When the Lakers drafted Julius Randle with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, it was viewed by many as the beginning of a new era in Los Angeles, but at the time there was still a big piece of the team’s past on the roster: Kobe Bryant.
Bryant and Randle were teammates for two seasons before Bryant retired in 2016. Randle is actually one of just 10 active players that played with Bryant during his illustrious 20-year career. Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, Jordan Clarkson, Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, Dwight Howard, Larry Nance Jr., D’Angelo Russell are the others.
Bryant wasn’t exactly known for getting along with younger players during his playing days, but in the wake of his death, it was discovered that he actually had privately built really strong relationships with several young players, including Randle.
Randle has talked about his relationship with Bryant at several points over the past year, but on the most recent episode of “The Woj Pod,” he explained why Bryant’s been on his mind even more this season:
“Honestly, I think about him every day, and it’s crazy that you mention that because I was talking to one of my teammates yesterday and he was like ‘Bro, Kob’ probably would have came to a game, man’ and I’m like, ‘yeah, he probably would have.’ And then I was talking to my wife yesterday about it and I was like … man, it’s just kind of surreal because through this journey and throughout my career and how everything’s going right now, for me, I know the relationship I had with him, he would be proud but … yeah, man, it’s tough. It’s tough
“I would love for him to be able to see it. For me, personally, I would love to be able to — even throughout the course of last season, the ups and down and throughout this season — just be able to pick up the phone and text or call him and get advice or just talk or whatever it is. You take those things for granted a little bit and, for me, I think about it all the time. I literally think about him every day.”
Bryant wasn’t an easy guy to impress, but it’s hard to imagine him not being proud of what Randle has accomplished this season. In his seventh season, Randle has blossomed into an All-Star with the New York Knicks and is on pace to lead them to their first playoff berth since 2013, when Bryant was still playing.
So, yes: Bryant would have been proud of Randle, and Lakers fans are proud of him too.