The Kobe Bryant farewell tour rolls into Cleveland Wednesday, and on Tuesday, Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue was sharing his memories of the Mamba. The 38-year-old Lue was drafted by the Lakers in 1998 and spent his first three seasons with the team, giving him a front-row seat for Bryant’s hyper-competitive act.
After a Cavs practice, Lue told reporters about another practice many years ago in Los Angeles. During a five-on-five session, the 6-foot point guard had the nerve to block a dunk attempt by Bryant, who did not take kindly to the affront.
“It was a game point and [Bryant] drove baseline and I was at the elbow,” Lue said (via ESPN). “And he drove baseline and I went down the lane and I pinned his dunk against the glass. He tried to dunk it and I blocked it against the glass. We came down, Devean George made a layup for game and Brian Shaw went, ‘Ahhh, he blocked you!’ He went crazy. Kobe wanted to fight me at first and then, second, he wanted to play one-on-one after practice.
“[Bryant said,] ‘We going to play one-on-one, me and you.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not playing you one-on-one.’ He was so mad and then, after that, it was just, every day we stepped onto the court, he just went after me every single day. It was crazy. And then, like other stories, just playing one-on-one every day, every time we acquired a new guy, he would play those guys one-on-one after every practice just to show them, like, ‘I’m the man, I’m the man.’ Did the same thing with Glen Rice. Just his competitive nature, man, it was just unbelievable.”
The story adds to the collection that have spilled out over the past year, as Bryant’s former teammates tell tales of what they experienced with him, not all of them flattering. For example, Samaki Walker recently claimed that Bryant “sucker-punched” him in 2002 over a $100 debt, and before the season, Phil Jackson said he could often “feel” the superstar’s “hatred” when he was coaching the Lakers.
Lue made it clear, though, that he was a big admirer of Bryant, whose intensity and aloofness have been known to rub some teammates (cough, cough, Shaquille O’Neal) the wrong way. Of the fact that Bryant is still in the NBA, long after Lue’s own playing career ended (in 2009), the coach said, “It shows his greatness, how long he’s been able to play and sustain it for so long, it’s just a tribute to him.”
“[It’s] such a great bond that I have with him, playing in L.A. for three years, winning two championships,” Lue added (via ESPN). “It’s just a bond that can’t be broken.”