The Celtics-Lakers rivalry has no bearing on who Kobe Bryant chooses to help in retirement.
While Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball has reportedly not sought Bryant’s advice early in his career, Celtics wing Jayson Tatum seeks it at almost every turn. Tatum, who Boston drafted one spot after Los Angeles took Ball with the No. 2 pick in 2017, patterned his game after Bryant as a kid and is training with the Lakers legend now as a budding NBA star. The two sinewy scorers from opposite sides of the rivalry have developed a close working relationship in recent months, and the similarities between the two are so striking that Bryant openly wondered why the Lakers didn’t draft Tatum over Ball.
It started when Tatum’s trainer, Drew Hanlen, showed Bryant a video he mashed up of the young Celtic replicating a wide array of the retired Laker’s moves, all to a clip of Tatum telling ESPN, “Kobe Bryant was the reason I started playing basketball. Always was and will be my favorite player of all time.”
— Drew Hanlen (@DrewHanlen) July 15, 2018
“We actually showed Kobe it yesterday,” Hanlen told “Sidelines” podcast host Evan Daniels, via USA Today, “and he was like, ‘Why didn’t the Lakers draft him?’ which was pretty funny after seeing that.”
Hanlen suggested Bryant made the comment somewhat in jest, as if to say, “How come the Lakers didn’t draft another me?” but the fact remains that the Lakers could have drafted Tatum over Ball. Then again, the Celtics might have stuck with the No. 1 pick and taken Tatum there if they weren’t so sure the Philadelphia 76ers were going to draft Markelle Fultz and the Lakers were stuck on Ball.
Lonzo Ball has not sought Kobe Bryant’s tutelage
The Bryant-Ball relationship was interesting to follow in the highly touted prospect’s first year, if only because there really wasn’t one between the outgoing all-time great and the incoming heir apparent. Ball first met Bryant in the months before the 2017 draft, when it was already clear the Lakers were drafting him, and Ball was “unmoved by the interaction,” according to Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding:
Bryant asked Ball if he had a post-up game; Ball said he did.
But individual post-ups are not what Ball wants.
“Try to be a good teammate and a better point guard,” Ball summarized in his typically brief way.
Months after Bryant offered up his advice to Ball, the Lakers rookie still had never reached out to the future hall of famer, per the L.A. Times’ Tania Ganguli. “It’s nothing he can’t figure out,” said Bryant.
Ball’s father, LaVar, went so far as to say Lonzo doesn’t need Bryant’s advice. After all, everything he can learn about the game of basketball, he’s already learned from his dad. Or something like that.
“If Zo wants to take some advice from Kobe, on doing what? Passing, shooting? Him and Kobe don’t even have the same game,” LaVar told “Rolling Stone” magazine.
“Zo can take whatever he wants from him, but I’m looking at it like, Zo is where he’s at because of what I have done with him.”
It is true that Ball and Bryant play vastly different styles. Bryant was a lethal scorer who was often criticized for taking games over from his teammates. Ball has been a dreadful shooter who is best known for his ability to get other teammates involved. Still, there are other aspects of the game that Bryant could offer advice about beyond shooting and passing — like defense, where he earned 12 All-Defensive selections, or mindset, where his Mamba Mentality helped him win five championships.
Bryant has made vague references to ways Ball can get better, saying in December that the rookie should have the mentality that he “needs to get better now” and adding earlier this month that the addition of LeBron James should give Ball and the young Lakers “that really good pressure to push them forward sooner rather than later.” Thus far, at least, it seems Ball is content with the guidance he’s already getting from his Lakers idol, Magic Johnson, right on down the line in the organization.
Bryant learned plenty in a record-setting 20-year career, and in his short retirement he has passed that knowledge to a growing list of players, not all of whom were wings like he and Tatum. Boston’s last two star point guards, Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving, are among the players Bryant advises. The depth of his understanding of the game comes across clearly in his “Detail” chronicles for ESPN.
Bryant first advised Tatum in the playoffs
One of those “Detail” episodes was focused on Tatum’s still-developing game during the Eastern Conference finals, long after Ball’s Lakers were eliminated from championship consideration:
Between Games 2 and 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tatum told reporters he watched Kobe’s analysis some 25 times. “It’s helpful information that I can take with me,” he added. Four games later, he dunked on LeBron, bumped him, and then made a step-back 3-pointer to give the Celtics a short-lived fourth-quarter lead of a Game 7 with an NBA Finals berth on the line. Downright Kobe-esque.
Now, while James is joining forces with Ball, Bryant is training with the second-year Celtic in L.A.:
I’m not even sure Bryant would have believed that twist in the Celtics-Lakers rivalry if you told him this a decade ago, when he said he listened to the Dropkick Murphy’s every day for two years to remind him of his 2008 Finals loss to Boston and serve as motivation for redemption in 2010.
Come to think of it, maybe Ball is better off without Bryant’s advice, since I’m not sure there’s another player alive capable of listening to “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” 730 times and emerging better for it.
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