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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

2005 NBA All-Star Game Media Availability Session With Kobe Bryant: "The Truth Always Comes Out"

Many Kobe Bryant interview sessions get sidetracked by non-basketball issues. This is not one of them. During the 2005 NBA All-Star Weekend media availability periods, Kobe Bryant offered his thoughts on many basketball related subjects. This transcript was originally published on March 1, 2005 at HoopsHype.com but the link no longer works, so I have reprinted it in its entirety below.

In the game in Cleveland (Bryant's first game back on February 13, 2005 after missing 14 games because of a severely sprained ankle) you were still getting your legs under you in terms of jumping and finishing. How much better did you feel in the game in Utah (February 15, 2005) when you went out and got 40 points?

Kobe Bryant: Oh, man, it was night and day. The game in Cleveland, that was only the second time that I had played in like a month. So I missed a lot of easy shots, a lot of layups. Defensively I had to get my rhythm. Against Utah my legs felt great. It felt like it just came back. We've done such a good job throughout the injury-training, lifting weights, doing rehab.

What kind of exercises are you doing?

KB: It's a myriad of things. We have a great staff. Obviously, we have (trainer) Gary Vitti, who treats the injury; we have (physiotherapist) Alex McKechnie, who does a lot of physical rehabilitation work; we have Joe Carbone, our strength coach. Between the three of them--and (director of athletic performance) Chip Schaefer-- we have been able to devise a scheme for me to get back to full throttle.

Do you still have to ice the ankle and treat it post game more than you did before the injury?

KB: Yes. I pack it in ice and continue to keep it moving so it doesn't stiffen up. So, for example, when I'm out of the game, you'll see me constantly moving it around so it stays loose.

Do you do the exercise in which you spell out the letters of the alphabet with that foot?

KB: (eyes widen a bit in recognition) Yes. That's what I do. When I sit on the bench, that's what I do. Spell out the alphabet.

That's a great exercise for sprained ankles.

KB: Yeah. I'm glad I know my ABCs. (laughs)

What's your favorite dunk from the 1976 Slam Dunk Contest?

KB: Wow. There are so many of them. The one that gets replayed over and over is obviously Julius' dunk from the free throw line. I think that is the most memorable one just because it revolutionized the dunk contest. It was just the momentum of it, of who Dr. J was and who he became, that now when you go back in time and you see that free throw line dunk it makes it that much grander.

He milked the drama of it, because he took those long strides to the other side of the court before the dunk.

KB: He worked the crowd there. He was an actor. He built up the drama and then took off, which just culminated it.

Have you seen Thompson's 360 from the left baseline?

KB: Oh, of course. Of course.

What do you think of that?

KB: I think it was sick.

What was the best advice that you received when you made the jump from high school to the NBA?

KB: KG just told me to have fun. Just enjoy yourself. People are going to be pulling at you from all sides and placing expectations on you. Just block that out. Go out there and have fun.

How have you embraced the challenge of a new era in Los Angeles and the burden that has been put on your shoulders?

KB: I think that we have embraced it and we look forward to this challenge. At first it took a little while for the people of Los Angeles to get used to it because they are used to being on top for so long. But there is something about starting down at the bottom again and working your way back to the top that is really appealing to people. You put on your hard hat and go to work. I think that it is refreshing.

Is it as much of a challenge to fight for the final playoff spot as it was to fight for the championship?

KB: The challenges are in essence the same. Once you get to the top, the hard work becomes staying on top. But you have to work to get there. Sometimes it is really, really tough to get over that hump. You saw Minnesota last year was able to get over that hump and this year it is a struggle for them. It is a work in progress. You always have to be on edge. You always have to take every practice, every game, like it is your last.

It's tough. If we weren't so optimistic, we'd think that the second half of the season is going to be the absolute pits. But we look forward to this challenge. When your back is against the wall, you have no other option but to come out swinging. We have to approach every practice in an extremely detailed and extremely methodical manner.

Your team is increasingly using a little more of the triangle all the time. How do you feel about the constitution of this team to run the triangle?

KB: We're doing a good job. It's tough because we're trying to learn it on the fly. You know how hard it is to learn it when you have training camp. We're doing a good job, though. Got a call from Tex (Winter) and he told us that we're doing well. That's the biggest compliment in the world, when you get a compliment from Tex. Tex is such a great basketball mind. When he gives you a compliment it really warms up your heart.

Do you ever call him?

KB: He came down early in the season and then he came again recently, maybe it was two and a half weeks ago. We exchanged numbers. I've called him several times since then. I love Tex. If it weren't for Tex, I wouldn't look at the game or interpret the game the way that I do. The way that he teaches the game is different than any other coach that I've ever been around.

What specifically is different about it?

KB: He looks at the game in a different way. He actually teaches momentums--how to build momentums and how to break momentums. He looks at the total concept of the game and then plays it like chess. It's amazing to sit there and learn. When he teaches you something, you go out on the court and you apply that knowledge and it actually works. You start looking at him like he's Yoda.

A Jedi master.

