Associated Press

Kobe Bryant’s legacy in his own words

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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.

Boston offseason: Offer Tatum max extension; watch Hayward pick up option

Jayson Tatum
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
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Boston fans may be frustrated that their team didn’t advance to the NBA Finals — the Celtics beat the defending champion Raptors in the second round, while the top-seeded Bucks had been cleared out of the path — but this is still a team that made strides this season. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown evolved into franchise cornerstones, with Tatum now looking like a No. 1 option, plus Kemba Walker proved a better fit with this team than Kyrie Irving. Throw in role players like Daniel Theis stepping up, and there are reasons for optimism even as the East gets better.

Two things to expect from Boston and team president Danny Ainge this offseason: Paying Tatum the max and watching Gordon Hayward pick up his $34.2 million option.

There will need to be other moves to add depth — they have Memphis’ No. 14 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and two other first-rounders, as chips to use — but Tatum and Hayward are the most expensive decisions.

With Tatum, it seems a no-brainer now to offer him a max extension to his rookie contract. He has become the alpha for this team, averaging 23.4 points and seven rebounds a game this season, even if he learned some hard lessons this past week about the demands of that role deep in the playoffs. Tatum made Third Team All-NBA this season, meaning he is eligible for 28% of the salary cap, make the team again next season and that jumps to 30%, meaning a max extension worth more than $200 million over five years (depending on where the salary cap is in a year, something nobody is sure about).

“I ain’t even thought about that yet,” Tatum said of an extension after Miami eliminated Boston from the postseason. “I was just focused on this season. Like you guys know, that’s a process the front office and my agent have to talk about it…

“So stuff like that, when it happens, if it happens, that’s not really my concern right now. I’m not even thinking about that. Just trying to think about the great season we had and the great players, great guys I was around. This was a hell of a year and I enjoyed it and I’m appreciative of everybody. But at the end of the day, this was fun. I’m not really thinking about the other stuff right now.”

With Hayward, the buzz around the league is he will pick up his player option for $34.2 million.

This also is pretty obvious. While Hayward showed flashes of being the All-Star player he was before his devastating leg injury, and versatile wing players are in demand around the league, there is not anything near $34 million waiting for him on the open market. Especially not in a coronavirus-impacted world where NBA owners have taken a financial hit. Hayward is going to take his money then see what the demand for his services looks like in 2021 (which looks to be a very deep free-agent class).

Boston will make some roster tweaks, but will run back the core of a young team — Tatum is 22, Brown is 23 — that is improving. A core than made strides this season, but will find those final steps into contender status are the toughest ones.

 

LaMelo Ball among those participating in 2020 NBA Draft Combine

2020 NBA Draft Combine
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It may be virtual this year with “pro day” video being made, but some of the traditions of the NBA Draft Combine will be here in 2020.

Including the top players skipping it. Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, and Obi Toppin are among the big names sitting this one out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

One interesting note: LaMelo Ball is participating.

But that may be for the interview portion only, reports Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated.

The 2020 NBA Draft Combine will see players do team interviews via videoconference starting this week (and running through Oct. 16).  Players also can be part of an individual on-court program consisting of strength and agility testing, measurements (height, reach, plus vertical leap and more), shooting drills and a “Pro Day” video, and a medical exam, all conducted by league officials and the information (and video) given to teams. 

The 2020 NBA Draft is set for Nov. 18.

NBA Finals Schedule 2020: Dates, times, odds, where to watch

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It’s happening in October, not June, but the 2020 NBA Finals are finally here — and we have the schedule.

These Finals feature a team in the Lakers and a player in LeBron James who expects to be in the Finals — this is LeBron’s 10th trip to the Finals, only three other players had done that before him. The Lakers are making their 32nd trip to the Finals as a franchise and are going for their 17th title.

It also features a gritty Miami Heat team that nobody expected to be here, except themselves. Led by Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Goran Dragic, the Heat have thrived in the bubble in a way no other team in the East could match, plus Miami makes it rain threes.

The Lakers are fairly heavy favorites, -400, to win the series, while the Heat are +300 (Odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

As has nearly all the playoffs in the NBA’s restart bubble, the Finals will run every other day.

Here is the 2020 NBA Finals schedule (all times are Eastern):

NBA FINALS

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat

Game 1: Sept. 30, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 2: Oct. 2, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 3: Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
Game 4: Oct. 6, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 5: Oct. 9, 9 p.m. (ABC)*
Game 6: Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)*
Game 7: Oct. 13, 9 p.m. (ABC)*
*If necessary

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NBA playoffs, Finals schedule 2020: Date, time, matchup for every game

NBA playoff schedule 2020
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It may be five months after they were originally planned, but the NBA playoff schedule has reached the point the 2020 Finals are here.

It is down to the final two. There is LeBron James leading the Lakers against the team where he first won his ring. And then there is the gritty Miami team that nobody expected to be here — except themselves.

Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except for one two-day break between Game 4 and Game 5
Even more members of families for the players, coaches, and team staff are in the bubble.

Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):

NBA FINALS

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat

Game 1: Sept. 30, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 2: Oct. 2, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 3: Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
Game 4: Oct. 6, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 5: Oct. 9, 9 p.m. (ABC)*
Game 6: Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)*
Game 7: Oct. 13, 9 p.m. (ABC)*
*If necessary.

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Conference Finals

Eastern Conference Finals

No. 5 Miami beat No. 3 Boston 4-2

Western Conference Finals

No. 1 L.A. Lakers beat No. 3 Denver 4-1

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3

No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1

No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1

No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2

No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3

No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1

No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0

No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0

No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0