane and John Williams, an Academy Award-winning composer. Not surprisingly the Hollywood rookie won an Oscar.

Kobe Bryant, winner of the award for best animated short for "Dear Basketball", poses in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, March 4, 2018, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Kobe Bryant, winner of the award for best animated short for “Dear Basketball”, poses in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, March 4, 2018, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

As his two older daughters got old enough to pick up sports (his younger girls are three years old and seven months, respectively) Bryant became the doting, if outsized, sports dad. His older daughter, Natalia, played volleyball and Bryant would attend her tournaments, security in tow, trying to keep a low profile as scores of teenaged girls and their parents would casually wander over to confirm for themselves: ‘Yep, that’s Kobe Bryant.’

His younger daughter Gianna chose basketball and Bryant founded and coached a travel team – Team Mamba.

And while any parent who has had kids in competitive sports has at times wished they could make it better, most limit themselves to volunteering. Bryant, however, had the resources to actually do something about it.

Just over a year ago he announced the opening of the Mamba Sports Academy, a 100,000 square-foot facility with five basketball courts, five volleyball courts, a soccer field and the rest.

“MAMBA Sports Academy is a natural expansion of my commitment to educating and empowering the next generation of kids through sports,” a press release about Bryant’s academy read.

This weekend, there was a big tournament, the Mamba Cup.

As the father of four daughters, Bryant made a point of recognizing female athletes, becoming a regular at WNBA games, supporting the NCAA Women’s tournament and expressing his support and admiration for U.S. Women’s soccer.

His creative energies centred around sports and youth. Be it his Wizenard reading series – kind of a Harry Potter for hoops – or his podcast, The Punies, or other film and TV projects.

As Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, said, Bryant was “just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act.”

We won’t get to see it.

Kobe Bryant. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

Bryant, 41, defied real-life parallels in almost every way. His own self-belief, combined with his talent and presence, gave him a superhero-type vibe, with ‘Black Mamba’ as his alter ego.

It wasn’t crazy. Even among the genetic rarities that populate the NBA, the six-foot-six Bryant stood out. He was faster, stronger and quicker than most, but was still willing to work harder than the most desperate journeyman. On the floor he was a gifted try-hard. Off the court he could glide with presidents and slide into perfect Italian. He overcame adversity – some self-made – and came out stronger.

For all that, he was a star. Forever incandescent.

But in his final moments, he was like so many of us: A father, looking forward to a day with his daughter and her friends, and undoubtedly hoping to get home to enjoy a Sunday evening with his wife and three other girls.

In the end, Mamba was mortal. And the sports world will struggle to make sense of that.

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Player grades: McD and Drai massive again as Edmonton Oilers beat Montreal Canadiens

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The Edmonton Oilers got off to a two-goal lead thanks to a three goal outburst by its killer power play, but then the Oilers did what they’ve done all year, let up defensively and allow goals against.

But a thrilling goal by Darnell Nurse put Edmonton up one goal with four seconds left in the second, the key moment of the game.

Edmonton hung on in the third for a 5-3 win, with Connor McDavid scoring the insurance goal to cap off a two goal, two assist. night.

In total, Edmonton had 13 Grade A shots, with nine 5-alarmers, Montreal ten Grade A shots, four 5-alarmers, which works out to 4.00 expected goals for the Oil, 2.83 for Montreal.

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Connor McDavid, 9. Scored two goals and two assists. Took a near phantom holding penalty in the first. He set up Drai down low on RNH’s second period power play goal. Buzzed around on Edmonton’s 5-on-3 power play before setting up Draisaitl on the glorious kind of pass-and-shoot sequence that will be forever burned into the minds of Edmonton Oilers fans. He shot when the Montreal goalie Jake Allen was expecting pass, firing in Edmonton’s third goal. Took it to Warp Ten again on his breakway goal, with thrilling finish on Oil’s insurance goal.

