Over the last few days since the Lakers (and entire NBA) had their season suspended due to the threat of COVID-19, or coronavirus, I asked both on Twitter and on this site what sort of stories you all would like to hear more about while we don’t have fresh basketball to discuss.
You all came through, and gave us so many great ideas (thank you!), many of which we will jump into over the next few weeks, but one of the most common themes of those suggestions was historical stuff, looking back at fun Lakers memories of old.
Well, you asked, and we’re going to try to deliver, which is why today I’m debuting the ‘Let’s appreciate a Laker’ series, which we will (try to) post an entry in every day for as long as this stoppage goes. This is going to be a look back at (and appreciation of) notable players and figures in the franchise’s history, as well as just remembering some random guys that all of us obsessives still think about sometimes.
Our first entry in the series falls distinctly in the former group, and it’s a guy we’ve talked about a lot lately: Kobe Bryant.
Kobe Bryant’s tragic passing has left us discussing him a lot lately, but not always in an enjoyable way, considering the circumstances. We’ve talked about some of his unforgettable on-court moments and shared some great personal stories, but there is one specific aspect that I thought about a lot that I don’t think that we stopped to appreciate enough amidst all the sadness of the last few months: Kobe Bryant the trash talker.
I don’t need to tell anyone that reads this website this, but Kobe was a stone-cold killer. What brought this into my mind over the last day or so was this incredible (and incredibly told) story from Iman Shumpert, about the time Kobe told him he had a great game... with one quarter left to play still (via “Ebro in the Morning” on Hot 97):
”I guarded Kobe in the Garden. I can’t remember how much he had, but I know I had multiple steals against him, to where in the game, in my head, all I’m thinking of is ‘when I have this conversation with my brother after the game, I’m gonna tell him how I stole the ball from Kobe. How I stripped Kobe before he was gonna take a shot, how I drove by Kobe and got a dunk.’ I’m thinking about all these things in my head, and I’m like so geeked.
Soon, Shumpert would be less geeked:
”The fourth quarter starts, and Kobe says... ‘yo, you had a great game young fella.’ I’m looking like bro... I swear I looked at the clock like ‘there’s 12 minutes, what you talkin’ bout?’ Like, ‘what was that?’ You know what I’m saying, like ‘you ain’t said nothing the entire game. I’ve been talking shit, I done stole the ball, I’m hyped as hell, it’s Kobe Bryant.’ He ain’t said not one word to me.
Kobe was happy to let his game do most of the talking back in this case:
”The man comes down, you remember, shot fake, shot fake, threw it off the glass, threw it to the corner, I’m like ‘bro, what you on?’ Like bro you’ve been regular all game. Shot, get to the spot, shot fake, spin pivot over here, drop it off the glass. I’m like ‘bro, what’s going on?’
“Then he pulled up from like 35 feet on some Steph Curry shit before Steph was doing that, he pulled up and laced it! D’Antoni looking at me, I’m like ‘bro, I (shrugs).’ I’m like ‘bro, I guarded everything bro.’ Nah, bro...”
Seriously, you have to watch Shumpert tell this story, because his delivery is like 25% of what makes it so amazing:
And in case you thought Shumpert was misremembering, friend of the site @pickuphoop worked his magic on Twitter yet again, and dug up a clip. Kobe was such an innovative lunatic, that pass to himself off the backboard to set up the pass to Pau sounds like it broke Stu Lantz’s brain, lmao:
Think about the level of confidence it takes to tell another NBA player, with 12 minutes to play, that they’re just done for the night. That is so subtle and hilarious, and that’s the thing: There are so many stories of Kobe’s incredible, will-breaking trash talk, even to his own teammates.
Lou Williams and Nick Young recently remembered the time that Kobe threw all of their Kobes in the trash after a loss to Portland because he said they didn’t deserve to wear them, a story Young delved into more detail about on his “Certified Buckets” podcast:
“We were getting blew out in Portland. Kobe is in the locker room just waiting for everybody to come in. You know everybody in there got ‘Kobe’s’ on the team. He comes in and says ‘Y’all playing soft. How you gonna wear these shoes and y’all soft? This ain’t what we do here in LA.’
“I’m not thinking nothing off it. He tells everybody to take their shoes off, and I’m like ‘What? What’s wrong with you man?’ And we took them off. He just started grabbing people’s shoes and threw them all in the trash. He’s like ‘Y’all don’t deserve these. Until y’all get it right, y’all can’t wear no Kobe’s’.”
Kobe was just an asshole, in the most endearing way possible because of how you know it came out of a completely pure, relentless drive to win. Even in sneaker rivalries, as Young also remembered, because somehow Kobe threw his shoes in the trash more than once:
“His last game I was trying to get my shoes signed. Everybody was waiting in line. He was waiting in the locker room after the game. Everybody brought something to get signed from him, but I brought some Adidas. And he hate Adidas, but I’m thinking ‘These are the Crazy 8’s. These are some Kobe’s.’
“I brought those and I brought Nike’s. I knew he was going to mess with me, I knew he was going to do something. He saw the Adidas and said “I ain’t signing these shits” and threw em in the trash. Just slung them in front of everybody and I’m like “C’mon man, sign something for me.” He play too much.
There are so many of these stories, and they’re so much fun to laugh about and remember now if you, like most of those who appreciated Kobe, also loved that side of his personality.
There was him learning Slovenian just to talk shit to teammate Sasha Vujacic, then re-using the skill to mess with Luka Doncic in a game he was watching him play against the Lakers. He also learned Bosnian specifically to talk trash to Jusuf Nurkic.
Just think about how incredible that last sentence is.
There was the time he bragged to the media “I’ve been murdering that dude. I’ve been kicking his a—. I’ve been torching that MFer,” about HIS TEAMMATE Jodie Meeks, in practice. He once hung the gold medal he won over teammate Pau Gasol’s Spanish National Team IN GASOL’S LAKERS LOCKER as a way to motivate him. There were the times he said Michael Jordan “knows I’m a bad motherfucker” or called his whole team “soft as Charmin” during practice, the latter in a scrimmage that he knew was open to the media.
So yeah. Kobe was an ice-hearted lunatic on the court, in the locker room, and everywhere competition was involved. Sometimes it’s just fun to laugh and remember those times too. Especially now, when we all need to smile a bit. And I’m sure I missed some stories, too, so let’s talk about your favorite ones in the comments. With no basketball right now, we’ve got nothing but time to reminisce about our favorite memories.