Jerry West, Kobe Bryant fondly recall his pre-draft workout with LA Lakers

first_imgCase in point: West confirmed that Bryant’s agent, Arn Tellem, warned the former New Jersey Nets that Bryant did not want to play for them. The Nets used their No. 8 pick on Kerry Kittles. West also reported that Bryant’s parents told several teams he did not want to play near his Philadelphia hometown. West said he sensed Bryant’s talent just by watching him work out and interviewing him.“He was a sponge, all he wanted to do was learn,” West said. “All he wanted to do was talk about the game. He was fixated on not having a career; he was fixated on having an incredible career.”Bryant also said he became fixated on providing a positive impression in his draft workout.“I tried to compete and do everything I was asked to do,” Bryant said. “I wanted to show them how much I enjoyed the game, how much I enjoyed competing and how much I enjoyed physical challenges.”More challenges awaited Bryant.West may have described himself as a “father figure” to Bryant during his time with the Lakers, and may have waxed nostalgia about inviting Bryant over to his home for Italian food. Bryant may have recalled fondly having “a lot of deep conversations” that entailed talking basketball with West in the Forum locker room or going over moves and footwork on the Forum court. But West often challenged Bryant with unyielding honesty. “That’s where I get my smart-aleckness from,” Bryant said, laughing. “He (West) shoots straight from the hip. He’s going to tell you exactly what he thinks. He used to rip me all the time.”West certainly let it rip during his 20-minute pre-game press conference Thursday.West questioned why Bryant often became critical of his teammates both privately and publicly.“Sometimes he would disappoint me with some of the things he would say, in particular with regards to players who would not play as hard as him,” West said. “Number one, they couldn’t play as hard as him. But number two, they didn’t have the skill to play as hard as him.”West indirectly boasted how his 14th and final NBA season starkly contrasted with Bryant’s current last year. Former Lakers coach Bill Sharman partly convinced West not to retire prior to the 1971-72 season by urging him to become a facilitator. West then averaged 25.8 points, a slight dropoff from his career average of 27 points per contest, while leading the league in assists (9.7) during the Lakers’ 1972 championship season. This season, Bryant has averaged 17 points on a career-low 34.7 percent shooting clip on a team-leading 17 field-goal attempts while nursing various injuries to his lower left leg, back, right shoulder and right Achilles.“If we lost, it was always my fault,” West said. “Always my fault if we lost, because I thought I could have done more. I don’t know if Kobe approached it that way or not, but that’s how I was. I know when I left the game, I could have played more. There is no question. I think I could have played at a very high level, too. “But I could not play the way everyone wanted me to play. And I was not willing to compromise what I felt was a standard that I had established in this league, and particularly for our fans at home.”West also had a high standard for Bryant, whom West thought tried to impress him in practice by dominating against all of his teammates.“He’d be dribbling through all five of them, make a dunk or something and look back and try to laugh at them,” West said. “He’d start talking afterwards, ‘What do you think of that?’ I said, ‘I thought that’s pretty good. But that’s not going to win in the NBA.’”Apparently, it also was not going to leave West with the impression that Bryant could have beaten him in his day.“He used to say, ‘If I played against you, I’d do this to you and do that to you,’” Bryant recalled, laughing. “‘I’d beat you up, you little scrawny kid.’ He used to rip me all the time about that.”West also used to rip Bryant all the time about his team-given nickname “Showboat” for his flashy style.“I told him, ‘That’s not a becoming name,’” West said. “I said, ‘You don’t want to be a showboat. When somebody looks at you, they want to see the greatness you can attain if you change some of the things you’re doing.’ And, boy, did he ever do that.”Yes, he did. Bryant won five NBA titles, including three with O’Neal, even if West shared that they “were so completely different and probably at that time wanted to kill each other.” Bryant climbed to third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Nearly six years ago, Bryant eclipsed West as the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer. Bryant said that West “absolutely” played a factor in developing him.“Growing up watching him, the thing you want to do is carry on that tradition,” Bryant said of West. “You want to try to prove to him and the other greats you want to gain their respect. To be able to compete at that level and put the work in and gain that respect, that meant everything to me.”It also meant everything to Bryant that West ranks Bryant in the top 10 of all time and considers him, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson as the Lakers’ greatest players.“It means the world to me,” Bryant said. “He’s a player and the logo of the league. What he’s done for the league and also the teams that he built, the team that changed basketball. So for him to put me in that company and the man who drafted me, you know he’s going to give me his honest response no matter what. That means I must’ve done something right.”Bryant did, leaving West to offer a glowing tribute 20 years after falling in love with his gifts as a 17-year-old in that pre-draft workout.“He was a showman, but he also was a winner,” West said. “And he has (left) a legacy throughout the world. Millions of people love this guy, and millions of people will miss what he was able to accomplish in his career.”STAYING LOYALThe smile formed on Bryant’s face when a reporter brought up the NFL’s Rams relocating to Los Angeles. But will that prompt the city’s most prominent athlete to shed his allegiances to the Philadelphia Eagles? “Nope,” Bryant said. “I’m very happy and excited for the city of Los Angeles from having no teams to potentially having two. It’s like the Powerball. But I’m always going to have my green helmet.” Every vote countsThe results seem as expected as Bryant shooting the ball. He has maintained a firm edge in NBA All-Star votes, the third returns released on Thursday showing he has a league-leading 1,533,432 votes for his 18th and final NBA All-Star appearance on Feb. 14 in TorontoINJURY UPDATELakers forward Brandon Bass missed Thursday’s game against Golden State because of a sore right foot. Bass also doubts he will play on Saturday in Utah. “He should have been taken number one,” said West, who resigned from the Lakers after the 1999-2000 season. “I’m surprised other people did not draft him. I’m really surprised because he was really special.”West walked away with that impression partly because of Bryant’s pre-draft workout after starring at Lower Merion High, a suburban school outside of Philadelphia. So much that West said “Kevin Garnett was a great player, but he wasn’t Kobe Bryant” after Garnett entered the NBA out of high school a year before Bryant.“For someone that age, it was remarkable the skill and love he had for the game and desire to excel,” West said of Bryant. “I never had seen anyone with the skill level he had.”Yet, West called it “demeaning” for anyone to call the Lakers-Hornets deal “a one-sided trade.” After all, Divac had made the 1990 NBA All-Rookie first team with the Lakers and then led Charlotte to a 54-28 record. West also insisted the Lakers “weren’t geniuses” and “had a lot of good fortune in Los Angeles.” Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorcenter_img OAKLAND >> The 17-year-old kid faced a Hall of Fame defender in his pre-draft workout. A Hall of Fame player and executive watched, too. But none of those elements swayed Kobe Bryant as he matched up against former Lakers defender Michael Cooper before former Lakers general manager Jerry West.“I wanted to prove at 17 that I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me,” Bryant recalled before the Lakers played the Golden State Warriors on Thursday at the Oracle Arena. “You don’t have to give me a bib and a pacifier. You don’t have to have somebody tuck me in. I’m ready to go. If I get knocked down, I will be fine.”Bryant convinced West enough. So much that Lakers coach Byron Scott recalled West telling him “that was the best workout I ever saw.”So in a move that West said “changed the course of the franchise,” the Lakers traded veteran center Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for the rights to their 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. The move cleared up enough cap space to acquire Shaquille O’Neal as a free agent and secure Bryant. He then won five NBA titles, including three with O’Neal. Now an executive with the Warriors, West called Bryant on Thursday “one of the greatest players that ever played the game.”last_img

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