Kobe Bryant will take the floor tonight for the final time in his NBA career when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Utah Jazz at the Staples Center. Bryant’s former teammate Rick Fox joined The Jim Rome Show today and shared his thoughts on Bryant’s 20-year career coming to an end.
“[It’s] a little bittersweet here in LA today,” Fox said to start the interview. “We get to say goodbye to a former teammate of mine and also celebrate him with the rest of the Laker fans.”
Fox shared his first impression of Bryant after he joined the Lakers in the summer of 1997.
“Talented, skilled, relentless and also out for my job,” Fox said. “I was in his way. Both Eddie Jones and myself were in his way, and there was not a practice, there was not a moment in a day, that didn’t go by where I did not feel the heat of his eyes or his intensity to get in front of the line, in every line in practice and every drill that he wanted to start, he wanted to start that journey to becoming one of the greatest basketball players ever to play the game, at least the greatest Laker, for sure.”
The 46-year-old Fox said it took some time for him and his teammates to get a place of understanding with the more talented Bryant. However, he and some veterans were able to lay a foundation of mentorship for him.
“We had numbers first and foremost. There was about six or seven of us that were in our thirties. We recognized the talent, we recognized the willful desire to contribute, we understood his value at a certain point, we recognized there was more to be gained by not suppressing his energy and his attack so we just had to reign it in at times,” Fox said. “We all took our shots at leaving him with messages from our own personal experiences, things, in my case, that had been passed down from Larry Bird or passed down from my rookie year under great players that I wanted to share with him, or things that I had actually, quite frankly, from Dean Smith. All these lessons I thought he needed to hear, but I wasn’t sure if they were sinking in. I wasn’t sure if he was getting those messages.”
During the three championship runs Fox was apart of in Los Angeles, there was an ongoing soap opera dynamic revolving around the relationship between Bryant and superstar teammate Shaquille O’Neal. Fox talked about the difficult discussions he had with both dominant personality stars.
“They were always high basketball IQ and extremely reasonable in a one-on-one setting,” Fox said. “It got more difficult in group settings, because as the alpha’s, they needed to pool the votes, they needed to know their message was landing, and that their point of view was the correct point of view, and unfortunately, for both those individuals – Shaq and Kobe – they weren’t the veterans on the squad. They were the most gifted and the most talented and the anchors, and we definitely followed them and supported them, but the leadership in a lot of ways came from the Ron Harper’s and the Brian Shaw’s and the Robert Horry’s, the individuals that were there to support players. We had collectively the bigger voice, but we also knew it was their show, and we were there to lift them up and support them, and so when we were on one side or the other, it was constantly a battle.”
Fox said he and his teammates supported both Bryant and O’Neal and said their success never would happen had they always sided with one of the stars.
“I would side with Shaq on different issues, and at times, I would side with Kobe, who was younger and would appear to be less experienced, but made a lot of sense,” Fox said. “As a group, we aligned at different times with each of those individuals, and I think it’s why we were so successful for a stretch. I don’t think we would have won three championships if we were solely had aligned behind Shaq for those years. There were moments when it was about Kobe’s intent and what Kobe was doing, because it made the most sense. And I think Shaq would maybe cop to that now, even though he was the alpha dog and it was his team. There were times when Kobe was more of a leader, and there were times when Shaq was more of a leader.”