KB: I'm telling you, it's just incredible.

Tex has always had testy exchanges with the people he's coached. When you had your testy exchanges with him people didn't quite understand that. Why is that?

KB: I don't know. It doesn't really matter what they think. It's obvious to see that when we had those exchanges, people just really blew it out of proportion. If it were true (that there is friction), Tex and I would not be as close as we are today

So the press somehow got that distorted?

KB: Yeah, it usually shakes out that way. The truth always comes out, so I don't worry about it. I don't think about it. It's going to shake out. People who talk about me in a negative manner don't know me. They don't know me. If they had a chance to be around me and kick it with me and get to know me, then they can judge. I think that will come out as years go by. People will see how I truly am and what I'm truly about and everything will be all right.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:11 AM


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Three-Time MVP Moses Malone Dies Unexpectedly at Age 60

Moses Malone and Julius Erving at the 2005 ABA Reunion in Denver
(photo copyright David Friedman)

This has been a terrible recent period for the NBA family. Darryl Dawkins passed away less than three weeks ago, Roy Marble just succumbed to his battle with cancer, Flip Saunders is taking a leave of absence to fight cancer and it has just been reported that Moses Malone (who replaced Dawkins at center for the Philadelphia 76ers) passed away. Malone jumped straight from Petersburg (Va.) High School to the ABA in 1974 and he enjoyed a 21 year career during which he became one of the most decorated players in pro basketball history, winning three regular season MVPs (1979, 1982-83), one NBA Finals MVP (1983) and six rebounding titles (1979, 1981-85). 

Malone made the All-Star team 13 times (once in the ABA and 12 times in the NBA), earned eight All-NBA Team selections (including four All-NBA First Team honors) and was twice chosen for the All-Defensive Team. Malone led the league in total offensive rebounds a record nine times (this statistic has been charted since 1967-68 in the ABA and since 1973-74 in the ABA). He ranks third in pro basketball history (behind only Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell) with 17,834 career rebounds and he ranks seventh in pro basketball history with 29,580 career points.

The numbers and honors speak to Malone's dominance, durability and dedication but you had to see him play to fully appreciate his impact. Malone was not flashy but he was relentless, energetic and powerful. He was the best rebounder of his era by far and the most dominant inside player in the NBA from the late 1970s until the mid-1980s. He was also a tremendous scorer who finished in the top five in that category five times, including two times as the runner-up (27.8 ppg in 1980-81 and a career-high 31.1 ppg in 1981-82). Although best known for his rebounding and scoring prowess, Malone was an above average defensive player as well.

Malone posted his best individual statistics during his six year run with the Houston Rockets and he carried the Rockets to the 1981 NBA Finals but he will always be most remembered for his four year stint with the Philadelphia 76ers. When Malone arrived in Philadelphia in 1982, the 76ers had posted the best overall regular season in the league since the 1976 ABA-NBA merger and had made it to the NBA Finals three times but they could not get over the hump. The 76ers had no answer in the middle for Hall of Fame centers like Bill Walton, Wes Unseld, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Robert Parish. Malone changed all of that. Malone teamed up with Julius Erving to form one of the best single season one-two punches in pro basketball history as the 76ers made a run at 70 wins before settling in at 65-17. During the playoffs, they were even more dominant, setting a record by going 12-1, punctuated by a 4-0 sweep of the defending champion L.A. Lakers.

Injuries and aging ensured that the 1983 championship represented the culmination of the Julius Erving era as opposed to the start of a dynasty but for a one season stretch that starting five was as good as any that has ever been assembled: Malone (the 1982 MVP who went on to win the 1983 MVP) and Erving (the 1981 MVP) had great chemistry together, point guard Maurice Cheeks was a top notch playmaker, defender and efficient shooter, shooting guard Andrew Toney was headed for the Hall of Fame before injuries shortened his career and power forward Marc Iavaroni did all of the dirty work (five-time All-Star Bobby Jones ranked fifth on the team in minutes played, providing firepower of the bench en route to capturing the 1983 Sixth Man of the Year Award).

The last hurrah for the Malone-Erving 76ers came in 1984-85, when they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals before falling in five games to the Boston Celtics. Near the end of the 1985-86 season, Malone suffered an orbital bone fracture that forced him to miss the playoffs. The 76ers traded Malone prior to the 1986-87 campaign, which turned out to be Erving's "Farewell Tour," and in the nearly 30 years since that time the 76ers have never come close to matching the sustained success that they enjoyed during Erving's prime.

On a personal note, I met Malone during the 2005 ABA Reunion in Denver. Malone was famously reticent in his dealings with the media and he declined my request for an interview--but he agreed to let me take a photo of him alongside Erving (see above). I will always treasure the memory of sharing that moment with the two stars of the 1983 NBA champions and I think that the arm in arm pose aptly captures the feelings of camaraderie that the two men shared. When Erving and Malone teamed up it was never about who was the man but only about one thing: winning the title together. It is a shame that they did not join forces about five years earlier, because it would have been a sight to behold if they had been paired during their primes.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:06 PM