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Clash of the Titans

Darius Soriano —  August 3, 2013

The Lakers have a proud history of employing the best big men the game has ever seen. Just look up into the rafters of the Staples Center and you’ll see the names Mikan, Wilt, Kareem, and Shaq; these are true titans of the game, the players whose size, strength, and skill made the Lakers one of the most winningest franchises in all of sports.

Wilt and Kareem, specifically, represent not only two of the players who greatly shaped the Lakers’ history, but the history of the league. Both are considered all time greats and their contributions and, thus, their names will live on forever when discussing the NBA. If you rewind to the 70’s, there was a time where those two titans squared off against each other. Kareem, the up and coming Buck and Wilt, the aging but still very effective Laker.

In the video below does a great job of capturing some of those battles. A couple of things that stand out are how skilled Kareem was and how fluid his movements were. He moved like a seven foot gazelle, yet still had the ability to throw down the hammer when needed. Wilt, meanwhile, comes off less polished, but much more powerful. Wilt would bulldoze his man, though he too could slither around the baseline and play a finesse game when needed.

That contrast in style made for some epic battles. Hope you enjoy the clip.

Terry Teagle hit a turnaround jumper from the right baseline and became the answer to a trivia question. It was Teagle’s jumper that propelled Magic Johnson past Oscar Robertson as the all-time assist leader at 9,888 total assists. Since that fateful day in 1991, that number has been passed multiple times and Magic no longer holds the all-time record. That honor goes to John Stockton. Magic, meanwhile, sits 5th on the all-time list behind Stock, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash and Mark Jackson.

But where Magic sits on the all time list now doesn’t matter much. He was easily the best passer many people (including me) ever saw. Just as some scorers have every type of shot imaginable in their arsenal, Magic could throw any type of pass. He hit players in stride streaking to the hoop and led them to the open spot. He rocketed one handed bullet passes, scooped underhanded outlet passes, and bounced passes through traffic. He saw things other players didn’t and put the ball into places that didn’t seem possible. He made his teammates better by making the game easier for them.

That April night started with Magic needing 9 assists to overtake the Big O. Magic got to 9 before the first half was over and did so in classic Magic form. He ran the break, directed the half court offense, accepted double teams, and just continued to hit the open man. He made the complex play just as easy as the simple one and blended the spectacular with the routine.

Some players are once in a generation talents. Magic, though, was a once in a lifetime one. I simply don’t believe we’ll ever see another like him.

Kobe Bryant, Over Time

Darius Soriano —  June 18, 2013

(h/t to Matt Burd for the video)

Kobe has dubbed his comeback from a torn achilles tendon “the last chapter” of his career. In the video above, however, we see that all the chapters which have come before have been pretty special.

For Lakers’ fans, the slogan he’s adopted in his comeback a reminder that Kobe is near the end of his career. But we can only hope he has a few more moments like the ones that have made him into the special player he’s been for the 17 previous years.

“I’ll push myself to exhaustion.”

If there’s one characteristic that defines Kobe Bryant’s career it is the work he has put in to become the player he is. As much as he’s been gifted his physical characteristics and that innate feel for the game that all the greats have, he’s also honed his skills through thousands of hours of hard work and made himself into the player he is. In a way, it’s that drive to be the best and the subsequent work it has inspired that has separated him from many of his contemporaries.

Kobe will need to call on that ethic now more than ever in staring down his latest challenge. His rehabilitation from his torn achilles tendon is the one of, if not the, biggest obstacles he’s faced in his career and in order to come back anywhere near the player he was before before the injury, he’ll need to push himself to levels that I can’t even imagine. Whether he can actually achieve this goal remains an open question, but if there’s one player who we can’t doubt will push himself that extra mile it is Kobe.

After all, his career has been built on putting in that extra time and, as the video shows above, vigorously working to become the player we’ve seen for 17 years.

If you’ve followed the Lakers at all over the course of Kobe Bryant’s career, one theme that is revisited often relates to the stagnation of the Lakers’ offense and how that relates to Kobe’s shot volume.

On one side of the coin is the argument that Kobe shoots a lot because his teammates stop moving, instead choosing to watch him work with the ball in isolation. Kobe’s a gifted scorer in these situations, and the argument says when he gets the ball it’s easy to sit back and hope that he can do something positive with it.

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I don’t know about you, but it just got a little dusty in here. Hold on, I have something in my eye. Okay, I’m better now.

A few days after Kobe was injured, Nike put out an ad listing many of the things he “showed us” throughout his career. At the end, Nike implores Kobe to show us again. Through the glory of youtube, the video above puts clips of Kobe’s career to Nike’s words and the result is fantastic.

No one knows when Kobe will return or what type of player he will be when he does. But, based off what we know of Kobe, he’ll want to prove to everyone he can be the player he was before and “show us again”.

With the Lakers hosting the Warriors in a pretty big game tonight, I thought I’d go old-school with this throwback classic.

The year is 1999. Kurt Rambis and P.J. Carlesimo are coaching. It features a Shaq ejection, a clutch shot by Kobe, and cameos by Mugsy Bogues, John Starks, and Donyell Marshall (and that’s just on the Warriors’ side). ┬áLakers trail by as many as 27 in the 2nd quarter, but still win the game.

Hopefully tonight won’t require such heroics, but will produce the same result.

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.┬áSo enjoy him while you can, folks.