Before the Lakers played the Wizards last week, I answered a few questions for Wizards’ site Truth About It in the lead up to that game. It was mostly about the young players and my feelings in the aftermath of Kobe’s retirement announcement. One question, though, was about my three favorite Kobe “moments” from his career. I thought long and hard on that question and ultimately offered up this answer:
This is hard because there really aren’t any bad answers here. If I said “81,” his pass to Shaq versus the Blazers in the 2000 WCF, and the two ridiculous shots he hit to send to overtime and then win the game (and the Pacific Division) versus Blazers on the final night of the 2004 regular season, that would be totally acceptable and a lot of people would nod in agreement. (If that were someone else’s list, I know I would be nodding.)
For me, though, they are probably his four-game road barrage in the 2001 playoffs against the Kings and Spurs in back to back series where he scored 36, 48, 45, and 28 points in consecutive games; the 2009 Finals against the Magic when he was simply dominant; and Game 7 in the 2010 Finals against the Celtics where he shot so poorly (6-for-24), but still hit a huge jumper late, grabbed 15 rebounds (more than any Celtic), and had the key assist to Ron Artest (he was still Ron!) for a big 3-pointer which essentially clinched the game. The total joy on his face after that win is something I will never forget as a fan.
I sort of cheated here, since I really didn’t give any specific “moment”. Instead I gave them a 4 game stint in 2001, an entire Finals series, and a full game 7. This bending of the question actually is an analogy for what Kobe’s career has been for me. Yeah, I love the lob to Shaq or the pump-fake-then-fading-jumper he hit over Grant Hill in the 2010 WCF or the elbow jumper after Luke (#thereminder) won that jump ball against the Suns.
But Kobe’s career hasn’t really been about a single play or three. Or even a hundred. it’s been a bout a sustained excellence with so many high caliber performances they all blend together to form a hall of fame legacy. Not many can claim a portfolio like his. Making me choose will simply result in the type of answer I provided above.
This brings me to D’Angelo Russell. if you look at the boxscore for Wednesday night’s game against the Timberwolves, you’d see Russell shot 8-20 for 23 points, grabbed some rebounds, and dished some assists. The points were a career high for the rookie, but besides that, the percentage and the rest of his work in the form of stats weren’t anything noteworthy.
But when you watched the game, he showed us he might have some moments of his own to offer one day. Russell played a dynamic 4th quarter where he scored 13 of his 23 points in the period. At one point he scored 9 straight points, and closed the quarter scoring 11 of the team’s final 13 points.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) December 10, 2015
Down the stretch, the kid simply did work. A pull up three off the dribble when his man went under a screen. A jab step three pointer with a man in his face. A leaning jumper in the closing seconds to force an overtime. This is why we watch. These are the things we’ll remember.
Over the course of the last 20 years, we have been spoiled. Kobe once had a season where he hit six game winners. He gave us more moments than we could count. So many, in fact, it’s easy to forget some.
Seeing Kobe walk off the floor with his arm around the rookie after Russell’s own game winner didn’t fall was heartwarming. But it also served as another reminder of the bridge from one era to the next. I am in no way saying Russell will be able to do the same. But on Wednesday, for a brief flurry, he captured my imagination and gave a glimpse into what is possible.