Joe Bryant Rumors
Roland Lazenby recently joined the Triple Threat Podcast to discuss his upcoming book about Bryant. While bound to an understandable secrecy agreement with his publishing house (Little Brown), Roland Lazenby was able to describe the project as a 600-page journey through Kobe Bryant’s life and the path his basketball career took. Outside of his most recent book (Michael Jordan: The Life), Lazenby has also written a biography on former Laker Jerry West and taken in-depth looks at the life and career of both Phil Jackson (while he was coaching the Bulls) and even a young Bryant. Roland Lazenby also acknowledged that the book does spend some time focusing on the life of Bryant’s father Joe “Jellybean” Bryant as an NBA player and the parallels Lazenby described as “a pretty compelling story about Kobe being the force of nature” that he has been, and how their two stories are interlinked in the obvious father/son ways and beyond.
It involved Mitch Kupchak. The Los Angeles Lakers general manager since 2000, Kupchak also played in the NBA for nine seasons. In 1981, he was signed by the Lakers to a seven-year, $5.6 million contract — big money for that era — and expected to be a key member of a team that would go on to win the NBA title. But that ended in December 1981. “My first year in L.A. we were playing the San Diego Clippers,” Kupchak said. “Magic (Johnson) kind of shuffled me the ball for a layup and a player stepped in front of me to draw a charge. “So I tried to stop rather than get the charge and have a big collision, but I couldn’t stop so I ended up injuring my knee, tumbling into this player and going on the floor together.”
Nowadays Kupchak shakes his head when he reflects on the way things turned out. He admits it is unlikely he would have ended up as a GM, anywhere, let alone the Lakers, had his playing career panned out the way he wanted it to. “In terms of Laker lore and winning championships, maybe my injury was a good thing,” Kupchak said. He still remembers the missed step that caused his knee to buckle. He can visualize the play, and almost feel the pain. And he certainly remembers the San Diego Clippers player, a blameless participant, who stood in his path and caused him to change direction before his knee crumpled beneath him.
Cooper did not think much of the workout entering the gym. West had requested it, telling Cooper that he wanted to see how a high school kid named Kobe would fare against him. Cooper learned that Bryant was actually Joe Bryant’s son only a couple of hours before squaring off against him. Cooper and Joe Bryant had matched up before in games. “I almost had a flashback,” Cooper said. “Now, if I would have done that, it would have been a different thing.” He arrived at a dark gym, almost gloomy. No matter. Bryant lit Cooper up. They spent nearly the whole session playing one-on-one. Cooper played defense the bulk of the time. He tried using his physicality over Bryant. Bryant scored at will. He unleashed a full repertoire of fadeaway jump shots and drives to the baskets with reverse layups and dunks.
“Mike wasn’t just a player,” said Marco Crespi, a professional coach in Italy and former assistant of D’Antoni in Milan and with the Phoenix Suns. “He was a franchise player. The difference maker.” Or, as Gheradini said: “In Italy, he was everything.” So much so he caught the eye of an American kid living in Italy at the time named Kobe Bryant, whose father, Joe Bryant, was a teammate of D’Antoni’s on Olimpia Milano. D’Antoni was a revelation to Bryant, who was still in the process of formulating his skill set and would study the best players of the day trying to mimic and steal aspects of their game to incorporate into his own. “Growing up, I tried to watch and learn from so many basketball players, all the top ones,” Bryant said. “He was certainly a top one. He was certainly a player that I admired. He was tough. He was a tenacious guard that made great plays. He was probably the greatest guard ever to play over there.”
Bryant was soon emulating D’Antoni and the others, taking the court at halftime of Olimpia Milano games and wooing the crowd as a precocious 12-year-old. “We’d practically have to kick him off the court to get the second-half started,” D’Antoni says now, laughing. After games the American players and their families would often hang out together, with Kobe tagging a long and listening intently as D’Antoni and the others would talk about basketball. Little did D’Antoni know he was helping spawn one of the greatest basketball players of all time. “I had no idea he’d grow up to be Kobe Bryant,” he said.