Archives For laker History

In an age of teams relentlessly focusing on efficiency and team basketball, the Kobe Bryant isolation brand of ball is frowned upon more and more. Shots with an insane degree of difficulty, many from mid range, and especially in isolation will just drive coaches and analytic heads like me insane.

But Kobe was different. No, this isn’t some sentimental love letter about Kobe Bryant. I want to instead show you some data to show you just how prodigious his iso abilities used to be.

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It was one year ago today that Kobe Bryant played his last NBA game. Around the league, it was #MambaDay – a celebration of a player whose 20 year career influenced the league like few have. Kobe did not disappoint in his farewell performance, either. Scoring an astounding 60 points on an equally astounding 50 shots, it was more than a night to remember – it was a night which added to a mystique and legend few players in the history of the league possess.

After the game, I wrote the following:

Kobe provided us a night for the ages; he gave us a moment to seal away as ours forever. He turned a night which was supposed to be a sad one filled with teary-eyed goodbyes into a celebration filled with smiles and cheers and did I really just see that? reactions.

In other words, he was Kobe Bryant again.

I will remember this game for the rest of my life. It wasn’t a championship sealing win. There will be no parade down Figueroa. But the feeling of watching a player who has meant so much — to me as a person, to an organization, to a city, to so many fans around the world — was more than just a regular game.

It was one last glimpse into what made 20 years of watching him play such an event and reflective of how he, more often than not, seemed to understand how to turn those events into unforgettable memories. Kobe Bean Bryant. There will never be another quite like him. Goodbye, one last time.

Re-reading those words now, a year later, I still have trouble grasping it actually happened. But now that we are a year removed, it allows us to look back and remember all that went into that night and all the special moments it produced for fans and those in attendance. With that, here are a few of the best posts, videos, and reflections floating around the internet today. Hope you enjoy a trip back in time as we remember #MambaDay.

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I still remember watching the press conference and not really believing what I was seeing. There was Jerry West standing next to a 24 year old and in his prime Shaquille O’Neal, posing for pictures after announcing he had signed with the Lakers. The entire thing seemed surreal.

Before Kobe was Kobe, Shaq was the savior. The Lakers had recovered from the Magic Johnson HIV announcement 4 years prior to build a winning team. They saw their win totals rise from 33 to 43 to 53 the three previous seasons to his arrival and then West, in all his mastery, carved out cap space and opened up the starting C spot (by trading Vlade to the Hornets for the rights to Kobe) to make his run at Shaq. After finally getting the game’s best young big man to sign on the dotted line, West almost looked more relieved than happy. He knew the Lakers were really back.

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2016 brought a lot of memories for Lakers’ fans. Mostly bad ones. The losses piled up and as the 2015-16 season wore on fans became more interested in whether the team would keep their top-3 protected draft pick than anything that happened on the court. Game after game many fans either actively cheered for losses or became so apathetic about the on-court results being a fan felt like work.

Of course, not the entire year was bad. The team did keep their draft pick. The team also made a coaching change and hired Luke Walton. The start of this season also offered some truly genuine feel good moments as the team shot out to a 9-7 start by playing a fun brand of basketball that reminded us all of what it was like to enjoy watching the Lakers play basketball.

But all the good moments were just about ushering in change and the resulting bump in play under the new regime. In fact, I would argue none of those things come close to the feeling we all had on the final day of this past season when Kobe Byrant rode off into the sunset in the most Kobe Bryant way imaginable.

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Last night, one team we watched during Rockets-Lakers will only go as far as its star will take them. The other was the Lakers, and boy, was that fun. We might’ve witnessed the birth of a new era, or we just were able to catch one of the few fun games this unit will play together. We have no idea, but boy, I can’t wait to find out.

Think of things you legitimately love. Not people or pets, obviously, that’s not quite the same thing. Think of books, of movies, TV series, whatever. You know what most those things have in common? You bought in early. Something caught you at the very beginning, made you invest on an emotional level and you grew alongside it.

Series especially (whether it be books, TV or movie), capture and nurture this kind of relationship. You invest years into characters. When those series end, you can’t help but feel as if there’s a hole you feel the need to fill as soon as you possibly can. For me (and millions of others), it was Harry Potter. Somehow, I found myself relating to a completely fictional, wand-wielding character from the very beginning and on throughout the series even if I’d never ridden a broomstick, let alone a thestral. Sports are no different. We might root for laundry at the macro level, but it’s the minutiae along the way that draws and keeps us in.

