In the last few seasons, it’s become a running theme for Kobe Bryant. He’s darted up the all-time scoring list and passed players whose names ring out as the best of the best to ever play the game. In Saturday’s much needed victory over the Kings it happened again, Kobe leapfrogging a literal giant, the Big Dipper, Wilt Chamberlain.
The feat itself came on a free throw line jumper, an area of the court Kobe has mastered through countless hours of practice and repetition. The stories of his late night workout sessions are legendary and no doubt set the foundation for what we see today. A combination of talent, skill, will, and determination that create the types of shots that seem routine even as they astound. The shot against the Kings, then, was just another in a long line of muscle-memory jumpers that he has been taking and making for years.
That’s really the only way something like this happens. Through insane practice habits, production, and longevity. I’ve said it before, but if you’d have told me that the high school kid the Lakers traded Vlade Divac for would end up being as great a player as he’s become or even hint that he would pass Wilt Chamberlain in all-time career points, I would not have believed you (and probably called you crazy). The fact that he’s done what he’s done is astonishing. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to see his career unfold before me; to watch his career grow and come of age playing on the team that I cheer for.
There’s no telling how much longer he’ll gift us with the types of plays that he’s given us for so many years. Last night when reflecting on his accomplishment, he again hinted that his career is winding down and that chasing Kareem’s all time mark is unlikely. Even at 34 years of age, while providing nightly reminders of how great he’s been throughout his career by throwing down a monster dunk or hitting a dagger jumper (or both), he knows the end is near. So enjoy him while you can, folks.
Wow. The power of youtube brings us Magic Johnson (and his fantastic afro) in his high school championship game, dominating the action just as he did at Michigan State and later with the Lakers. His talent is on full display in the clip above — his ability to finish inside, hit his little jumper, and, of course, his fantastic floor vision.
The clip above also shows a great game unfold with some uncanny shotmaking, including a shot from the team Magic is facing that if I (or one of my teammates) would have made in a high school game would have been celebrated with the same jubilation. Looked like a pretty amazing game.
In any event, enjoy the video. As you can see, Magic was always a one of a kind player with a unique set of skills. He truly looked like a man amongst boys on some of those plays.
Historically, James Worthy sort of gets lost in the shuffle. He was third in line behind Magic and Kareem. A vital part of “Showtime” and a guy known for rising to the occasion in big games (hence the nickname), but still someone who, will likely never be remembered as fondly by national observers as his more celebrated teammates.
Today though, on his 52nd birthday, we’ll remember Worthy for the fantastic player he was. Not just the guy who came up big in the playoffs every year, but the guy who night in and night out played a fantastic floor game with an ability to finish in a variety of ways from 18 feet and in regardless of who was guarding him. Watching the clip above, you get a real feel for how fundamentally sound, yet how creative Worthy could be when he had the ball. He had great foot work, a fantastic first step, nice touch, and excellent feel around the basket.
So, while many people nationally will always remember Worthy for raising his game in the big moments, enjoy the video above and appreciate all that he did in the little ones too. He really was a great player.
Halfway (well, 65.8%, but who’s counting) through its annual marathon, the NBA bestows upon its rank-and-file (players, coaches, hell, fans) a much-needed four-day respite from the mental and physical grind of 82 in ~175. In 2013, nowhere is this midseason oasis more welcome than in Lakerland, where, in depressingly short order, euphoria and stratospheric expectations have devolved into the most disappointing campaign in franchise history, a nightly nut-punch mad lib on the floor outdone only by incessant upheaval behind closed doors.
On a far brighter note, the NBA convenes this weekend in Houston, to celebrate its present and future, flaunt its athletic wares and, presumably, provide tuition assistance to certain ilk of “law student.” Last night, behind 40, on an unreal-even-against-All-Star-D 18-for-22 from the field, and 10 rebounds by the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried and 20 apiece from Cavs and Spurs sophs Tristan Thompson and Kawhi Leonard (who also had 10 and 7 rebounds, respectively), Team Chuck laid the wood to Team Shaq in a still-entertaining Rising Stars Challenge. This evening, the All Star festivities shift into top gear, with the always-meh Shooting Stars, underrated (seriously, I love it) Skills Challenge and All Star Saturday mainstays, the 3-point and slam dunk contests.
