Kurt Helin

In this photo taken Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant waves good bye to the fans after an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings in his last appearance at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif. Renamed SleepTrain Arena, the facility has been the home of the Kings since it opened in 1988. The Kings won an NBA-best 61 games in the 2001-02 season behind Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, losing to the eventual champion Lakers in Game 7 of the conference finals. The Kings will play their last game at the aging building, Saturday against the Oklahoma City Thunder and begin play next season at the new Golden One Center built in downtown Sacramento. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Associated Press

Kobe Bryant’s legacy in his own words

Leave a comment

It started with a simple sentence a couple of decades ago.

“I… have decided to skip college and take my talents to the NBA.”

From there — and after some relatively humble beginnings coming off the bench and missing key shots in the playoffs — Kobe Bryant would go on to be one of the legends of the NBA.

A legendary career that ends Wednesday night at Staples Center.

He’s the only NBA player to have a 20-year career with one team. Kobe’s raw statistics are otherworldly: Five championships, two Finals MVPs, one regular season MVP, third on the all-time career scoring list, 15 All-NBA teams, 18-time All-Star, four-time scoring champion, and the list goes on and on.

However, those stats do not define Kobe — we will remember him more as one of the game’s ultimate competitors, a guy as driven as anyone who has ever laced up shoes and walked onto a court. He talked about that and his legacy over the course of this final season, something we captured at PBT.

Kobe talked about a lot of things this season, but it all started with chasing his dream — and inspiring a generation of players to do the same.

“It’s easier said than done because I think we all have dreams,” Kobe said. “But once you go through the process of trying to make those dreams a reality, you hit obstacles. And I think unfortunately because of pressure or anxiety or responsibilities, things, whatever, you kind of give up on those dreams and somewhere along the line you lose that imagination. I think it’s important that you never lose that. You have to keep that. That’s the most important thing. I never gave up my dream.”

And he inspired others not to give up their dreams.

“The coolest thing is the messages I receive from the players,” said of his farewell tour this season. “They say thank you for the inspiration, thank you for the lessons, for the mentality. Those things honestly mean the most from me, that respect from the peers, there’s nothing in the world that beats that.”

For a guy with such an intense, burning competitiveness, he was amazingly at peace with his decision to walk away from the game after this season. He had realized it was time, and knew he didn’t want to be traded and don another jersey to make a run at a sixth ring as a third or fourth option. He wanted to be a Laker for life. There will be no comeback as a player — in the NBA or Europe — and no stint as a coach.

Kobe battled back this season so that he could walk off the court one final time and do it on his terms. Injuries were not going to be the last word on his story. Wednesday night at Staples Center against Utah, Kobe will get the moment he wanted, walking off the court when he wanted to leave. And he’s at peace with what’s next.

“I mean, how many players can say they’ve played 20 years and actually have seen the game go through three, four generations, you know what I mean? It’s not sad at all.”

•••

From when he entered the league, Kobe understood what it took to become a great player. He was driven, but he also studied film on the greats, he reached out to them and learned from them. He challenged those around him and pushed them to challenge him.

When Kobe saw in others what he knew was in himself, he instantly respected it.

“Dirk and I have always had a great relationship because we’re both extremely competitive. Also both extremely loyal to our teams,” Bryant said the last time he faced Dirk Nowitzki at Staples Center.

“I’ll tell you a story about Dirk. He was up for free agency, and I knew what his response was going to be. But out of respect, everybody’s looking around at all these free agents, I felt I’d shoot you a text, if you want to come to L.A. He goes, I would love to play with you, but Dallas is my home. This is my team. I’m not leaving here. So he and I think a lot alike in that regard.”

Kobe’s game evolved over the course of his career, from the high-flying No. 8 playing next to Shaquille O’Neal, the kid who won a dunk contest and used his athleticism to get buckets, to the fundamentally impeccable, high-IQ No. 24 that could read the play and be a step ahead of everyone else on the court. He was pushed hard by the other greats in the game along that path.

“(The Spurs) pushed me to really fine tune and sharpen my game. I’m sad those matchups aren’t going to happen (anymore).”

So what does Kobe see as his career defining moment?

The 2010 NBA Finals against Boston.

“It was really big,” Kobe said. “We were part of the history of rivalry — and there was no way we could go down in history as being remembered as the team that lost twice to the Celtics (Boston had beaten Kobe’s Lakers in 2008). All the history that’s gone on (between these franchises) and there’s no way, no way.

