It seemed like an angry event.
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
On Dec. 20, 2005, Kobe Bryant managed to score 62 points in just under 33 minutes of action against the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs, who would go on to represent the Western Conference in that year’s Finals, lost the game by 22 to a middling Lakers squad. Kobe was just a week removed from scoring 43 points in yet another win over Dallas, totaling 105 points in 75 minutes of play.
Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson sat Kobe in the final quarter of the second game, denying him the chance to continue to torch a Mavs team that went on to win 60 games prior to making the NBA Finals.
Bryant, in anticipation of what will be his final game against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, was recently asked why, exactly, he seemed to go so hard against those particular Mavericks:
“Del Harris,” Bryant said, sparking laughter both from himself and reporters.
Del Harris was the Los Angeles Lakers coach from 1994 until the early stages of the 1999 lockout year. He coached Bryant through his first two seasons, plus the first 12 games of his third campaign:
“When I was a rookie, I hated Del,” Bryant said. “I always said if I get a chance to get revenge, I’m going to get it.”
“That being said, he pushed me back then to try to be as efficient as possible to get some minutes on the floor,” Bryant said. “I had to earn everything I got. I’m very appreciative now. But I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t part of the motivation.”
Endless NBA players use varying motivations on the other side of the court to inspire them to greater heights. Some fixate on another team’s general manager, one who might have cut them, or an assistant that gave them a bit of guff. Possibly an ex-teammate or, let’s be honest, it’s usually a former head coach.
Michael Jordan, famously, went on record about these sorts of things. Kobe Bryant has as well. The difference between MJ and Kobe is the difference between most NBA players. Some nasty motivations lead to 12-point, five-rebound, four-assist nights off the bench. With Kobe and MJ, these lead to evenings that double up the league’s leading scoring average.
Bryant managed the second-highest (!) scoring output of his career in a 62-point game. But let’s keep some observers in check while they point to Del Harris’ participance as the guiding light in all of this.
Del Harris became the Dallas Mavericks lead assistant coach in 2000, as new’ish owner Mark Cuban was more than a little wary of the (deserved) media outcry surrounding coach Don Nelson’s nearly-four year residency as head coach. Between 2000 and Kobe’s first 43-point game against Dallas in late 2005, Bryant played 20 times against teams featuring Harris on the sideline. It wasn’t as if he was taking it out on Harris on his first-time meeting up with his ex-coach.
(Naw, that would be this time – when Kobe was held to only 38 points, ten rebounds and six assists.)
It’s also important to relay the idea that Kobe was speaking with tongue placed firmly in cheek.
No NBA guard in the league’s 50-year history had been drafted out of high school when the Lakers moved their way around into picking Bryant in 1996. These things just didn’t happen then, as it is now, and the championship-hopeful Lakers weren’t handing minutes to their new prospect in the way that certain teams have to do in 2015-16.
Del Harris wasn’t exactly starting a scrub ahead of the Kobester in his rookie or sophomore campaign. Eddie Jones was an All-Star during both of those seasons, while Kobe played as you’d expect – flashes of brilliance, flashes of being a guy born just 19 years ago.
Harris could be criticized for all manner of rotation choices. He placed Elden Campbell at the power forward spot, which destroyed the Lakers’ pick and roll defense for two consecutive seasons. Jerome Kersey got extended run at small forward in his declining years, and George McCloud was traded for mid-season as a hoped-for shooting savior on the wing.
It all made sense, though. This was a different era. McCloud was the swingman shooting savant of his day. Kersey was a legend that could contribute on both ends. Shaquille O’Neal and Elden Campbell, given the push of the times, seemed to act as the bayonet needed to cut through the Western Conference’s old guard.
Then you get back to Kobe.
He’s joking, guys. And, like Jordan, even nearly seven years following Harris’ dismissal (in favor of Kurt Rambis, a coach that infamously shrugged his shoulders and admitted defeat to Kobe and Shaq during a televised timeout after Bryant broke several plays and commandeered a huddle during a 1999 playoff contest), he was still looking for ways to beat the mid-season blues in 2005-06.
Then, and now. Whatever you can do to peak through the blinds during the NBA’s snowier months.
Del Harris wasn’t Kobe’s biggest problem at the fin de siècle, but we do thank him and Kobe’s semi-feigned, 21st-game motivation for this legendary performance:
- - - - - - -