Archives For Kobe

Kobe Bryant and I are the same age (he also, coincidentally, shares a birthday with my older brother). Some 19 years ago when Kobe stood at a podium with his Oakley sunglasses propped up on his forehead to announce that he was taking his talents to the NBA, I too was transitioning to that next phase in my life and preparing to go away to college. After it was announced that this high school kid would be a Laker, I, naturally, took a great interest in his career.

In the nearly 19 years that Kobe has worn a Lakers’ jersey so much has occurred it’s nearly impossible to recount it all. Airballs in Utah, ridiculous shots in Portland on the last day of a season, a championship celebration in Orlando, a fractured hand, a hurt shoulder, a ruptured achilles…it all blends together like a desert landscape viewed through the window on a long car ride. I’d pick out one moment, but I don’t have a favorite uncle; my family is my family.

The new moments, though, act as a reminder. They jog the memory and turn history into today’s celebration, recreating the feeling from many years ago by rekindling the flames of past accomplishments. Especially when today’s acts truly are a culmination of what is, essentially, a life’s work.

We’ve known this moment was coming for some time. But actually watching it happen, for me at least, was still a tremendous moment. The combination of longevity and production needed to reach such heights astounds me. The fact that the guy who did it is that same guy who, as a kid, had those Oakley’s sitting on his forehead makes it that much more special.

Kobe will never quite be the player many want him to be. As his efficiency wanes, his personality shows more hard edges, and his team suffers more losses than wins another type of validation will come for that sect. And as the complexities of his game, leadership, and overall status as a player are pushed to the middle of the spotlight both sides of the argument will meet with loud voices and even louder arguments trying to get to the bottom of what it all means.

For me, though, there will be none of that. And there especially won’t be some long discussion about Michael Jordan, measuring sticks, and how achievements do or don’t stack up. Kobe is one of the greatest players I ever saw grace a basketball court. Where he falls in that discussion matters less to me than the fact that he is part of that conversation. Far from perfect, but a provider of more moments worth celebrating than not. And, really, what more could you ask for?

The man harnessed his skill through immeasurable work to achieve at a level I never would have expected. He did it his way, for better or for worse, and nearly two decades later is still out there giving it his all. And while many would have hoped for a different route, it’s hard to argue with the path traveled considering there really wasn’t a road map to follow.

It was the end of the game and Kobe was talking to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com and TWC Sportsnet. He was describing the team’s win, but also how sore his body was after games and some of what he would do to recover to play the next game.

Kobe had played nearly 36 minutes and led the Lakers down the stretch, scoring nine of his game high 32 points in the final period including two big free throws that pushed the lead to three in the closing seconds. Further, over the final six minutes of the game, Kobe had a hand in every point the Lakers scored tallying three assists on the only points not scored by him over that stretch.

Nights like this have been rare for Kobe. Not necessarily the numbers part, the winning part. The W’s have been few and far between, but the numbers have been there almost nightly. The good and the bad.

A simple scan of his season stats tells you a couple of things. First, Kobe is still a guy giving the Lakers his 25, 5 and 5. These are the numbers that will be engraved on his tombstone, a testament to the all around game that made him one of the league’s best for the better part of two decades. The second, however, is that those numbers are coming at the worst efficiency of his career. Kobe’s not even shooting 40% from the field, not even 30% from behind the arc, and has a True Shooting Percentage below 50%. And all of this on over 22 shots a game and a usage rate that is leading the league and the 2nd highest of his career. It all adds up to some troubling statistics that, when added up, tell a story of Kobe doing more harm than good when he’s on the floor.

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One of my favorite parts of the old Lakers’ telecasts on KCAL Channel 9 was Chick Hearn interviewing players from the Lakers and the opposing team. The interviews would often air during the pre-game or halftime show and would always give some insight or an anecdote that you likely weren’t going to get from anywhere else. Credit Chick who, along with his brilliance as the game’s best play by play man, was also as personable and pleasant as could be when chatting with the players.

This video, however, is one that I’d never seen. After starting his first career game the night before — a game in which he’d scored 12 points on 5-11 shooting — Chick sat down with rookie Kobe Bryant for a chat:

Some good stuff in this clip, but the thing that stands out is Kobe’s youth and, even at only 18 years old, the charisma and charm that, along with his prodigious talent, made him one of the league’s most popular players very early in his career. This clip also brings out a fair amount of nostalgia. This was before Phil Jackson, before the heartbreaking playoff losses, before the championships, and before the feuds that saw it all end. This was just the beginning.

With Kobe’s career nearing its end, it really is something to see him so young, so long ago, as a bright eyed rookie. In a way it makes me sad. It also makes me feel extremely grateful that nearly 18 years later he is still wearing the purple and gold. Oh, an by the way, that night against the Spurs on the 2nd night of a back to back, Kobe started his second straight game and scored 19 points on 6-12 shooting to help the Lakers win their 5th straight game.

(H/T to Andy Kamenetzky and Jon Weisman for the clip)

More than any of the other candidates who could have gotten the Lakers’ head coaching job, Byron Scott will get an extended honeymoon period. While I have expressed my thoughts on more than one occasion about how much Scott’s history as a Laker should matter, the fact is that it does. It mattered to the front office when they made their choice to hire him and it matters to fans now.

