Kobe Bryant says free throws he made after tearing his Achilles rank among the best shots of his career

8 Comments

If you were going to try to rank all of Kobe Bryant’s best shots from his amazing 17 years in the NBA, it would be a massive undertaking that would last weeks to get through them all and sort them in order of degree of difficulty, overall meaning, or importance.

As recently as this past season, Bryant had a memorable array of them in a single come-from-behind, overtime win over the Raptors — a game I happened to be fortunate enough to witness in person.

Bryant’s ultimate legacy will be many things, but making extremely challenging shots in the game’s biggest moments will definitely be near the top of that list.

It may be surprising, then, to learn that Bryant himself has a mere pair of free throws in a regular season game ranked as high as any on his own personal career ledger.

In the game where Bryant suffered a season-ending injury to his Achilles tendon, it was the 79th on the 82-game schedule, and the Lakers were furiously trying to complete their late-season run in order to sneak into the playoffs. When Bryant went down with 3:08 to play against the Golden State Warriors, his team was trailing by two, and Bryant was headed to the line for two free throw attempts.

Most players would have begged out of the game, realizing the severity of the injury that had just occurred. Bryant knew what had happened, but willed himself to the line anyway to calmly sink both shots. The importance of a season’s worth of hard work, along with not wanting to let his teammates down, was the motivation for the incredible accomplishment.

From Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles:

On tearing his Achilles tendon against Golden State …

“I haven’t watched it, but just being in the moment, I knew what happened. I knew that was it. I was done. Walking back to the bench, I tried to figure out where I could put pressure on my foot to try to minimize the pain and just try to get through the these last two minutes of the game. I tried walking on my heel and I felt like that was going to work, believe it or not, for a little bit and then it kind of just feels like the tendon in your Achilles is just rolling up your calf and I thought, ‘You know what? Probably not a good idea, but I got to shoot these two free throws.’ These last two minutes, whatever it is left, all this work that we’ve done to get to this point, I got to step up and knock these down.”

On where those free throws rank with the best shots of his career …

“I’d say in terms of a moment, it’s right up there at the top because of what we went through as a team — all the injuries we went through as a team. For me, I just felt like, just go up there and make them. You can’t let your team down. If you’re going to shoot them, you better make sure you make them. That’s where my focus was. And my teammates, I don’t think any of them really knew how severe it was. I looked at Steve. I think Steve was the one who committed the foul and I just looked at him like, ‘Dude, that’s it. I’m done.’”

Free throws might not be that glamorous, especially considering the multitude of insane shots we’ve seen Bryant get to go through the net over the years.

But given the entirety of the situation — with the game and a potential trip to the playoffs on the line, as well as the pain and limitations associated with the type of injury that had just taken place — it’s easy to see why Bryant holds those two unguarded shots he made in such high regard.

Jeff Van Gundy predicts NBA will cancel rest of season

NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kirk Herbstreit sent waves through college football when he predicted the upcoming season will be canceled due to coronavirus.

Now, NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy is sharing a similar assessment of the sport he covers.

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

He doesn’t believe the 2019-20 season will resume.

“I understand how you can start again, but what’s the plan if the next person gets sick, like another Rudy Gobert-type of situation, we’re going to play through it? We’re going to cancel it again? That to me is why I don’t see any of these things taking place.

“I have no idea how they can pull off the season, and I have no idea what’s going to happen, and I hope next season isn’t impacted.”

Van Gundy is spot-on with his warning about another sick person. Can the NBA effectively test players, coaches, referees, etc. then keep them isolated? Until a vaccine is available, that’s practically essential. A single case of coronavirus would undermine the entire operation.

Holding games in one location would reduce risk. It wouldn’t eliminate risk.

Remember, the NBA planned to continue games (without fans present) until Gobert’s positive test necessitated a shutdown. Controlling coronavirus is far easier said than done.

I don’t share Van Gundy’s concern about next being impacted, though.

Next season will likely be impacted. Multiple future seasons could be impacted.

That’s worth the tradeoff.

The NBA is approaching its playoffs – the most lucrative and compelling portion of the season. It’d be a mistake to throw away the postseason just to keep future regular seasons on track.

After all, haven’t we spent the last year discussing declining interest in the regular season? A shorter regular season next season would be a perfectly acceptable tradeoff in order to hold this season’s playoffs. Heck, the NBA could shorten multiple upcoming regular seasons as it phases back toward a normal calendar.

Van Gundy is right to express caution about resuming play. The NBA shouldn’t restart anytime soon. But no matter when it’s safe to hold games again, the league should finish the season. Figure out future seasons from there.

China again delays basketball season due to coronavirus

Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) chairman Yao Ming
Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images
Leave a comment

As the NBA contemplates how and when to resume its season, China – on an earlier coronavirus timeline – can serve as a model.

The Chinese Basketball Association suspended its season in February and planned to resume in April. Then May. Now, it’ll be even later.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

In a setback to the resumption of professional sports, the Chinese government issued an order Tuesday delaying the restart of the Chinese Basketball Association and other group sporting events, according to documents obtained by ESPN.

CBA teams have been informing players that they still intend to return to play and hope to have more clarity in a few weeks, sources told ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.

There’s probably a bigger lesson here about not blindly trusting messaging from China.

For the NBA, it’s a grim warning about the difficultly of restarting a basketball season amid an ongoing pandemic.

ESPN moving up Michael Jordan documentary to April

michael jordan documentary
JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

ESPN threw cold water on hopes its 10-part Michael Jordan documentary on Jordan and the Bulls, originally scheduled for June, would premiere early with the sports world lacking content due to the coronavirus.

