It didn't take much for young Kobe Bryant to give you the mitts.
Standing in stark contrast to the poem-penning, sensei-meditating-amid-the-bamboo aura of Vino Bryant, the younger, dumber Kobe was just that—a kid out of high school who hadn't learned the finer points of conflict resolution.
Young Bryant had hair and ran and tangled with Reggie Miller and Chris Childs. He didn't have many damns to give in the first place, so if he believed you were trying him in any way, he'd take personal exception.
Which brings us to Samaki Walker, a former teammate of Bryant's on the championship-winning 2002 Lakers team. Walker's run with the Lakers was short and pedestrian, punctuated only by a ring and one weird incident that no one ever really got to the bottom of: the time Kobe punched him in the face.
The story didn't get much press at the time. Phil Jackson addressed it briefly as a sort of "boys will be boys" rumpus-room incident, but now Walker is filling in the gaps with his version of events.
In an interview with the Brown and Scoop show on Play.it podcast network (h/t Complex's Chris Yuscavage), Walker said the fisticuffs broke out on a team bus ride over an outstanding $100 he owed Bryant from a lost half-court shot contest.
We got into it. I'm still figuring it out to this day. ... It was probably one of the craziest, most immature situations because the situation, from what I understand, was over 100 bucks. After practice, we usually get together as a team, and we play the half-court shot game. ...
What everybody will do is put $100 in the pot, shoot a half-court shot, and whoever makes it first, considering everybody else gets their turn, gets the pot. ... [Kobe] won the half-court contest, and the rule is you get 48 hours to pay the $100. There wasn't even 48 hours. Kobe comes to me on the bus and asked me where his 100 bucks are. Believe it or not, out of all the people, he chose me, which is still, to this day, puzzling.
I told him—listen, we were going to shootaround at the time—"Man, I don't have no 100 bucks on me right now." ... I put my earphones back on, and once I put my earphones back on, the most amazing thing happened. Kobe, he sucker-punched me.
"It was a sucker punch," Walker said. "Right to the face. Out of nowhere."
The punch left a mark on Walker's eye, and later, after being restrained and talked to by teammates (and Shaquille O'Neal's bodyguard, Jerome Crawford, who is not an actual living giant, unfortunately), he calmed down, and Bryant apologized, bringing the issue to a close.
A visualization of this apology:
Walker said since he's left the Lakers, Bryant has reached out and provided memorabilia for a charitable foundation he runs, and that he respects him as an athlete and competitor.
"I appreciate a guy who has the mentality of a Kobe Bryant," Walker said. "I learned a lot watching him, and for that, I'm thankful."
So all's well that ends well. But never forget that Kobe Bryant is a blueblood, dye-in-the-wool crazy person, and he punched a grown man in the face while he was wearing headphones over money he didn't need. Which is a very young-Kobe thing to do.
Dan is on Twitter. To be fair, VenMo wasn't around back then.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!