Though likely for the best, given the manner in which the pas three months have unfolded, conspicuously absent from tonight’s proceedings will be the Los Angeles Lakers. Not here! Infusing your day with memories of brighter days, a look back at the Lakers on All Star Saturdays past:
1984 Slam Dunk Contest
Three decades ago, the NBA lifted a(nother) page from the ABA playbook with a revival of the slam dunk contest. Fittingly, the event (re)debuted in the Rockies, where eight years earlier, at halftime of the 1976 ABA All-Star Game, a Spurs’ greats George Gervin and Larry Kenon, Kentucky Colonel Artis Gilmore, Denver’s own David Thompson and then-New York Net Julius Erving. The Doctor returned to headline the nine-man field, which included the preeminent perimeter defender of his (and maybe all) time and author of many a Coop-a-Loop, Michael Cooper. Suffice it to say, the Lakers’ inaugural All-Star Saturday performance was less than auspicious:
Though still immortalized:
1987 3-Point Contest
Three years after the slam dunk dud of ’84, Coop was back at All-Star Saturday, this time to take part in the second annual Larry Bird Invitational, err, 3-Point Contest. Accompanying Cooper to Seattle for the festivities was fellow sharpshooter Byron Scott. In a star-studded eight-man field featuring a who’s who of the game’s great shooters – and Danny Ainge (some grudges die hard) – Scott stumbled, while Cooper more than held his own, outscoring Bird, Dale Ellis and future three-time contest champ Craig Hodges in Round 1, before exiting in the Semifinals, the third place finisher.
1988 3-Point Contest
This time flying solo, Byron Scott returned to the 3-Point Contest the following year in Chicago. Scott rather emphatically avenged the previous year’s last place finish with a first round performance that paced a similarly power-packed field. Not surprisingly, as the stakes ratcheted up, so did Larry Bird’s performance. Though light years behind Bird, Scott and Dale Ellis engaged in battle for the second spot in the final round, with Ellis advancing by the narrowest of margins.
Is it wrong that this burns me up as much as any Lakers-Celtics battle of which we were deprived?
1994 Rookie Game
In a stirring homage to Michael Cooper’s showing the inaugural NBA slam dunk contest a year earlier, in the first-ever (at the time) Rookie Game, Nick Van Exel, in 20 minutes of burn, handed out six assists but turned in a rather impressive goose egg, whiffing on all eight of his shots (have you seen the defense in these things?!?), including three 3-point attempts. Oof. Let’s move on.
1995 Rookie Game
The Lakers’ first-ever lottery pick, the unheralded Eddie Jones (selected #10 overall in the 1994 draft) had quickly established himself as not only one of the league’s best young players, he’d almost immediately etched his name in the NBA’s top tier of perimeter defenders. This NBA ready defense, along with his stellar athleticism in slashing to the bucket earned him an invite to the second annual Rookie Game, where, sharing the floor with the top two picks in the draft, Glenn Robinson and Jason Kidd (Grant Hill had been voted into the big-boy game), Eddie stole the show, racking up 25 (including 4-of-8 on 3-pointers), six swipes, and handing out four assists en route to the game’s MVP award.
(I’d planned to include a highlight video of this game, but sadly was only able to find the full telecast, chopped into 20-minute clips. You can find those here.)
1995 Slam Dunk Contest
In the first round of the 1995 Slam Dunk Contest, Antonio Harvey almost set the desert ablaze, but instead became the Andy Reid of All-Star Saturday.
Later that night, Bean returned to floor as the second Laker ever to take part in the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest. With the contest on the ropes (it would actually be shelved the following year), the league had implemented the latest of what ultimately became a comedic laundry list of gimmicks, allowing each competitor 90 seconds in Round 1 to do with as he pleased, with the best of two dunks making up his final round score. Sadly, this resulted in our being limited to a scant three dunks by Kobe in his lone appearance in the contest. As one would expect, however, Kobe made good, delivering as emphatic and technically perfect a one-hand reverse as you’ll ever see for an opening salvo. By the way, the whole “keep the warmups on” bit looks a lot cooler when it’s Kobe instead of Brent Barry.
After edging out now-assistant coach Darvin Ham (perhaps owing to a bit of judging generosity, but whatever), Kobe set the house ablaze with a thunderous between-the-legs number – remember, this is before Vince Carter and Jason Richardson made a mockery of the skill – which earned him 49 points and dunking supremacy
(Bonus points for aggressively flexing with the sub-Durant physique and openly cheering Michael Finley’s last miss)
2004 Skills Challenge
Ok, who had Open Court Legend placing second in a competition that rewards speed, quickness, agility and outside shooting?
Seriously, I remember guffawing upon discovering Fisher’s inclusion in this field (in large part, probably, because the Lakers were that year’s host, but still), and simply hoped he could out-duel Earl Boykins and avoid last place. Taking out Boykins, Stephon Marbury (when this was still an impressive thing) and making prime-Baron Davis work in final?
Really not a lot to say here. 12 points for Jordan Farmar, Andrew Bynum with 7 points and 4 boards in 18 minutes.
2007 Skills Challenge
Anyone else kinda totally forget that this happened?
