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Laker for Life
By Los Angeles Daily News
Triumph Books LLCCopyright © 2016 Los Angeles News Group
All rights reserved.
Bryant Might Be a Laker
Divac Could Be Hornet If Likely Deal Comes Off
By Marc Stein June 27, 1996
Kobe Bryant, from high school to the Lakers?
That was the tantalizing prospect that had Jerry West and Del Harris struggling to mask their giddiness late Wednesday night, after the Charlotte Hornets took the 17-year-old wunderkind with the 13th pick in the NBA Draft and then announced that they'd be trading him.
Inglewood immediately surfaced as the probable destination for Bryant, who would likely force West to part with starting center Vlade Divac.
"They've made him available and we told them that we're interested," said the Lakers' executive vice president, who for now has nothing more than Arkansas-Little Rock point guard Derek Fisher, the No. 24 overall selection, from the draft proceedings in New Jersey.
"We're definitely interested, but we do not have a deal at this point."
The tone of West's and, later, coach Harris' voice suggested that the Lakers do expect a deal at some point, if not this week then shortly after the salary cap rises to $24.3 million on July 1.
Given West's intense fondness for the Pennsylvania prep star — management privately maintains that Bryant has more talent than anyone on the present roster — it's difficult to imagine him letting another team swoop in and nab the 6-foot-6, 200-pound swingman.
That's even if the price tag is Divac, a definite risk since the Lakers have no guarantee they can sign free agent-to-be Shaquille O'Neal or re-sign Elden Campbell.
"I was impressed more than I can say," Harris recalled of Bryant's workout at the Forum two weeks earlier. "It was really stunning to see what he could do as a 17-year-old man."
Just when it seemed that all the pre-draft speculation about a trade involving Divac and No. 4 overall pick Stephon Marbury was just talk, and just as it appeared that the Lakers would wind up spending a mostly quiet evening in their war room securing Fisher late in the first round, word spread of Bryant's availability.
Hornets vice president Bob Bass then revealed that he has been talking with an unspecified team — believed to be the Lakers — all week in hopes of giving new coach Dave Cowens the big man Charlotte lacks.
"This was our No. 1 thing to happen," Bass said of drafting Bryant and then shopping him. "We started talking about it Monday and kept talking about it, but there was no deal if the guy they want wasn't there. Bryant had to be there."
To bring him to Los Angeles, the Lakers will probably have to wait until Monday, when, barring a lockout, the Hornets will be able to renounce free-agent guard Kenny Anderson to make room for Divac's $4,137,000 salary for 1996-97.
It is not known whether the Hornets are aware of Divac's hints at retirement if he is traded away. Sources close to the seven-year veteran, who is in the former Yugoslavia practicing for the Summer Olympics, told the Daily News this week that Divac is adamant about keeping his family in Los Angeles and prepared to walk away from the game at 28.
Charlotte has showed interest in Divac in the past, most recently in November before sending Alonzo Mourning to Miami.
West was unwilling to give up Divac then but sees Bryant, the son of longtime NBA forward Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, as "a potential NBA star."
"We don't see many kids who are 17 years old and can do the things he can do," West said.
Bryant, indeed, is a unique prospect, unlike any of the other 36 underclassmen available in Wednesday's draft or even Minnesota's Kevin Garnett, last year's preps-to-the-pros sensation.
Bryant — who, according to Harris, has three-position capability in the mold of Eddie Jones — speaks fluent Italian and could have attended the university of his choice after scoring 1,080 on the Scholastic Assessment Test.
He chose instead to bypass college and turn pro and, if he comes to the Lakers, would give Harris the privilege of coaching his first father-and-son tandem. Joe Bryant played for Harris in Houston.
"This would be the first time I coached a father and son in the NBA ... if it happens," Harris said with a smile.
If it happens, Bryant will cost the Lakers $845,800 for his first season based on the NBA's rookie salary cap. Combined with the $509,600 that Fisher would receive and the $4 million-plus going to Charlotte if Divac is involved, the Lakers will be gaining nearly $2.8 million in cap room to add to the $6-9 million they've reserved for the pursuit of O'Neal.
