July 11, 2011
The new coach of the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks is a former LaSalle star who played eight years in the NBA and nearly another decade overseas.
The Sparks promoted Joe "Jellybean" Bryant from assistant to head coach on Monday after firing Jennifer Gillom the previous day in the wake of an injury-plagued 4-6 start. It's the second tour of duty as Sparks coach for the elder Bryant, who was cut loose in April 2007 as a result of an ownership change despite leading L.A. to the conference finals the previous year in his lone full season as coach.
"Joe's familiarity with the Sparks organization puts us in the best possible position to compete going forward, and should make for a seamless transition," Sparks general manager Penny Toler said in a statement released by the team. "We respect Jennifer's commitment to the Sparks and understand she has faced adversity with player injuries during her tenure. That being said, with a short season and playing in the competitive Western Conference, winning games early in the year is critical."
The hiring of the elder Bryant is a move sure to bring a brief flurry of attention to a Sparks franchise that plays in near anonymity in the competitive Los Angeles market. Joe Bryant is a well-known figure in Southern California because of his superstar son, his irreverent personality and of course his memorable nickname.
A high school teammate first gave Bryant the nickname "Jellybean" because of his array of guard-like moves uncharacteristic of a 6-foot-9 forward. As a player, Bryant was ahead of his time in many ways, a point-forward in a league that still expected big men of that era to play with their back to the basket.
Now 57 years old, Bryant is still mobile enough to get involved in drills during Sparks practice whenever he wants to make a point. He also goes to the gym by himself a few times a week to do shooting drills, not leaving until he's made 60 shots from each end of the floor.
No matter how well Bryant's second stint as Sparks coach goes, he'll always be best known as Kobe's dad, but he told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month that's a label that makes him proud. There are worse things to be known as, after all, than the father of one of the greatest players of this generation.