Legends Of Sport honors the 2020 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductees with a special edition podcast. Inductees include Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Tamika Catchings, Rudy Tomjanovich and other legends of basketball. The 2020 ceremony was postponed due the Covid-19 pandemic and will take place on May 15, 2021.
Andy and veteran Los Angeles Times journalists, Bill Plaschke and Brad Turner, share their favorite memories of Kobe Bryant and talk about the Mamba’s iconic 20 year career and legacy. Both journalists covered Kobe’s entire career and Andy documented his basketball journey in photos for the Lakers and NBA.
Bill reminisces about meeting Kobe for the first time, “It was during a practice before the first game.That whole season was about Shaq. ‘96 was all Shaquille. We’d heard about the workout. We’d heard about Jerry West loving Kobe but I just can’t overstate how much this was Shaq’s team, Shaq’s town…It wasn’t until the Utah series when people realized, ‘this guy really is something different or something unique or something bizarre or something worth watching.’”
Brad recalls the first time he met Kobe, at a summer league game, and immediately noticed something special about the young Bryant.
“I talked to him and he was a very nice young man. There were a bunch of other reporters there and I was just happy to be out of the office and to see him play it. I thought,’ you know what, there’s something there,’” Brad said.
Andy first met Kobe on set for Lakers’ Media Day and took his rookie photo.
“I saw something in him. I’m 20 years older than him. I was 38. I saw something in him that first time. It reminded me of myself when I was that age, I had a kind of chip on my shoulder wanting to prove myself,” Andy said. “I watched a lot of footage of him in high school and listened to some interviews. I don’t think anybody had more confidence than this guy.”
During Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals between the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe threw four airballs in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. This embarrassing performance later became a defining moment in his basketball career.
“We were sitting courtside. They’re right on top of you.” Bill said. “They’re screaming and Kobe’s shooting air balls and we’re screaming ‘What? What’s he doing? What’s he doing? Get a kid out of there.’ I think it was then that I realized he’s got an unapologetic chip on his shoulder. Not gonna take no for an answer.”
As Bill and Brad described, the late-90s Lakers were all about Shaq. This led to a contentious rivalry that developed between the two players in what would later be dubbed the Shaq-Kobe Era from 1996 to 2004. The Lakers captured three consecutive NBA championships during that period (2000, 2001, 2002) and made another NBA Finals appearance in 2004.
“I’ll start off by saying this, excuse my language, that shit was real,” Brad said. “I don’t care what Shaq says, they had issues, they bickered. They have problems with each other and it was more Kobe’s point because Kobe was a workaholic. He lived and breathed basketball. Shaq said I’ll play some basketball. I’ll do a movie. I’ll rap and make a video. Let’s have some fun. But for Kobe there was no such thing as fun.”
“I totally agree that shit was real. It makes me so mad that they tried to kill it…You had to pick sides. You had to walk in that locker room and you had to pick aside, they saw who you went to first. This was before podiums…they’d see who you went to, either Shaq or Kobe. There was no in between. There was nothing down the middle,” Bill said.
“Shaquille was jealous. Shaquille was 25 or 28 going on 40. Shaq was a big kid. Kobe was a young but had an old, old soul. Shaq was jealous of Kobe for all the endorsements, all the attention. You had to pick a side…I was a Shaq guy because he was funny. He was engaging. He was delightful. He embraced us. He loved the city. He was a human being.”
Kobe played his final game on April 13, 2016 where he scored 60 points and hit the winning shot with 31.6 seconds left. This performance was a far cry from the 1996 Utah series and is fondly remembered by fans.
When asked about Bryant’s lasting legacy, Brad and Bill agreed that Kobe’s legacy extends beyond the basketball court.
“I just remember someone that was always evolving and he evolved into this incredible humanitarian, someone who supported womens’ sports, girls’ sports, someone who was loved by young basketball players, whether they were girls, boys, men and women, I just keep thinking back to this push for that group in front of us from the time he was 17 years old, up until he passed away. He just kept growing,” Brad said.
“And I just think that for someone like myself, who is always growing at the age of 62, always be open minded, be willing to learn something. That’s the one thing that I take from him, and he was always willing to open up himself to becoming a better person. I think if anyone’s out there, all of us, we should be open to becoming better people.”
“I was gonna say he was a portrait of change. Even if you’re even in the spotlight, even with everybody staring at you and with everybody judging your every move, you can view, you can grow as a person and he grew in front of us, and you can stumble, and it’s okay. It’s okay to admit you screwed up, it’s okay to cry in front of the media, it’s okay. It’s okay to have failure flaws, you know, broadcast worldwide, as long as you learn from them. And he did. And he evolved, he grew up as a human being, such a shining example of this environment, if you can do it in this environment, we can do it in our environment,” Bill said.
“We are human beings capable of changing, of evolving and being better and that’s what he became, a better man. He became one of the best men I knew. And that’s the lesson he taught us…Even no matter what age you are, you can always grow and always change and always do better. And he did better.”
Listen to the full Legends Of Sport podcast here. Watch the video of the podcast on the @legendsofsport YouTube channel.