Whether or not it happens, the Lakers do think they have solidified their backcourt picture with the acquisition of Fisher, a 6-1, 200-pound left-hander who is a natural point guard — unlike Sedale Threatt, a free agent who isn't expected back, and Frankie King, last year's second-round pick.
Fisher, who averaged 14.6 points and 5.1 assists as a senior, was one of 14 players the Lakers looked at in workouts and one of three names they were interested in most. Alabama's Roy Rogers was gone by the time L.A. selected; two slots later, West decided to take Fisher over Georgetown forward Jerome Williams.
"We hope that he'll be able to come in and, frankly, play right away," West said.CHAPTER 2
Lakers' Teenager Grows Up
19-Years-Old, 100% Basketball
By Doug Krikorian Feburary 3, 1998
At 19, you're hanging with pals, carrying a phony ID, hitting the books, rushing a fraternity, holding down a job, engaging in romance, trying to figure what direction to pursue in life.
At 19, you're unaware of the cruel twists that lie ahead because of being shielded so long in a cocoon of youth and its seemingly endless glad tomorrows and you think you know more than you do.
At 19, you're brimming with energy and hope for a bright future and the wallet you carry seldom has much money in it.
Kobe Bryant, the Lakers' 19-year-old prodigy, makes a mockery out of such stereotypes.
For one thing, he's already a millionaire whose course in upcoming years is set.
For another, he's a refreshingly self-effacing person who understands that his modest years conspire against his knowing everything.
For still another, he's not interested in the nightclub scene, or frat parties, or academic studies, or driving around with buddies checking out the sights that so entrance others of his age group.
"What are you going to do tonight?" I asked Kobe Bryant Sunday afternoon after he had scored 20 points in helping the Lakers to their 112-87 impalement of the Chicago Bulls.
"Oh, I'll go home and watch a tape of this game," replied Bryant, seated in front of his dressing cubicle in the Lakers' locker room. "I'll analyze the mistakes I made. I'll see what I could have done better. I might watch it a couple of times."
"You're not going to go out with friends and have a good time?" I persisted to Bryant.
"Oh, no, I don't do that," said Bryant. "I spend most of the time at my house with my family. I might go to movies once in a while. But my life is almost 100 percent basketball."
As you might know, Kobe Bryant is not your typical teenager.
Few his age are 6-7. None inspire comparisons to Michael Jordan. None become starters in the NBA All-Star game. And none act during interviews with a poise and maturity that belie their years.
And I can't think of any other teenager in American athletics who's become a more revered figure than Kobe Bryant.
Indeed, at the moment, on a Laker team that includes a legitimate superstar in Shaquille O'Neal and other exceptional performers like Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones, Kobe Bryant just might be the most popular player.
At least he receives the loudest cheers at the Forum.
And kids around Los Angeles — as well as around the country — have come to hero-worship this appealing young man who so enamored Jerry West in high school that West was willing to trade Vlade Divac to Charlotte for Bryant's drafting rights.
"What are your feelings about becoming such a favorite among so many young fans?" I asked Bryant.
"I think it's really cool," he said. "I love kids myself. I feel very comfortable around them. Hey, I'm still a kid myself. I think one reason a lot of the kids like me is that they can relate to me. I think a lot of the kids cheering for me these days are people only four, five, six years younger than me.
"I guess it's an added responsibility for me to be looked up to, but I'll take it. It doesn't bother me a bit. I'll just continue to try to be myself."
While Kobe Bryant is faultless in his dealings with the media, he still admittedly has his rough edges on the hardwoods.
Oh, he has been an explosive performer this season off the bench for the Lakers averaging more than 17 points a game, but he can have undisciplined periods as he did during the first half against the Bulls when he kept taking off-balanced, hurried shots in a wild display that was maddening to both his teammates and his coach, Del Harris.
"Kobe was trying to do a little too much in the early stages against the Bulls," said Harris. "I pulled him aside and told him, 'Slow down a little, Kobe, and let it come to you.' And he did. And, man, once he did he was fun to watch. You just marvel at his ability."