“So even above and beyond winning a fifth championship, it was disappointing the memory of this organization and the rivalry that’s been there for decades. That was more important…. You know it was still a very beautiful thing to be a part of it. But the pressure, and understanding what this Finals meant, especially 2010 because you can’t lose twice to these guys. I don’t care how many Hall of Famers they have, it just can’t happen. There’s no excuse.”

•••

Through the arc of his career Kobe evolved into the unquestioned leader, not just of the Lakers but one of the veteran voices in the NBA other players looked up to. He had help with that from other legends of the game.

“(Bill Russell) has been an unbelievable mentor.,” Kobe said. “Especially from the standpoint of leadership and understanding group/team dynamics. Some of the experiences he’s been through, and how he’s been able to manage some of the teams he’s been on, and some of the difficulties he might have faced. He’s been an invaluable ear and voice for me.”

Like his game, Kobe’s leadership style evolved.

“(A leadership voice) just comes with time and it comes with age. When you first come into the league you’re trying to figure out what’s what — what is the right thing to say, what is the wrong thing to say. Trying to avoid conflict and controversy. Then as you age you realize that no matter what you say there’s always going to be conflict, there’s always going to be controversy so the best thing to do is just be yourself. Then if there’s going to be conflict or controversy created it’s going to be created from the person that you truly are.”

•••

Father Time wins every race against man, and he won against Kobe. Eventually.

But Bryant was not going to take the hint of torn Achilles or knee surgeries to leave the game, he was going to overcome those and walk off the court. It wasn’t the physical that made Kobe realize it was time to walk away — “you can always figure the physical out” — it was the mental side.

“Sitting in meditation for me, my mind starts drifting, and it always drifted to basketball. Always. And it doesn’t do that anymore. It does that sometimes, it doesn’t do that all the time. That was the first indicator that this game was not something I can obsess over much longer.”

Kobe isn’t leaving the game as one of those curmudgeonly old “get off my lawn” guys, he’s not a player with disdain for the younger generation.

“When we first came in, it’s always the younger generation that comes in and it’s just like the elder statesmen says this younger generation has no idea what they’re doing. They’re going to absolutely kill the game. The game, when we played, was pure and all this kind of stuff. Hey, man, that’s always the case. When we came in, we were just young kids that wanted to play, and (Allen Iverson) was aggressive. It was a newer generation, newer culture, but I think where the game ended up, it ended up in a beautiful place.”

That did not mean Kobe would go quietly. In flashes this season he put up points and showed his old swagger — he was demanding respect one last time.

“We were playing Portland and some kid from the bench said something to me, said ‘we’re going to beat you tonight.’ I looked at him and said ‘I’ve got one rule: If you weren’t born when I started playing you can’t talk trash. It’s a simple rule’ And he looked and said, ‘Yes sir.’”

So what happens the first day of retirement?

“I’ll probably wake up and have some coffee and go back to sleep.”

Kobe doesn’t seem to get the point of coffee. And even in retirement, whatever is next, it’s hard to imagine Kobe going back to sleep rather than jumping into what’s next with both feet — and an unparalleled determination.

Check out NBA’s new “Every Second Counts” playoff ad campaign (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

The NBA playoffs are here this weekend.

Amazingly, not one matchup is officially set yet — things are tightly bunched in both conferences — but over the next 48 hours that will shake itself out and the NBA’s second season will tip off.

Above you can see the “Every Second Counts” — featuring new music by Timbaland — that will be part of the NBA’s playoffs and The Finals ad campaign. It spins off of the “This Is Why We Play” campaign from during the regular season. You’re going to see a ton of this (and it’s variations) over the next month, but we thought we’d give you a first quick look.

Three Takeaways from NBA Monday: Dallas in, Rockets poised to grab last spot

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, right, celebrates with Dallas Mavericks' Devin Harris, left, and David Lee, rear, following their NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz Monday, April 11, 2016, in Salt Lake City. The Mavericks won 101-92.(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Associated Press
5 Comments

What you missed from around the NBA Monday while getting sucked into Family Guy episodes…

1) Dallas beats Utah and Mavericks are in the playoffs; Rockets move into the final playoff spot.
Before the season myself (and many others) thought this would be the year the Mavericks dropped off. Dirk Nowitzki had gotten too old, the roster didn’t appear fit together well, and Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews were too injured. Turns out Parsons was injured for chunks of the season, but as for the rest of it Rick Carlisle worked his magic — Nowitzki had a bounce-back season, guys found roles where they could thrive, and with Dallas’ 101-92 win over Utah on Monday they are in the playoffs for the 15th time in 16 seasons. Depending on the final day of the regular season, Dallas will face either San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the first round.

