Kobe Bryant: 10 NBA Players Who Owe Their Success Directly to Him
Kobe Bryant's been around a while now, but he's not ready to throw in the towel just yet.
He has already established quite a legacy for himself, however. Five NBA titles, a 12-time NBA All-Star, the most points of any player in Lakers history, two league scoring titles, and the 2008 NBA MVP award.
One of his most enduring legacies, however, is how he has affected the careers of so many other players around him. He's had his share of off-the-court drama, and he's been derided as a selfish, me-first player whose only concern was to get his, but he's matured over the years into someone who understands that teams win championships, not individuals.
Here's a look at 10 players who've had their resumes enhanced by Kobe's greatness.
10) Shaquille O'Neal
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Of course, you could look at this as Kobe being enhanced by Shaq's greatness, or the other way around, but both benefited from the other's presence.
Remember, before Shaq came to L.A. he was simply an All-Star center who had never won a title. He could not do it with Penny Hardaway in Orlando, and he could not do it at first out west either.
It was not until Kobe came into his own that the dynasty really emerged and the Lakers embarked on their first three-peat (is their second just around the corner?) Despite their reported off-the-court differences, on the court they were the perfect complements to each other.
And now, Kobe has two titles post-Shaq, and Shaq only has one post-Kobe.
9) Tracy McGrady
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How could McGrady owe his success to Kobe if they never played together?
Simple. Kobe was the second (after Kevin Garnett one year prior) in the new wave of out-of-high school stars. He fell to the 13th pick, because teams did not know what to expect from high schoolers.
McGrady came the next year, and was picked ninth overall by Toronto out of Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham, North Carolina. A large part of why the Raptors were willing to take a chance on him, and invest so much time and energy into developing him, was because of the successful blueprint laid down by the Lakers (and the Timberwolves) with their own high schooler.
McGrady's career has recently been derailed by injuries, but there was a time when he was the most explosive scorer in the game not named Kobe (McGrady led the league in scoring two years in a row, 03-04 and 04-05).
Would he have been able to develop the way he did if the path hadn't been shown to him by Kobe?
8) Andrew Bynum
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Andrew Bynum is still only 23 years old, and is in the middle of his sixth season in the NBA. He is a veteran of three NBA Finals appearances, and two NBA championships.
That success is by virtue of having been drafted by the Lakers with the 10th pick in 2005 out of St. Joseph High School, in the last year that high school players were eligible for the draft.
He is traditionally looked at, despite his constant injury problems, as one of the most important players on the Lakers, and one of the most promising young centers in the game, despite the fact that he has averaged just 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game so far in his career and has not played a full season since 2007.
Why is he perceived as he is, despite pedestrian numbers? Because the Lakers' success, driven by Kobe, raises his profile tremendously.
7) Trevor Ariza
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Trevor Ariza had a slow start to his career, but it took off after he spent a season and a half with the Lakers in 2008 and 2009.
He is another player who directly benefited from learning in the Laker system under Kobe Bryant. Ariza had the privilege of seeing the best player at his position, and absorb everything he Kobe did, every day.
He also saw a boost in his stats, courtesy of defenders matching up their best players on Kobe. He was able to parlay his time in Los Angeles into a nice five-year free-agent contract that gives him financial security and a roster spot as somewhat of a designated defender against Kobe.
6) Ron Artest
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Ron Artest went the other way.
While Ariza learned under Kobe and then signed with the Houston Rockets, Artest earned props as someone who could stand toe-to-toe with Kobe on the defensive end, locking him down as well as anyone in the league, before joining him in Hollywood so he could get the one thing that had eluded him, a championship.
The odd couple relationship has worked, and he's fit in with the Laker system as well as he's fit anywhere in his career, because he was willing to accept the status of a role player (because Kobe was already there) and defer to Kobe's leadership.
Now he has his championship, and can go about this season continuing to try to erase the negative image he had built up in his previous stops across the league.
5) Lamar Odom
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Lamar Odom has always been a very talented player who probably could have put up bigger individual numbers with another team.
But the best thing that happened to his career was the 2004 Shaquille O'Neal trade that sent Shaq to South Beach and Odom to Tinseltown. Odom has thrived playing with Kobe, and quickly became a perfect role player.
Now, like Bynum, he has appeared in the last three NBA Finals, and has won two championships, largely thanks to Kobe Bryant. He also married a Kardashian, which one could indirectly thank Kobe for, too.
4) Bruce Bowen
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Bruce Bowen's fame and prestige is almost entirely thanks to his reputation as a Kobe stopper.
Sure, he bears a striking resemblance to Huckleberry Hound as well, but I am willing to go out on a limb here and say that that is not why he was able to keep a steady job in the Association for 13 seasons.
The last eight of those seasons, starting in 2001, were spent with the San Antonio Spurs. Maybe he was a dirty player, maybe not, but he was always extremely valuable to the Spurs for one reason.
Kobe might as well have been Bowen's agent.
3) George Hill
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George Hill, for all intents and purposes, is the new Bruce Bowen.
Hill's rookie season with the Spurs was Bowen's last, and he rose to prominence once Bowen retired as their new designated Kobe stopper. He has done a good job so far, too, even frustrating Kobe enough to make him start throwing random elbows in a game last month.
Sure they are different players. Bowen was taller, and Hill's a better offensive presence than Bowen ever was. But unless you are a Spurs fan, why do you even know George Hill's name?
That is right, because he guards Kobe Bryant.
2) Pau Gasol
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The February 1st, 2008 trade that sent Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Los Angeles Lakers is already widely considered one of the biggest steals of any trade in NBA history.
The Grizzlies got Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittendon, Pau's brother Marc, and two draft picks for the 7'0" power forward, and the balance of power in the league has not been the same since.
Gasol faced criticism earlier in his career, even in his first season with the Lakers, for being soft, but much of that talk has been silenced now that Gasol has cemented his place as the second most important Laker.
Kobe has yelled, pleaded, begged and scolded Pau into being one of the best power forwards in the game today.
1) Derek Fisher
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Derek Fisher's career arc has paralleled Kobe's virtually every step of the way.
They were drafted the same year, in 1996. Kobe was picked by the Hornets at 13, but immediately traded to the Lakers, while L.A. used its own pick to take Fisher at No. 24. Since then, they've been nearly inseparable, with only Fisher's brief three season detour to Golden State and Utah interrupting things.
During that time, they have appeared in seven NBA Finals, and won five NBA championships together. The majority of Fisher's career assists have to have been to Kobe, and I am sure a good number of Fisher's points have come off of passes from Kobe.
He's averaged just 8.9 points and 3.1 assists per game over his 15-season career, but he will be almost as immortal as Kobe in future years, because for every Kobe Bryant Finals replay that is shown in highlights, Fisher's right there somewhere on the court, in the background, smiling and enjoying the moment.