"I sometimes let my emotions dictate my play — and that's when I play poorly as I did early against the Bulls," said Bryant. "I'd been waiting for this game a long time, and I was just a little too nervous and excited. You always want to prove yourself against the best — and the Bulls and Michael Jordan are the best. I was just too impatient."
"What aspect of your game do you feel you have to improve in most?" I wondered.
"Every aspect," he replied. "Shooting, defending, passing, positioning. Everything. In order to become the best, you have to keep improving all the time. And that's my goal. Just to keep improving."
"What do you learn from playing against Michael Jordan?"
"What I learn from Michael is the way he uses his teammates, the way he sets them up with his passes. I've still got a lot to learn in this area. I've got a lot to learn in all areas."
No doubt Kobe Bryant does.
He at times looks like a 19-year-old who would have been wiser to have learned his trade in college.
But other times he looks like he's on the threshold of succeeding Michael Jordan as the NBA's marquee attraction.
"I'm really looking forward to the NBA All-Star game next Sunday," said Bryant with wide-eyed anticipation. "That's just going to be great — Madison Square Garden, those great fans, competing against the best in the NBA. I just can't wait."
"Do you ever think how it would have been for you had you decided to attend college?" I asked.
Kobe Bryant paused momentarily, and then a soft grin covered his face.
"Yeah, once in a while it crosses my mind," he finally replied. "But not often. I took a three-unit course last summer at UCLA, and it was really difficult. The only course I'm taking right now is basketball. NBA 101."CHAPTER 3
Lakers Beat Pacers for NBA Title
By Steve Dilbeck June 20, 2000
A promise delivered, a moment to savor, a time to celebrate.
An NBA championship in hand.
Twelve years after they captured the last title of the Showtime era, a very different group defeated the stubborn Indiana Pacers, 116-111, on Monday night to bring the Lakers their seventh title in the L.A. franchise history.
One-year after the gray-haired Phil Jackson — the Zen-speaking mystic of bottomless calm — was hired to lead the Lakers back from a season of turmoil to the pinnacle of the NBA, the Lakers ended the best-of-seven series in six games.
"The first of many — just like it was before," said Lakers owner Jerry Buss.
The title follows an empty decade for L.A. professional championships and a troubled era for the city as well.
It is the first pro title for the City of Angels since the Lakers and Dodgers both captured championships in 1988.
This one was marked by the flash and dare of guard Kobe Bryant and the power and thunder of Most Valuable Player Shaquille O'Neal, a combination of style and substance that other teams challenged, but ultimately no one could match.
When the tense game, led by the Pacers most of the way, finally ended, O'Neal could not hold his emotions in check. Tears streamed down his cheeks.
Then, Bryant leaped into his arms; O'Neal next searched out his mother, embracing her with his giant arms.
"I've held my emotions for almost 11 years," O'Neal said.
"Three years in college, eight years in the pros. I always wanted to win. It just came out. I'm happy for L.A. It's a great moment."
The Lakers were this man-child throughout the postseason, a young but talented team with its core of O'Neal and Bryant straining mightily to take the crown.
They would look dynamic one night, a maturing team reaching for the basketball heavens. And then they would come back to disappoint, the sheepish child knowing it had failed to live up to expectations, if even its own.
Six times, an NBA postseason record, they failed to close out a series. They seemed determined to find the difficult path, to tantalize their fans before reaching their greatness.
In the end, no amount of growing pains would stop their ascent to the NBA summit.
"This is the best feeling in the world," said Lakers forward Glen Rice.
The Pacers made the Lakers earn their title Monday, pushing them hard and forcing them to dig deep to pull out the title game.
The Pacers led throughout most of the contest, still firing away from beyond the 3-point line and threatening to force a decisive Game 7.
O'Neal, who duplicated his regular-season and All-Star MVP triumphs, took command in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 of his game-high 41 points.
With the score tied at 103 with 5:04 to play after a seven-point Pacers run, the Lakers connected on consecutive baskets by Robert Horry, O'Neal and Bryant.
They had a lead they would cling to until the final buzzer sounded.