Utah’s loss in that game may doom their playoff chances — they are now tied with Houston (which beat Minnesota behind 34 points from James Harden) and the Rockets have the tie breaker. If Houston can beat the lowly Kings in their season finale — and the Kings are resting DeMarcus Cousins among others — then Houston is in, and the Jazz are out. Which means we are likely headed toward a Houston vs. Golden State first round meeting.

2) Cleveland reminds Atlanta who is the best team in the East. Over the past six weeks, statistically the Atlanta Hawks have looked like the second-best team in the East, playing fantastic defense and getting enough scoring based off Jeff Teague‘s play at the point. Monday night the Cavaliers showed the Hawks how big the gap is in the East, coasting to a 109-94 win. That win clinched the top seed in the East for the Cavaliers — the road to the Finals now goes through Cleveland. The Cavaliers put the game out of reach with a 19-5 run in the third quarter, and they never looked back. It was the Cavaliers’ stars who stepped up — Kyrie Irving had 35 points and LeBron James 34.

3) Russell Westbrook gets another triple-double — in the first half — and ties Magic Johnson for most in 50 years. It took Russell Westbrook all of 18 minutes of game time to get his 18th triple-double of the season — that’s the second fastest triple-double in NBA history. And the last guy to get 18 triple-doubles in a season is the best point guard ever to play the game — Magic Johnson. Westbrook has had an incredible season and would win my vote for “other than Curry MVP.”

Injury-riddled Grizzlies grinding their way into postseason

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 29:  Mario Chalmers #6 and Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies celebrate a play against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on February 29, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Grizzlies defeated the Nuggets 103-96. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies are about to make NBA history in a season where they took their mantra of grit and grind to the extreme.

No team in league history has ever reached the postseason having used more than 23 players, and Memphis will be the first having already used a record 28 in an injury-riddled season. The Grizzlies head into Tuesday night’s game at the Clippers and Wednesday’s regular season finale at the Warriors with only their seeding in question.

In a season dominated by Golden State’s chase of the league’s single-season wins record, Warriors coach Steve Kerr calls what the Grizzlies have accomplished simply remarkable.

“I think it’s one of the most impressive stories in the NBA this year,” Kerr said.

A total of 12 different Grizzlies have missed a combined 291 games to injuries or illness this season, according to STATS, second only New Orleans.

“We’ve gotten hit over the head with everything you can get hit with,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said.

The unrelenting injuries have forced Memphis to cobble together a constantly changing roster through trades and moves including eight different players signed to 10-day contracts. Four of those started, while Jordan Farmar, Xavier Munford and now Bryce Cotton wound up signed for what remains of the season under the NBA’s hardship rules.

The biggest loss obviously was center Marc Gasol, who signed his big deal last July. Gasol broke his right foot Feb. 8 and had season-ending surgery Feb. 20.

Point guard Mike Conley, who still leads the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio, hasn’t played since March 6 with tendinitis in his left Achilles tendon. Conley wore a boot with Gasol in a matching boot and still on crutches cheering on their teammates in a 100-99 loss to Golden State in Memphis’ home finale Saturday night.

Mario Chalmers, brought in via a trade to back up Conley, ruptured his right Achilles tendon March 9 in a loss at Boston. He doesn’t count against the games lost to injury since then because Memphis had to waive him to add another player.

“That one took our heart for a little while,” Joerger said. “For two reasons. I think one he was our point guard and two, every athlete’s scariest injury is an Achilles. You know it when you see it, and the guy knows it when he feels it.”

Yet the Grizzlies (42-38) are assured of a winning record for a sixth straight season – behind only San Antonio (19) and Oklahoma City (7) for the longest streaks in the league. That coincides with a franchise-record six straight playoff appearances.

Memphis sat in the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference much of the season. Now the Grizzlies have lost two straight and eight of their last 10, dropping to the sixth seed going into Monday night’s games.

“Emotionally, there have been times where we are just kind of out of gas,” Joerger said. `You can’t be high for every single game. We took a couple hits in some games where you wish they had been closer or we had given ourselves a chance to win.”

