Shaq talks about how it was hard for some of the Lakers to cope with the confidence that Kobe Bryant had in merely his rookie season.
Kobe Bryant knew exactly what he was going to do upon making it to the league after not having played a second of college basketball. Jumping straight from Lower Merion high school and into the big leagues surely tipped people off on just how confident an 18-year-old Bryant was in his abilities.
Jerry West wouldn’t have traded established big-man, Vlade Divac, to the Charlotte Hornets for the rights to the 13th overall pick in 1996 if he didn’t see something special in the eventual 5x champ. Clearly, the workout in which Kobe decimated 40-year-old Michael Cooper impressed West enough to go straight for him.
While Kobe Bryant wasn’t given heavy minutes his rookie season, he did make the most of his time one the court when given a chance. While he was putting in effort on the off court, he wasn’t doing the same off the court.
That isn’t a slight towards his effort in practice because everyone knows just how maniacal he was in that aspect of his life. The off-the-court part of his life that involved his teammates was where he was having trouble from the get-go.
Shaq on Kobe Bryant and his mentality in his rookie season.
Shaq made his way to the Los Angeles Lakers the same year that Kobe Bryant was drafted. The former Magic All-Star was a well established superstar who everybody lauded as being the definitive number one option on the purple and gold.
However, it was clear from the start that Kobe Bryant was of the same mindset. He believed he was the best player on the court or at the very at least, knew he was going to reach that level sooner than later.
In the latest edition of the ‘Icons Club’, Shaq talks about how an 18-year-old Kobe approached him and said that he was going to be the Will Smith of the NBA.
“He was super, super competitive and we liked it. the other didn’t like it at first like, ‘Hey man, slow down.’ I remember one time he told me he was going to be the Will Smith of the NBA and I’m like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’” [at the 18:12 mark]
While that may exactly be something someone would say following the events that transpired at the 2022 Academy Awards, it makes sense for that time period. Smith was in everything from the Fresh Prince to Independence Day, with Men in Black squeezing into that time frame as well.
Safe to say, being the Will Smith of the NBA was like being the new kid on the block who rose to superstardom because he worked hard towards it. Sounds an awful lot like an early 20s Kobe Bryant winning three straight championships.