More than what matters to fans or Jim Buss or Mitch Kupchak, though, what matters to the players is most important. They’re the ones who will follow Scott into the battle or tune him out. They are the ones who must buy in to what he’s selling in terms of philosophy and then go out on the court and execute his schemes. And of all the players, the one who matters most here is Kobe Bryant. He’s the leader of this team on the floor and if he’s on board the other’s will follow him.

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If you are an NBA fan, you are familiar with Allen Iverson’s famous rant on practice. In response to a report that Iverson had missed a session (and his coach’s criticism that came with it), he vented to the press and delivered the now famous quotes. While that clip will never cease to make me smile, we must not forget that for all intents and purposes, Iverson was wrong in the big picture. His coach at the time, Larry Brown, came from the Dean Smith tree of coaching that emphasized “playing the right way” and establishing good habits in, yes, practice. Iverson, acknowledged those things, but still turned the moment into a half joke-half serious retort to the idea in principle, going so far as to rhetorically ask how he can make his teammates better by practicing.

I take this trip down memory lane not to beat up The Answer or to try and tarnish the rep of a guy who I used to love to watch compete. No, I bring it up because I was thinking about A.I.’s one time rival, Mr. Kobe Bean Bryant and one of the ways he can most help this year’s Lakers.

In a recent sit down with Dave McMenamin, Nick Young waxed on many topics, including growing up in Los Angeles, his “legend” status as a competitor in the famous Drew League, and returning to the Lakers to try and build on his strong individual campaign last year. He also talked about Kobe and offered these very nice words on his teammate:

“He’s been great, really. He’s been like my mentor, really, right now. He’s been calling, texting me, talking to me, motivating me. I think that’s big. Growing up, who would have thought Kobe would be the one doing all that? I didn’t ever think I’d be working out with Kobe or talking to him.”

Kobe “the mentor” is an idea that comes up periodically from both current and former teammates. Often times it’s framed in the exact manner that Young did, almost in a “who’d have thunk it?” way or as a means of contrasting what is the more general view of Kobe as a teammate. More often than not, we think of Kobe as a guy who will get in teammates faces and tell them the things they don’t want to hear, rather than the nurturing type who builds guys up. He has gone on record as someone who leads through confrontation, after all, so it’s not a surprise that conventional thinking exists.

No leader is any one way all the time, however, so this isn’t a matter of style or tactics or, even, effectiveness (which I’d argue Kobe very much is). It’s a matter of presence. Last year, Kobe was not around. While he was with the team during his comeback from his achilles injury, his presence faded after fracturing a bone in his knee that kept him out after his brief six game return. The longer his absence from the court went, the less and less Kobe was around the guys, either on the bench at the games or at the practices to serve as an example and voice of leadership.

In a way, his absence from the practice court reminded me of the 2011 season. That year, the Lakers were coming off back to back championships and three straight runs to the Finals. Kobe had suffered through knee issues most of the year before and had to have his knee drained on more than one occasion during the playoffs that saw the Lakers dispatch the Celtics in seven games to claim the championship. In 2011, then, Peter Vescey, at that time of the New York Post, broke the news that Kobe Bryant had not been practicing due to recurring issues with his knee. In typical Kobe fashion, he was defiant about his injury, but still acknowledged that his lack of practicing had an impact.

Following the disappointing end to that season, Kobe spoke about this during his exit interview, which Brian Kamenetzky (then with ESPN) captured and discussed:

That Kobe was unable to practice with any consistency is no secret. Asked about how it impacted the team, Bryant said he was disappointed in how the team reacted, believing the players didn’t quite have the same intensity as they otherwise might have, since “big brother” wasn’t on the floor to keep them in line. They could take “days off.” There’s probably some truth to that, but the larger issue is how hard it is for a team to gain continuity on both sides of the ball when the main cog is rarely on the floor to practice. Particularly offensively, where the Lakers struggled to create good looks deeper into games. It wasn’t something that could be avoided — Kobe wasn’t sitting on the sidelines to protect a pedicure, but a bum knee — but was a factor for sure.

This upcoming season, Kobe faces multiple individual challenges. He is coming off major injuries and is staring at his basketball mortality while battling father time. Embedded in the fabric of these challenges, however, is the fact that he must still lead his team. And, in order to do so, he must be a part of the group and, yes, be in practices as the driving force behind creating the culture that Byron Scott is so fond of discussing.

There are complications, however. Even if disregarding the recent injury history, there is the fact that Kobe is…old. He recently called himself “70 in basketball years” and, while it’s a hyperbolic line that inspired a few chuckles, it’s also rooted in truth. After over 50K minutes combined regular season and playoff minutes, Kobe will need the proper rest to play at a high level. This rest needs to be given not only in games, but in practices as well.

Further, Byron Scott is not known for his lax practices. In fact, it’s the opposite. In a recent sit down with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, the question about how Scott liked to practice was barely completed before “Hard” was coming out the head coach’s mouth. He followed that up with a comment about needing to find a balance, understanding his players, and how he’d handle back to backs, but the implication was clear. Scott will work his players hard in practice in the hopes of drilling them on how things need to be done in game situations. As a Pat Riley disciple, we should not expect less.

For Kobe, then, how this plays out will be something to watch this year. If the team is going to achieve at the levels they hope to internally, Kobe will need to be front and center and providing an example, not just in the games, but in the practices. History has proven as much.