Leon Draisaitl, 9. One goal and three assists. Brilliant execution on the attack. Great pass to send in Hyman ten seconds into the game. He snapped a horizontal pass through the top of the crease to set up RNH for Edmonton’s power play goal early in the second. Fired home on the 5-on-3, delivering once against with his dread Executioner’s Shot. He made a few smart plays quickly giving over the puck to the Habs after a penalty call to get more time on the 5-on-3 situations. He made a typically fine pass to set up Nurse for Edmonton’s fourth goal. He won a board battle to again send off Hyman for a Grade A shot early in the third.

Zach Hyman, 7. Another solid and eventful outing. Got an early break in, but failed to drain it, then gave up the puck in the defensive slot leading to a dangerous Habs opportunity. He held his slot position and got off a 5-alarm blast early in the second on the power play. He took a nasty crosscheck to the head early in the second, drawing a five-minute penalty and game misconduct for Joel Edmundson. A great hustle play late in the second to win the puck behind the Montreal net, firing up the Virtuous Cycle leading to Edmonton’s fourth goal.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 7. He slammed home a table top hockey goal early in the second off a Drai feed. Heck of a harpoon, that shot. Sent in Janmark with a fine pass early in the third. Was otherwise quiet on the attack.

Jesse Puljujarvi, 7. Maybe his most physical game of his career, with JP winning many battles. He led the team with eight hits.

Mattias Janmark, 6. He charged out fast and furious on Edmonton’s first PK, and allowed a cross-seam pass, allowing Caufiled’s power play shot off the crossbar in the first. Charged in early in the third on a partial breakaway for a 5-alarm shot.

Derek Ryan, 5. He got beat to the outside by Kaiden Guhle for a Grade A shot early in the game. He lost the PK face off, then failed to stop the pass across on a Montreal’s first period power play blast off the post. He made a key defensive play, kicking the puck out of the slot with just under two minutes left, earning a hug from Stuart Skinner. That one play pulled his mark up to a passing grade.

Klim Kostin, 5. He came out battling hard and set up Nurse charging through the slot early in the second.

Devin Shore, 5. Flashed down the wing late in the second with Malone almost putting in the rebound. He lost the puck and a battle early in the third but Joel Armia hit the crossbar.

Dylan Holloway, 5. He made a solid check on Mike Matheson to win a battle late in the third.

Brad Malone, 5.  A lost battle and a turnover early in the caused the Oilers some defensive grief. He almost jammed home Shore’s rebound shot late in the second.

Tyler Benson, 5. Some decent hustle plays.

Darnell Nurse, 7. He turned the wrong way, allowing time and space for an outside shot, kicking off the Sequence of Pain on Dadonov’s goal. Next, he squandered his own good work on the PK, shooting the puck over the glass to take a penalty. Redeemed himself charging up the ice to snipe in a slot shot with four seconds left in the second. He played a more reasonable 22:31.

Cody Ceci, 6. He lost focus for a second, allowing Dadonov to sneak by him for Montreal’s second goal, but was otherwise solid.

Brett Kulak, 7. Quiet game but he did his job well, keeping a clean sheet at even strength, not one major mistake on a Grade A shot against.

Tyson Barrie, 6. He got beat by Dach down the middle on a break-in shot late in the second. But kept a clean sheet at even strength.

Evan Bouchard, 6. He strangely abandoned his defensive post in the second allowing a hard Montreal shot and potential goal off the rebound. But was otherwise solid.

Philip Broberg, 7. Made a few slick defensive stops in the third, blocking a sure goal late in the game with a shot block in the crease. He’s slowly picking up his play, getting better each game. He stepped up in the n-zone early on to win the puck and send McD in on a rush, a solid and confident play.

Stuart Skinner, 5. Not his best night, letting out big rebounds all game. He got beat by a Grade B scoring chance shot on Montreal’s first goal, not good. He gave up a rancid rebound allowing Dadonov to score out of a nothing situation. He looked back in his net getting beat by Arber Xhekaj for Montreal’s third goal. But stopped Dach’s break in goal late in the second and threw a shut-out in the third period when it counted.