With the notable exceptions of the Malice at the Palace and the 1984 Draft Lottery, I’m not sure there’s an event the NBA’s worked harder to bury in history than 2007’s All-Star Weekend in Vegas. Without going into detail, let’s just say it wasn’t exactly public relations coup for the league.
That said, it was there that one of the most stealthily cool competitions in ASW history took place. It’s over in a flash (pun possibly intended), and it’d have been awesome if Kobe hadn’t flubbed the opportunity to make a run at Wade’s final time, but simply having Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Paul – and no one else – in a test of basketball fundamentals is pretty awesome.
2008 Rising Stars
A year after posting a solid, if unspectacular 12 points as a rookie, Jordan Farmar returned to All Star Weekend as an NBA soph, and quietly turned in a stellar playmaking performance. In a game whose narrative was dominated by Kevin Durant (23 and 8), Rudy Gay (22 on just 12 shots), Brandon Roy (17 and 7 assists), LaMarcus Aldridge (18 and 9 rebounds) and MVP Boobie Gibson (33 on 11 threes), Farmar played a central role, feeding (among others) Gibson to the tune of 12 assists, scored 17 points on 10 shots, ripped four steals, and made the play of the game (#8 below).
It might even have been recognized as such had that lob found, say, Kevin Durant instead of Ronnie Brewer.
2010 Slam Dunk Contest
They Let Shannon Dunk. It… was.
Enjoy the festivities everyone – no Laker losses tonight!
The Lakers got their 9th win of the season against the Hornets by the count 103-87, showing both the Jekyll and Hyde nature of their play so far this season.
In the first half they had trouble defending the Hornets’ pick and roll attack, surrendering open shots at the rim by not helping the helper and ceding open jumpers on the wing on late rotations. On offense they ran a clunky, isolation heavy attack that left them seeking out good shots that came few and far between. The result was a 2 point deficit after 24 minutes born of lackluster play that looked all too familiar.
In the 2nd half, that all changed. On defense, the rotations were more crisp. Back side wings dug down on the roll man and disrupted passes into the paint. The open jumpers that were so prevalent in the first half mostly dried up as well. Defenders were much more engaged all over the floor, talking and active. Dwight Howard took command in the third quarter, controlling the paint on both sides of the floor. The ball moved on offense, shots started to fall, and what was a deficit quickly became a lead that would not be relinquished (in fact, it was barely threatened).
And so, the Lakers won a game they sorely needed. It was a game they should have won, but in a season where nothing has been certain (save for uncertainty), every win is a good one.
But, in a departure from looking at all that went right and wrong in this game, I turn my focus to Kobe Bryant. So excuse me for the fawning that will proceed…
Tonight Kobe Bryant joined an elite club. The number of people who have scored 30,000 points in their NBA career(s), before tonight, totaled four. They are the names of players who only need be identified by a single moniker. Kareem, Jordan, Wilt, The Mailman. These are the faces that have sat on the Mt. Rushmore of scorers in league history. Against the Hornets — the team that drafted him — Kobe joined these men on that mountain.
The points came on a play we’ve seen Kobe make hundreds of times before. After catching the ball on the right wing, he drove past a closing out defender, slithered into the lane, elevated over the help defender, and flicked in a one handed runner while fading to his left. It showed off his body control, his touch around the rim, and the scoring instinct that got him to this point. It was, in many ways, the quintessential Kobe bucket. Not too flashy, but enough of a wow play that makes you want to watch it again.
In between that shot and the the first one he made so many years ago, we’ve seen countless others. So many, in fact, they blur together. The baseline fade away. The pull up at the elbow. The heat check three pointer. The reverse lay in. The thunderous dunk. Through all the makes we’ve marveled at the focus, the footwork, the innovation, the creativity, and the desire. Especially the desire.
Seventeen years ago the Lakers acquired Kobe, a high school guard who had as much talent as moxie. He talked of “taking his talents” to the NBA and the challenge of playing the game at the highest level. In the years since, he’s been humbled plenty and reached the mountain top as an individual and as part of a team. The MVP’s (league and Finals), the championships, the all-star games, the franchise records, and all-NBA nods speak to his greatness.
And, through it all, he’s done it his way. For better and, at times, for worse. Playing his game has left him with as many detractors as he has staunch supporters. It’s also left him with almost universal respect. He’s as hardworking as he is relentless. As unforgiving a competitor as he is driven to improve. For all intents and purposes, he’s a player that’s made himself great as much as he’s had greatness bestowed upon him through his 6 foot, 6 inch frame and the NBA pedigree.
He has been, and continues to be, one of a kind. And he’s still going. Congratulations, Kobe Bean. If they’d told me 17 years ago he’d be this great, I wouldn’t have believed them. Which is probably one of the reasons he’s this great to begin with.