By Jason Cruz
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Welcome to another edition of The Layup Drill. This month, the coronavirus outbreak is impacting the Asian Football Confederation cup matches, the Mariners welcome two new pitchers, and we look back at the Kobe Bryant tragedy.
Virus impacts opening round of AFC’s Asian Champions League
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced after an emergency meeting last week that because of the spread of the coronavirus, the first three games for three Chinese clubs—Shanghai SIPG, Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai Shenhua—will be postponed.
Several countries have imposed travel restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.
The AFC Cup preliminary, play-off, and group-stage matches will now be played on April 7.
New Mariners seek to help pitching
As we head into spring, the Seattle Mariners will head to Arizona for spring training later this month. In late January, it was announced that they signed Wei-Yin Chen from the Miami Marlins and former Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Yoshihisa Hirano to help bolster its relief pitching.
Hirano played for 11 years in Japan and then signed with the Diamondbacks. The reliever is known for his fastball, which garnered 120 strikeouts last season in 120 innings. At 35 years old, the Mariners hope to add some experience to the relatively young core of pitchers on the team.
Chen signed a Minor League deal with the Mariners, which means there is no guarantee that he will make the team when the regular season starts. But the 34-year-old has been playing in the majors for 8 years and could be a solid bullpen option for a team that still is trying to find out who will be on their pitching staff. Chen played with the Baltimore Orioles as a starter from 2012-2015 where he posted good numbers, and then moved on to Miami where he signed a 4-year, $80 million contract. The native of Taiwan struggled in Miami and was released by the team this past November. Chen will be looking to revive a career that had been hampered by injuries and poor pitching the last couple years.
Bryant tragedy shocks, stuns sports community
Former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, in Calabasas, Calif., along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and 7 other people as they were traveling to a game for Bryant’s daughter. The former NBA star coached his daughter’s team. The death shocked the NBA community as many current players actively communicated with Bryant and many were close friends. Bryant was revered by teammates and opponents alike for his relentless work ethic and his killer instinct as a competitor.
Former teammate Jeremy Lin sent out an Instagram homage to Bryant reading, “RIP Kobe….From sharing the same bday to opponents to teammates…respect for everything you did for the game and world. Gone too soon, lifes (sic) truly too precious #legend.”
Lin played with Bryant on the Lakers during the 2014-2015 season. While the two worked together, there were times when things got testy. Bryant, a notoriously demanding teammate, would engage in trash talk with Lin during practice to test his mental toughness when facing adversity. Lin would not back down although videos of practice showed Kobe berating him and forcing him to miss shots. Despite the stern treatment, it’s clear that Lin had much admiration and respect for Bryant as he helped Lin grow as a player.
Lin currently plays for the Beijing Ducks of the Chinese Basketball Association.
Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson posted the jersey numbers of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna on his social media. Clarkson, who is part Filipino, also posted a picture of him and Bryant in an embrace. The two were teammates from 2014-2016.
The heartache of Bryant’s death reached beyond the basketball world as tennis star Naomi Osaka expressed her sadness on social media. The day after his tragic passing, Osaka posted an open letter to Bryant to express her grief. After his retirement, Bryant turned to the tennis court after leaving the basketball court. He quickly became a fan of Osaka. The two kept in touch via text messages.
“Dear, Big bro,” Osaka’s tribute started, “Thank you for being you. Thank you for inspiring people everywhere, you have no idea how many hearts you’ve touched…” In her message, she thanked Kobe for always contacting her and helping her through tough times. Like many in the tennis community that Kobe interacted with when he started to play tennis as a hobby, Osaka wanted to publicly pay tribute as he inspired them to be better.
Tiger Woods was finishing a round of golf when his caddie stopped him before meeting with the media to break the news to him. Woods noted that fans were yelling “Do it for Mamba!” on the golf course, but was unsure of what it meant.
“People yell things all the time, so I was just plodding along, doing my own thing. Then when Joey [LaCava, Woods’ caddie] told me that, it’s unbelievable, the reality that he’s no longer here…” Woods grew up as a Lakers fan and befriended Bryant. Woods turned pro the same year that Bryant started in the NBA in 1996. The golfing great commemorated Bryant by talking about his admiration for his competitive spirit and mental toughness even through injury. Woods recalled Bryant gutting out a ruptured Achilles to walk on the court to shoot free throws before going to the locker room for medical attention.
Bryant’s star shined bright among the biggest of stars regardless of sport.
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.