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France advance to World Cup quarterfinals with record-breaking night

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France’s Olivier Giroud, left, celebrates with France’s Kylian Mbappe, after scoring the opening goal during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between France and Poland, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

 

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — It all seems so straightforward — laughable, perhaps — for Kylian Mbappé when it comes to the World Cup.

The France forward, who scored four goals when he led his country to the title four years ago as a 19-year-old phenom, put on yet another demonstration of how devastating he can be on the soccer field.

After it was over, Mbappé almost seemed to be chuckling as Robert Lewandowski came over to congratulate him.

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Mbappé scored two goals Sunday and set up another for Olivier Giroud to give France a 3-1 victory over Poland and move the 2018 champions within three wins of successfully defending their title. He already has a tournament-best five goals in Qatar as Les Bleus have reached the quarterfinals for the third straight World Cup.

“The only objective for me is to win the World Cup,” Mbappé said. “The only thing I dream is this. I came here to win this World Cup. I didn’t come here to win the Golden Ball or Golden Boot. If I win it of course I’m going to be happy but that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to win and I’m here to help the French national team.”

Lewandowski, a two-time FIFA player of the year, scored from the penalty spot in second-half stoppage time for Poland.

France will play England for a spot in the semifinals. The English team beat Senegal 3-0.

Mbappé scored his first goal in the 74th minute when he was left unmarked to blast in a long-range shot following a counterattack. He added another in stoppage time when Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny could only get a weak glove on another powerful shot from the man in the No. 10 shirt.

“He can change a match in just a moment and he’s always playing with such joy and we all want to share those smiles with him,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “France needed a great Kylian Mbappé tonight and they got one.”

Having also provided two assists, Mbappé has easily been the most productive player in Qatar.

After his latest exploits, Mbappé explained why he hadn’t addressed the media in Qatar before Sunday.

“I needed to focus on the tournament and my soccer,” he said through a translator, adding that he had volunteered to pay a French federation fine for his silence. “When I want to concentrate on something that’s the way I function. And that’s why I didn’t want to come speak to you before now.

“I’ve been preparing for this tournament throughout the season, physically and mentally,” he added. “I wanted to be ready for this tournament and I am.”

Mbappé celebrated his second goal by waving his arms for the crowd to cheer louder. Then he hoisted himself up onto the crossbar shortly after the final whistle in front of France’s celebrating fans.

Mbappé already has nine career World Cup goals and if he stays healthy, he could probably play in another three editions of soccer’s biggest event — meaning he might approach the tournament’s career scoring record held by Germany striker Miroslav Klose, who scored 16 goals over four World Cups.

“He hurt us today but I am cheering for him because he is a real star,” Poland coach Czesław Michniewicz said through a translator. “I’m talking about (Lionel) Messi, (Cristiano) Ronaldo, Lewandowski. If someone is going to take over, I think Mbappé will be the player to be the best one (for) many years.”

No country has repeated as World Cup champions in six decades — since Brazil achieved the feat by claiming consecutive trophies in 1958 and 1962. Italy is the only other nation to have won two straight, in 1934 and 1938.

While Lewandowski is a prolific scorer himself, he’s never come close to winning a major title with a Poland team that struggles to get him the ball.

Mbappé, by contrast, is supported by a large array of talented players — even though half a dozen top France players are out injured.

The French team took the lead when Mbappé threaded a pass to Giroud and the AC Milan striker quickly slotted the ball into the far corner. It was Giroud’s 52nd career international goal — breaking a tie with Thierry Henry on France’s all-time scoring list.

After Mbappé leaped into Giroud’s arms to celebrate, pumping his fists, Giroud held up seven fingers to the cameras — five on one hand and two on the other for “52.”