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You can’t hear people talk about the Lakers without at some point catching one word: excitement. It makes sense, new is exciting. Youth is exciting. Fun is exciting, especially when the humor about the team is not of the ironic type. You know what makes this young core all the more thrilling? Given the franchise’s, history, there’s a great chance most — or even all — these guys will work out.

Before we start, an important note should be made about how rare it is that players taken near the top of the draft don’t pan out. Typically, whoever is taken with early lottery picks has the talent to make it work. It happens (Anthony Bennett and Hasheem Thabeet nod glumly), but on the whole, it is pretty rare.

Furthermore, most of the guys I’ll talk about were drafted into winning situations whereas this current crop of young talent will probably see at least another couple years of losing before things really turn around. That matters greatly, and puts more of the onus on each player to continue to grow individually versus having to catch up to the quality of talent that already exists on a good team.

Now, with that said, take a look at the Lakers’ history of drafting guys in the lottery, especially as you get closer to the top pick overall. There are basically no outright busts whatsoever (damn you, Javaris Crittenton). It’s somewhat incredible.

For one thing, outside of this current stretch, the Lakers have almost never drafted inside the top five historically. Even still, they’ve selected almost innumerable players who went on to have very long, productive careers elsewhere, if not with the Lakers themselves. Before the lottery was instituted in 1985, the Lakers had already drafted seven players who would were/would become Hall of Famers and five other players who played at least one all star game. Since then, the Lakers have only made six lottery picks:

  • George Lynch (12) – At the time, this wasn’t a lottery pick, as the lottery only went to the 11th pick. Still, it’s in the general lottery range, so I’m counting it.
  • Eddie Jones (10)
  • Kobe Bryant (13, in a trade)
  • Andrew Bynum (10)
  • Julius Randle (7)
  • D’Angelo Russell (2)
  • Brandon Ingram (2)

Of those guys who are not still playing, only Lynch “failed” to make an all star team, but even he went on to play for more than a decade and spent most of that time as at least a solid rotation-caliber player. You take that career in that spot anytime you can. Bynum is something of a punchline now, but he made an all star team and was a key part of multiple title teams. Eddie Jones is freakin’ Eddie Jones. Nothing else need be said.

Oh, and Kobe turned out pretty well in his own right.

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Next time Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley deride the current NBA for shooting too many threes and lacking dominant centers, instead of sarcastically mocking their antiquated standards for style of play, we should maybe credit the former for what we’re watching. He deserves as much credit for it as just about anyone. Crazy, right?

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The Warriors look to be well on their way to their 2nd NBA championship in as many seasons. Their combination of offensive firepower, excellent defense, positional versatility, and top level coaching are the marvel of the league and have teams scrambling to try and replicate a formula which may not even be replicable.

Roughly 30 years ago, the Lakers were a team very much like this season’s Warriors. If not so much in style, but in aesthetics. Explosive in the open court and precise in the half court, the Showtime Lakers ran roughshod over the league for an entire decade. They went to 8 Finals in the 1980’s and captured 5 titles in the process. I think teams would have tried to play like them, but it just didn’t even seem possible. No one had the horses.

These two teams are linked by the Thompson family. In the middle of the 1987 season, the Lakers traded for Mychal Thompson. The former 1978 #1 overall pick of the Trailblazers, Thompson was brought in to be the Lakers’ back up C and 3rd big man. Mychal did his job, helping the ’87 Lakers defeat the Celtics in the rubber match of their 3 NBA Finals match ups.

Mychal’s son, Klay, is now the starting SG for the Warriors. Drafted with the 11th pick in the 2011 draft, Klay has outperformed his draft slot and become one of the best two-way wings in the league. In a bit of a role reversal from his dad, Klay was famously not traded two seasons ago for Kevin Love. Now Klay’s Warrior’s are on the verge of beating Love’s Cavs in the Finals for the 2nd straight year.

So, the 2015 and 2016 Warriors are likely to be back to back champs. The 1987 and 1988 Lakers were back to back champs. In the post-game presser following the Warriors’ game 2 victory, Draymond Green was asked about where these Warriors ranked in the pantheon on all-time teams. Green, diplomatic, said we’d never know if his Dubs would beat teams like Jordan’s Bulls or the Showtime Lakers.

Klay, never shy of taking a shot, lined up his dad’s former team in his crosshairs and said with a smirk and a chuckle, “we’d beat the Showtime Lakers.”

Well, then.

I’ve always been of the same mindset Draymond has. The league has changed too much to compare players in ways beyond trivial barroom arguments. Forget, then, comparing entire teams. There’s simply no good way to do it.

If you think that’s going to stop me, though, you’re wrong. Thanks, Klay!

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