Two scenes from “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s documentary on Michael Jordan and the Bulls:
1. Backup Chicago guard Randy Brown was looking for extra tickets to a game. Jordan asked whether Brown cared about getting good seats or just any seats. As his way of saying the seats could be high in the arena, Brown said, “They could be in the locker room next to God.” Jordan handed Brown a ticket then asked Brown, “Next to who?” “God,” Brown repeated. “You just got one from him,” Jordan said.
2. Trying to make his tee time, Jordan rushed the Bulls out of the arena after a practice. He even grabbed Scottie Pippen by the shirt and dragged him from reporters. When Pippen stopped for an interview on the loading dock, Jordan boarded the bus and repeatedly honked.
NBA teams have power structures. Veteran stars – especially when they know their power – have major say in what their teams do. Young players generally must follow along.
That’s particularly true on the road, when teams travel together. After games, visiting players usually shower and dress quickly so they can head to their next destination. Again, young players must typically go along with the timeline established by better/older players.
At home, players have more leeway to do what they want after games. They’re on their own schedule to wind down and go home.
Which brings us to Kobe Bryant.
He joined the Lakers as a teenager in 1996. Los Angeles featured Shaquille O’Neal as star. The Lakers also had several established veterans – Elden Campbell, Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel.
Tim Grover, via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
“As early as I can remember, whenever the Lakers played the Bulls, Kobe would wait outside the tunnel for Michael to leave,” said Tim Grover, a personal trainer who worked with Jordan in Chicago and later with Bryant in Los Angeles. “And Michael was always the last person to leave the locker room. He took forever. But Kobe would wait and wait for him.”
“I mean there was literally nobody else in the building,” Grover said. “Lakers security would be like, ‘Come on, come on, Kobe, the bus is leaving,’ and you would hear different things, you know, ‘This effing kid da, da, da.'”
“But Kobe was like, ‘The bus is going to have to wait. Because I don’t know when I’m going to get this opportunity.'”
I assure you: “This effing kid da, da, da” doesn’t do justice to what the Lakers said about Bryant. What a quick way for a rookie to draw resentment from his older teammates.
But Bryant had an endearing cockiness, and his plan worked. Bryant bonded with Jordan, drawing lessons that helped Bryant win five championships.
It didn’t take long for Bryant to become the type of player who set the schedule – at least when not preempted by a presumptuous rookie.