Apparently, that was a misdirect.

ESPN release:

Today it was announced that the premiere of “The Last Dance,” the highly anticipated 10-part documentary series will air on ESPN in the U.S. on Sunday nights over five weeks from April 19 through May 17. The series will also be available outside of the U.S. on Netflix.

The series, directed by Jason Hehir (“The Fab Five,” “The ’85 Bears,” “Andre the Giant”), chronicles one of the greatest icons and most successful teams in sports history, Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls, and features never-before-seen footage from the 1997-98 season as the team pursued its sixth NBA championship in eight years.

ESPN statement: “As society navigates this time without live sports, viewers are still looking to the sports world to escape and enjoy a collective experience. We’ve heard the calls from fans asking us to move up the release date for this series, and we’re happy to announce that we’ve been able to accelerate the production schedule to do just that. This project celebrates one of the greatest players and dynasties ever, and we hope it can serve as a unifying entertainment experience to fill the role that sports often play in our lives, telling a story that will captivate everyone, not just sports fans.”

In the fall of 1997, Michael Jordan, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and head coach Phil Jackson agreed to let an NBA Entertainment film crew follow the team all season long. The result would be a remarkable portrait of an iconic player and a celebrated team – a portrait only now being revealed, more than two decades later, in “The Last Dance.”

As the series weaves its way through the tumultuous 1997-98 season, viewers will be transported back to how it all began – from Jordan’s childhood roots, the Bulls’ dire circumstances before his arrival and how the team was built after drafting him in 1984, to the struggles that eventually led to the team’s first NBA championship. As the series takes the audience through the Bulls’ first five championships, viewers will experience the off-court challenges, struggles and triumphs that were a part of the culture-shifting phenomenon created by Jordan and the Bulls.

It’s an unlikely scenario that serves as a fascinating backdrop for the inside tale of the 1998 championship run, with extensive profiles of Jordan’s key teammates including Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Steve Kerr, head coach Phil Jackson, and featuring dozens of current-day interviews with rivals and luminaries from basketball and beyond. All throughout, the tension and conflict that defined that final championship run are very much on display.

“Michael Jordan and the ‘90s Bulls weren’t just sports superstars, they were a global phenomenon,” said director Jason Hehir. “Making ‘The Last Dance’ was an incredible opportunity to explore the extraordinary impact of one man and one team. For nearly three years, we searched far and wide to present the definitive story of an era-defining dynasty and to present these sports heroes as humans. I hope viewers enjoy watching our series as much as we enjoyed the opportunity to make it.”

ESPN

Sunday, April 19

9 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 1

10 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 2

Sunday, April 26

7 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 1

8 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 2

9 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 3

10 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 4

Sunday, May 3

7 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 3

8 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 4

9 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 5

10 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 6

Sunday, May 10

7 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 5

8 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 6

9 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 7

10 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 8

Sunday, May 17

7 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 7

8 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 8

9 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 9

10 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 10

NETFLIX (outside of the U.S.)

Monday, April 20 – 12:01 a.m. PT – “The Last Dance” Episodes 1 and 2

Monday, April 27 – 12:01 a.m. PT – “The Last Dance” Episodes 3 and 4

Monday, May 4 – 12:01 a.m. PT – “The Last Dance” Episodes 5 and 6

Monday, May 11 – 12:01 a.m. PT – “The Last Dance” Episodes 7 and 8

Monday, May 18 – 12:01 a.m. PT – “The Last Dance” Episodes 9 and 10

This is welcome news, but April 19 for the Michael Jordan documentary is still a ways off. The wait is about as long as the NBA has already been on hiatus.

In the meantime, NBC Sports Chicago has a fantastic feature on Michael Jordan’s 1995 comeback.

Knicks reportedly eyed trade for Terry Rozier before deadline

Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Knicks needed a point guard.

That was the undisputed fact heading into the last trade deadline. New York had Frank Ntilikina, Elfrid Payton, and Dennis Smith Jr. on the roster, but none of them were the lead guard the Knicks needed, which forced RJ Barrett to play more in that role, plus it was not good for the development of Kevin Knox.

We know the Knicks had targeted D’Angelo Russell at the trade deadline but didn’t have the players and picks to interest the Warriors (who eventually traded him to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins). Now comes a report from Ian Bagley of SNY.tv the Knicks also targeted Charlotte’s Terry Rozier.

But prior to the news of the [new Knicks president Leon] Rose hire, there was strong support in some corners of the organization to try to acquire Charlotte guard Terry Rozier, per sources.

The framework of one deal that had internal support sent Julius Randle, Smith Jr. and a future first-round pick to Charlotte for a package that included Rozier and Malik Monk, per sources.

Randle does not appear to be part of the Knicks long-term rebuilding plans, and there have been questions about his fit next to Barrett (New York’s best young player). While Smith has potential New York was ready to move on.

However, Rozier has two years and $36.8 million guaranteed after this season, and while he can get buckets — 18 a game for the Hornets, shooting better than 40 percent from three — he would have been a stop-gap answer for the Knicks. Rozier’s play improved as last season went on as he adjusted to playing more of a two-guard role next to Devonte’ Graham, but with the Knicks Rozier would have been back on the ball. This trade would have been classic old-school Knicks move, taking on contract another team doesn’t want for a short-term fix.

What Rose and the Knicks decide to do with Randle — who is owed $38.7 million in the next two seasons and averaged 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds a game with his bully-ball style — will be something to watch this summer. Along with seeing who gets hired as coach, it will be a sign of the kind of team Rose wants to build.