It’s all the more sweet for Giroud because he wasn’t even supposed to be a starter on this year’s squad until Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema was ruled out because of injury. Giroud also scored two goals in France’s opening 4-1 win over Australia.

On a record-setting night for France, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris matched the national team mark of 142 appearances held by Lilian Thuram.

With two European teams playing, there weren’t all that many supporters of either country inside Al Thumama Stadium except for small pockets of France fans beating drums behind one goal and red-and-white clad spectators chanting “Polska” behind the opposite goal. There were also plenty of empty seats.

JEWELRY BREAK

Play was paused briefly in the first half when France defender Jules Kounde was told by a match official to remove two gold chains he was wearing.

France coach Didier Deschamps was asked if Kounde kept the chains on because they displayed a rainbow symbol.

“I don’t know what was on his necklace,” Deschamps said. “Jules is superstitious and he usually wears that necklace even in training.”

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Ice Chips Brock Boeser Vancouver Canucks healthy scratch

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Keep updated on all the injury news and roster updates from around the NHL with daily Ice Chips.


Vancouver Canucks

Forward Brock Boeser will be a healthy scratch Saturday against the Arizona Coyotes, according to TSN’s Farhan Lalji. Boeser has spent much of the past three games on the third line.

“Sometimes tough love is tough love. I know he’s capable of being much better,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau. “We want to win and we need him over the long haul to win. We need to be better. It could have been one of a few guys.”

Boeser has three goals and 11 assists in 18 games this season. He will be replaced by Jake Studnicka in the lineup.

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Canucks lines at practice:

Höglander-Horvat-Miller
Mikheyev-Pettersson-Kuzmenko
Joshua-Dries-Garland
Lazar-Åman-Studnicka

OEL-Bear
Hughes-Schenn
Stillman-Myers

Extras: Boeser, Dermott, Burroughs

Spencer Martin will start.


Montreal Canadiens

Jake Allen will get the start in net against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, while forward Brendan Gallagher will miss his second straight game due to a lower-body injury, Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis confirmed.

Allen, 32, has gone 7-8-0 in 15 starts and has a 3.40 goals-against average and .898 save percentage so far this season.

Gallagher is suffering from a lower-body injury and will miss his second game in a row. The 30-year-old has three goals and five assists in 22 games in 2022-23.


Edmonton Oilers

Stuart Skinner will make his 12 start of the season for the Edmonton Oilers against the Canadiens.

Skinner, 24, has a record of 6-5 along with a 2.91 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

Projected lineup as per Tony Brar:

Draisaitl-McDavid-Hyman
Janmark-RNH-Puljujarvi
Holloway-Malone-Benson

Nurse-Ceci
Kulak-Barrie
Broberg-Bouchard

Skinner


Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said that centre Anthony Cirelli will make his season debut against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

Cirelli had 17 goals and 26 assists in 76 games last season.

Lines at morning skate ahead of matchup with Leafs, as per TSN’s Mark Masters:

Hagel – Point – Kucherov
Stamkos – Paul – Killorn
Namestnikov – Cirelli – Colton
Maroon – Bellemare – Perry

Hedman – Sergachev
Cole – Cernak
Bogosian – Perbix
Foote

Vasilevskiy starts


Calgary Flames

Projected lineup vs. Washington Capitals:

Vladar starts

Huberdeau-Lindholm-Toffoli
Dube-Kadri-Mangiapane
Ruzicka-Backlund-Coleman
Lucic-Rooney-Lewis

Hanifin-Andersson
Weegar-Tanev
Zadorov-Stone


Toronto Maple Leafs

Projected lineup vs. Lightning on Saturday, as per TSN’s Mark Masters:

Bunting – Matthews – Nylander
Robertson – Tavares – Marner
Kerfoot – Kampf – Engvall
Aston-Reese – Holmberg – Simmonds

Giordano – Holl
Sandin – Liljegren
Mete – Hollowell

Murray starts

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