Everyone with any sense of the NBA knows that Kobe Bryant wields a lot of power with the Los Angeles Lakers. He's the franchise's most popular player since Magic Johnson, if not ever, and means enough to their identity that he can command a salary well beyond his on-court value and divert a rebuilding process by his mere presence. With the possible exception of the owners, Kobe is in charge.
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That power apparently extends to deciding which players get a seat on the bench and which must make due on the floor. Out Tuesday vs. the Dallas Mavericks to rest his shoulder, Kobe wanted to make sure he got a good seat on the Lakers bench. He even made rookie forward Larry Nance Jr. get up entirely during the first quarter to make it happen:
The casualness with which Kobe gestures to Nance and the speed with which the rookie fulfills it makes it seem as if this is not the first time it has happened. But please do not lose sight of what I believe to be the best part of this clip — Robert Sacre's multi-layered chuckle. It's the reaction of somehow who probably had to do the same thing on occasion in 2012-13.
A few feet in front of the bench, the Lakers actually played reasonably well against the No. 6 team in the West. Unfortunately for the hosts, they couldn't do much with Dirk Nowitzki in crunch time. Dirk scored six of his 13 points in the final four minutes, including the game-winning jumper with two seconds on the clock. It was good enough that Kobe and Dirk patted each other in the immediate aftermath:
Julius Randle missed a quick-fire three-pointer at the other end to cinch the 92-90 victory for Dallas. J.J. Barea scored a game-high 18 off the bench in a low-scoring affair that saw the teams combine to go 13-of-50 from beyond the arc.
The longstanding relationship between Dirk and Kobe dominated the scene at what would have been their 50th and final matchup against each other. From Baxter Holmes for ESPN.com:
“When no cameras are around, I’m sure we’ll get together and we’ll have a beer or two and play against each other one-on-one,” Bryant said before the game. [...]
“Like I said, this entire time, he’s our Michael Jordan, for our generation,” Nowitzki said. “He’s one of the best to ever lace ‘em up. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to compete against him basically almost my entire career." [...]
“I always tell the story, after games sometimes, we were in Central time, I was rushing home to watch Kobe do his thing in the fourth quarter when they were in L.A.” [...]
“He’s one of the rare guys that would talk trash and he and I would talk back and forth all the time and have those conversations and I always got a kick out of it,” Bryant said. “I said, ‘Dirk, I can’t understand your accent. Enunciate!’ But he dished it right back, man. I miss that. I miss that.”
Said Nowitzki, “I’m not really a big trash-talker. Once I’m talked to, I’ll have some fun.”
With or without another future Hall of Famer on the floor, Nowitzki had some fun Tuesday. Now someone find a way to get a camera into that hypothetical one-on-one game with Kobe.
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