Gold and purple streamers and confetti fell from the ceiling, "I Love L.A." blared and the celebration began.
The championship validated the coaching greatness of Jackson, who after winning six titles with the Chicago Bulls, captured a championship in his first season with the Lakers. He and Alex Hannum are the only coaches in the NBA's 52-year history to win titles with two different teams.
It was a grand confirmation for team Executive Vice President Jerry West, who nine years after the Lakers last made it to the NBA Finals, pieced together an entirely new team to earn his sixth title as a Lakers executive.
It was another reason to party for Buss; for veterans Rice, Ron Harper, A.C. Green, Brian Shaw and John Salley to feel young; for the 21-year-old Bryant to feel his star rise; and for O'Neal to establish himself as the most imposing force in the NBA.
It was even partial redemption for the brand new Staples Center, maligned for its sterile and subdued environment.
The Lakers clinched each of their four playoff series at home, and Monday it rocked like never before.
"What a start for the Staples Center," Jackson said. "What a start for the new millennium."
The Lakers first exerted their dominance in the regular season, rolling to a league-best 67-15 mark. The playoffs offered a wild ride.
Most people are still trying to figure out how they won Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, a game that saw them overcome a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit.
"They had a miracle game, seventh game against Portland," Jackson said.
In the closing moments of Monday's game, as Bryant walked to the bench, he held up his left hand to the crowd and pointed to its ring finger.
"That's one ring," Bryant said. "We did it for ourselves. We did it for Los Angeles, because they deserved it. It's been a long drought."CHAPTER 4
Twice as Nice!
Lakers Beat Sixers, Launch Dynasty with 2nd Title
By Karen Crouse June 16, 2001
PHILADELPHIA — Just how good are these Lakers?
They have a chance to become the New York Yankees of the NBA . The Tiger Woods of basketball. The benchmark by which every other franchise is measured.
The Lakers beat the Philadelphia 76ers 108-96 at the First Union Center on Friday night to close out the best-of-seven series 4-1 and complete a historic 15-1 run made all the more remarkable by the fact the Lakers managed not to lose a single postseason game on enemy turf.
The Lakers' march to a second consecutive world championship was so sweeping, so methodical, so merciless, it has left the NBA landscape scorched.
This dynasty should be around awhile.
"I never told anybody this," said forward Rick Fox, "but Kobe (Bryant) sat with me four years ago and said, 'I'm going to win 10 championships.'"
Fox laughed at the memory.
"I looked at him and said, this kid has confidence. But now I'm thinking, I need to listen to the cat."
Shaquille O'Neal, named the series MVP after averaging 33 points and 15.8 rebounds, wasted few words in describing the Lakers' achievement: "I think it was just us looking for an identity. And we found it."
He has promised to go on "a power diet" over the summer, the better to report to training camp leaner than last fall when he showed up looking conspicuously like The Big Jelly Doughnut.
At this point, O'Neal's appetite is probably the only thing that can slow him. Sixers center Dikembe Mutombo certainly couldn't slow him despite playing some of the finest basketball of his 10-year pro career.
"He's not dominating Dikembe, he's dominating our team," Sixers backup center Matt Geiger said on the eve of O'Neal's 29-point, 13-rebound romp in Game 5. "I don't know of anybody I've ever seen, (Michael) Jordan included, that has single-handedly dominated the game the way Shaq is. He's playing better than he ever has."
Those are weighty words considering O'Neal was the MVP of the regular season and the Finals last year.
Excerpted from Kobe Bryant by Los Angeles Daily News. Copyright © 2016 Los Angeles News Group. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Bryant Might Be a Laker,
Lakers' Teenager Grows Up,
Twice as Nice!,
Kobe Dazzling, Then Dazed,
Lakers Join NBA's All-Time Best,
Bryant's History Score: 81,
LA is the City of Stars ... and MVPs,
An Ugly Game, But Beautiful Finish,
Inspiration, Competition, Admiration,
Kobe Contemplates Passing the Torch,
A Very Kobe Christmas,
Dunking with the Stars,
Kobe's All-Star Farewell,
The Next Challenge,