The Los Angeles Lakers selected Julius Randle with the No. 7 pick in Thursday's 2014 NBA draft, importing the bruising and gifted power forward out of Kentucky to help wipe clean the bad taste of a 27-55 season and kickstart what L.A. fans and brass hope will be a rebuilding process that returns the Lakers to the ranks of the NBA elite. He'll be partnering with the now-reportedly 100 percent Kobe Bryant in beginning that uphill climb in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, and judging by the photo that Randle posted to his Instagram account on Thursday, it's a partnership the rookie's been looking forward to for a long, long time:
Yep, that's Randle rocking a reversed Kobe No. 8 jersey — yes, kids, the Black Mamba used to wear a number other than 24 — in a Throwback Thursday photo accompanied by the caption, "Oh y'all didn't know I grew up a LAKER fan?" (Well, whether we knew it or not, Julius, we kind of suspected when you decided not to participate in that second workout with the Boston Celtics, who were picking one slot ahead of the Lakers on Thursday.)
On one hand, it's pretty cool that Randle gets to team up with a player he grew up loving. On the other, being reminded that Randle was all of one year old when Bryant was drafted in 1996, and that a dinged-up and diminished Bryant will still be earning $48.5 million over the next two seasons while Randle gets his NBA feet wet, offers a slightly sobering sense of where the Lakers' roster and hierarchy sit right now. It's also kind of weird that this isn't the first pair of Lakers to have that back-in-the-day connection this season — let's not forget about Kendall Marshall and Pau Gasol, after all.
Bryant wasted little time in welcoming Randle to the Laker family:
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) June 27, 2014
Randle, for his part, sounded absolutely thrilled to be joining the Lakers, and getting to share the court with Bryant in particular.
"I couldn't be more blessed and fortunate, to go to an organization like Los Angeles," he said during his post-draft press conference. "... They've had so much history and so much success in the past, and to be able to go to an organization like that, [that has] had amazing players in the past and learn from a guy like Kobe — I mean, I couldn't be more happy."
Bryant's been known to be tough and demanding, especially on young players whose work ethic he questions. Randle said that won't be a problem with him.
"I demand a lot from my teammates as well, holding each other accountable," Randle said. "Putting extra work in was what I had to d at Kentucky. It was what I demanded of my teammates, and that's what we did, and that's why we were successful."
Whether Randle's able to reach a level of competitive fire hot enough to push Bryant remains to be seen, but one thing's for sure — this longtime Kobe fan plans to spend even more time getting in Kobe's ear as he did wearing that Kobe jersey as a kid.
"He may get tired of me because I'm going to be bugging him learning, trying to learn stuff from him," Randle said.
Hat-tip to FTW.
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