Inside Spencer Hughes' Highlight Tribute to Kobe Bryant


Hughes is a four-star prospect, as rated by Inside Lacrosse, and has not yet committed to a college.

The Bullis School varsity lacrosse team treated its matchup against DeMatha on March 12 as if it was its last game. 

“You could tell in the locker room that there was a different type of energy,” junior midfielder Spencer Hughes said. “We all knew it wasn’t just a normal game. It was something special.”

Hughes’ first goal in the game — and the life it would take on days later — made the 16-7 win even more memorable. As the shot clock ticked down to 10 seconds during a first quarter possession, Hughes changed direction, left his defender in a heap on the ground, then scored on a textbook overhand bounce shot.  

Phillip Pham captured the whole sequence on his Panasonic Lumix GH5 4K camera. Before the game, Hughes told the senior at Walter Johnson High School, who has earned a reputation in the past year for his polished highlight reels, to make sure he paid attention if he scored. 

He had a surprise. 

The goal was impressive on its own, but it’s what Hughes did after that garnered national attention. He turned toward Pham, standing at midfield, and pulled up his throwback gray No. 24 jersey to reveal another vintage uniform. 

A gold No. 8 Kobe Bryant jersey. 

“You don’t understand how perfect that video is going to be,” Hughes’ teammates told him. 

He soon did. After Pham got home and watched Hughes’ goal and tribute again, he knew he had to make a one-clip edit. He synced the sequence with Lord Knows by Meek Mill. 

When Pham woke up the next morning, the Instagram post already had 14,000 views. His followers started tagging Bleacher Report and SportsCenter on their reposts. Soon enough, Pham received a direct message from SportsCenter asking for his permission to share the video on their social channels. 

“I was in shock,” Pham said. 

The clip took off and garnered 1.2 million views on SportsCenter’s Twitter account. Lebron James liked it on Instagram. Lamar Jackson even DM’d Pham on Sunday around 10:30 p.m. 

“Yo bro you hard,” Jackson wrote. 

That’s when Pham’s “heart dropped.” He collected himself and “shot his shot.” If Jackson ever needed someone to film him, he wrote back, he’d be more than happy to help. 

“Word. Keep working,” Jackson replied. 

Hughes didn’t receive any messages from Pro Bowl quarterbacks, but he did get tons from people who had never watched a lacrosse game before. 

“Respect,” was a common refrain. “Mamba forever,” several Kobe fans wrote. 

“It just shows how much respect everyone has for Kobe,” Hughes said. “It’s not just me.”

Like most sports fans, Hughes was devastated when he learned that Bryant died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., on January 26. He remembers trying to replicate Bryant’s signature fade away when he played basketball growing up. The uncommitted Inside Lacrosse four-star recruit has tried to carry over the five-time NBA champion’s trademark intensity and Mamba mentality to the lacrosse field. 

“I’ve always wanted to be the one with the ball at the last second,” Hughes said. “I always wanted to be the one scoring the important goal and working harder than everybody else to destroy the competition like he would.” 

“Kobe was a great athlete and a great competitor,” said Bullis head coach, Jeff Bellistri, who didn’t find out about the homage until his son, Caulley, a senior goalie for the Bulldogs, told him it was blowing up on social media. “Spencer is the same. He’s a tough competitor … He is a shaker and a shooter. He can shake to get his hands free, and he’s got probably the hardest shot on the team.” 

Hughes asked Bellistri before the season if he could switch from No. 2 to No. 24, which he’s donned for years on his DC Express club team. Hughes wore the Lakers jersey, which his friend Stevie Perez gave him in the wake of Bryant’s death, underneath his pads during Bullis’ first two games. He was hesitant to show it off until last Thursday. 

“Since it was possibly our last game, I had to do it,” he said. 

Hughes appreciates the sudden attention, but while discussing the reaction to the highlight, his thoughts gravitated to the 12 seniors who might not get another chance to wear the blue and gold. The co-ed K-12 independent school, located just outside of Washington, D.C., in Potomac, Md., started remote learning on Wednesday in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The earliest they can return to campus is April 6. That now seems unlikely. 

“Look guys,” Bellistri, who is also a math teacher in the upper school, told the team after their win. “It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s not about the team. It’s not about Bullis. It’s about doing things to make those most vulnerable safer. If that means we have to give up lacrosse for now to potentially save lives, that’s a good thing.” 

Although Hughes knows there is much more at stake than the game he loves, he still hopes his version of a one shining moment isn’t the last highlight of this spring. The Bulldogs were supposed to play Archbishop Spalding at the University of Maryland last Saturday and Loyola Blakefield yesterday. Instead, Hughes has practiced shooting at Richard Montgomery High School each afternoon, alone. 

He’d trade all the likes and the bump in followers to take the field again with those seniors and compete for their third consecutive Interstate Athletic Conference Championship. His comment on Pham’s highlight video of the Dematha game echoed the desire of athletes across the country. It also sounds like a certain NBA great. 

“Just wanna ball again.”

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