The Laker’s locker room was empty save for two stragglers, one of them just taking his time, and the other mulling over a disappointing loss to the defending champion Cavaliers.
Nick Young, having finally gotten around to putting his street clothes on, sat next down to D’Angelo Russell’s locker. “Nice game, man. Forty points! Kobe would be proud.”
“Kobe woulda wanted the win,” D’Angelo replied, scowling. He was still dressed in his sweaty game jersey.
Nick’s smile remained despite D’Angelo’s sour mood. He patted his second-year teammate on the back. “Yeah, but Kobe also woulda wanted to score forty. That’s how he was.”
Leaning away to avoid Nick’s touch, D’Angelo replied, “You weren’t the only one who was teammates with Kobe. I know what he was like. And I know that he wanted to win more than anything.”
“I think I knew Kobe a little better than most,” Nick responded. His jovial demeanor had cooled.
“Yeah?” D’Angelo scoffed, staring down at his shoes. “‘Cause you got to tank with him a few times? Real close friends, Nick Young and Kobe Bryant.”
Nick shook his head, seemingly disappointed in the young player’s confrontational attitude. “Don’t doubt our friendship, man. It was deeper than you know.”
There was silence for a while, an uncommon thing with Nick. It went on for so long that D’Angelo finally looked up at his teammate, with whom he had been avoiding eye contact. What he saw happening to Nick’s body shocked and disgusted him.
Nick’s clothes had fallen away from his body, and his skin had split in two as if a zipper ran right down his body from his head to his legs. Inside the skin was not normal human muscles, tissues, and organs; instead, another human being resided there, covered with blood and grease, pale after having been hidden away from the light for untold years.
Even in his disgust, D’Angelo recognized the face immediately. It was Kobe.
“Nick made the ultimate sacrifice,” Kobe said softly, and for some reason, it surprised D’Angelo that the voice coming from Kobe’s mouth was Kobe’s own and not Nick’s. “He gave up his life to aid another, and his friendship will never be forgotten.”
D’Angelo couldn’t speak. He could only watch as Kobe ripped off the skin of Nick Young which was still clinging to him.
“It’s true, I would have wanted the win above all,” Kobe said after he had freed himself from the remains of Nick’s human form. “But do not let that diminish your exemplary performance, D’Angelo. Forty points is a very fine total for a player as young as yourself. One could even say,” – and here, Kobe chuckled to himself – “It was Kobe-Esque.”
D’Angelo stood up and faced his idol. After some unspoken agreement was reached, Kobe held out his arms, D’Angelo mimicked the gesture, and they embraced, young and old, but at that moment, as one.