With players coming and going, learning names has been a challenge at times, let alone Joerger and his assistants having time to teach more than a handful of plays to the newcomers. So many players have come through, several have never had a permanent locker, instead using auxiliary spots used during the preseason when the roster is expanded.

Joerger credits veterans Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Matt Barnes and Vince Carter for helping Memphis through the rotating cast both by playing better individually and embracing their new teammates.

First Barnes, then Randolph turned in the first triple-double of their careers in March. Allen knocked down all 12 shots in a win at the Lakers on March 27 for a career-best performance. Carter has averaged at least 10 points over the past 23 games.

Randolph said this season has been tough, yet the Grizzlies know nobody in the NBA feels sorry for them.

“We got to start the playoffs,” Randolph said. “We ain’t got our team, and we made the playoffs. Everybody count us out and look where we are now.”

AP freelance writer Clay Bailey contributed to this report.

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

Mavericks clinch playoff spot with 101-92 win over Jazz

Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) celebrates as he leaves the court during the final minute of the second half in an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz Monday, April 11, 2016, in Salt Lake City. The Mavericks won 101-92. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Leave a comment

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Dallas Mavericks clinched a Western Conference playoff spot for the third consecutive season and the 15th time in the last 16 years.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 22 and the Mavericks earned the No. 7 spot Monday with a 101-92 win over the Utah Jazz, leaving one remaining postseason slot.

The postseason is nothing new for the organization, but the team seemed to be in dire straits when it dropped 10 of 12 during a stretch in March and lost Chandler Parsons for the season after surgery on his right knee on March 25.

Dallas made a playoff push by winning seven of its last eight games.

“Well, it’s been a lot of work,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s been an amazing two weeks. Our guys looked like they were down and out, and we all dug in. Everyone dug in, especially the players, and we found a way to get into the playoffs.

“Tonight was game seven. That’s the way we approached it.”

Utah (40-41) lost control of its own destiny and needs to beat the Lakers on Wednesday and for the Rockets (40-41) to lose to the Kings. Houston holds the tiebreaker against the Jazz if they finish with the same record.

Dallas (42-39) rode its two biggest stars to victory as Nowitzki hit four 3-pointers and added 11 rebounds. Deron Williams scored 23 of his own against his former team.

“Coming in here, we knew it was going to be like a playoff atmosphere,” said William, who was booed throughout. “In a sense, (it) was a playoff game because there was so much at stake.

“(The boos) got me going out there a little bit. Not only the booing, but the stuff that was being said when I was sitting on the bench, at dead balls, stuff like that.”

Gordon Hayward finished with 26, but was 1 for 9 from 3-point range. The Jazz struggled to shoot the ball and were 2 for 18 from behind the arc in the second half.

“We just didn’t play that good,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I don’t think we made a perimeter shot until about five minutes left in the game. It just puts a lot of pressure on you.

“We talked about the last 20 games or so to try to be in a playoff race and find ourselves in this position. Unfortunately, Dallas was a better team tonight. We looked like a team that’s the youngest team in the league. And that’s what we are. This is a good experience for us. It hurts right now.”

The Mavs took a 50-46 lead into halftime after leading by as much as eight in the first half. The Jazz struggled to keep up with Nowitzki in the first quarter, in which he scored 10, and Williams in the second, when he scored 16.

“We just weren’t staying within the offense,” Jazz forward Derrick Favors said. “We missed a lot of shots that we normally make. (Rodney Hood) normally makes most of the shots he takes. It was just a tough offensive night for us.

“Wasn’t any nervousness. Just (missed) a lot of shots that we normally make.”

TIP-INS

Mavericks: Nowitzki hit four 3-pointers and now has 1,700 in his career to become the 15th player in NBA history with at least 1,700 career triples. … Nowitzki needs two made free throws to become the seventh player in NBA history – and the first 7-footer – with 7,000 career made free throws.

Jazz: Starting center Rudy Gobert hit the floor with when he rolled his right ankle fighting for a rebound. He immediately went to the locker room and did not return. He was on crutches and in a walking boot after the game. … Trey Lyles started his second consecutive game with Derrick Favors dealing with right knee soreness. Favors played but clearly wasn’t fully healthy.

SAAVY VETERANS

The Mavericks are the second most experienced team in the NBA and the Jazz are the least. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said before the game that helps his team. “Experience is valuable,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have been in a lot of playoff games and a lot of big regular season games. There were some things you can remind them of. But as the second-most experienced team in the league, I don’t think there’s a lot I need to say to them.”