Let me start off by thanking Mitch for picking D’Angelo “He Ain’t Even Stretch Doe” Russell, but when I saw who he took with the 27th pick I was left utterly shocked and confused. No RJ Hunter?! No Kevon Looney?! Two things immediately jumped into my head:
“I said Nance,” and how did a kid who was pegged to go 40-somethingth in mock drafts practically just double his stock?
Then the gears started turning, I knew exactly what was going on. After being drafted, word quickly spread that in 2012 Larry Nance Jr. shortsightedly tweeted some demeaning comments about Kobe being a “#rapist.” While in the past two drafts Kobe has stood back, letting Mitch do what he thought was best for the team, it became apparent to me that this wasn’t Mitch’s doing, this was Kobe’s pick.
Kobe admitted earlier this year that Whiplash was his favorite movie and it was now his time to direct and star in his own version of it.
Disclaimer: If you haven’t seen Whiplash, first off, shame on you, and second, I suggest you leave this page open, binge watch it immediately, then rush back here to finish the piece.
[Larry Nance Jr. shoots alone at the Lakers’ El Segundo Practice Facility, hitting 18 straight corner threes. Kobe Bryant enters, Nance sees him and immediately stops shooting.]
Nance Jr: Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t know anyone was here.. [embarrassed and genuinely frightened]
[Kobe walks to the sideline and puts down his gym bag.]
Nance Jr: He-hey Kobe, I know by now you’ve probably heard the rumors and I wanted to… [pauses, awkwardly] to take the chance to clear the air. [pauses again] In no way do I want to make excuses, but I just want you to know that I was a stupid kid just trying to get an easy laugh.
[Kobe takes out a water bottle and begins to drink, not looking at Nance.]
Nance Jr: I wanted to apologize man to man and I hope that this doesn’t affect our relationship in the future.
[Kobe now faces Nance.]
Kobe: Why did you stop shooting?
[Nance frantically picks up the ball and begins shooting again.]
Kobe: What are you a wind up monkey…? [Kobe pauses, waiting for an answer.] Shoot five from the corner, go.
[Nance shoots five threes, missing 3. The door slams before Nance can turn around to look for Kobe.]
Larry Nance Jr: …shit.
[Kobe re-enters the gym and grabs his gym bag.]
Kobe: Whoops, forgot my bag.
[Kobe walks out, slamming the door once again.]
[Two weeks later Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, and Nance Jr. are shooting around prior to their third Summer League Game in Las Vegas. Kobe enters the gym unannounced.]
Kobe: D, run a pick and roll with Jules, but throw the lob to his off hand.
[Randle sets Russell a screen and rolls hard to the right side of the basket. The lob is thrown two feet too far. Randle still manages to throw down a thunderous right handed tomahawk dunk.]
Kobe: Now do the same thing with him. [Nods at Nance Jr.]
[Russell runs the same play with Nance Jr. to the left. The pass is more catchable but Nance Jr. only weakly manages to tip the ball in with his left hand. Kobe turns around and begins to walk out.]
Kobe: You, come with me.
[Randle smiles and begins to walk confidently towards Kobe.]
Kobe: Not you. [Looking at Randle] You. [Kobe nods to Nance Jr.]
[Nance Jr. walks cautiously towards Kobe.]
Kobe: Tomorrow morning, 4AM, UNLV main court. Don’t be late.
[Kobe walks out of the gym.]
[Nance arrives 3:45AM at the gym. Kobe has already been shooting for an hour and a half and is drenched in sweat.]
Kobe: You’re late.
[Nance quickly laces up his shoes and the workout begins. An hour later, both are covered in sweat. They are sitting next to each other on the sideline bench.]
Kobe: I know I didn’t say anything, but I heard your apology, and I want you to know I don’t give a damn what you or anyone else think about me.
[Nance’s face goes pale.]
Kobe: Do you want to know the most important thing I’ve learned after 20 years in this league? [Nance nods, frightened.] The key is to just relax, don’t worry about the numbers, don’t worry about what the other guys are thinking, you’re here for a reason… Have fun. [Kobe shoots a little grin at Nance.]
[A huge smile cracks across Nance’s face and his confidence follows. They resume their workout. Kobe shoots instructions at him. Nance runs to the corner and begins firing away hitting 1 of 5 shots.]
Kobe: [grinning patiently] Not quite what I wanted, but a good start. Try again.
[Nance shoots five more shots, again hitting 1 of 5.]
Kobe: [with suppressed frustration] Still not what I want, but you’ll get there. One more time.
[Nance makes 2 of 5. Kobe fires a ball which narrowly misses Nance’s right ear. The ball smashes into the bleachers.]
Kobe: THERE IS NO ONE IN THE FATHER [expletive] GYM, LET ALONE ANYONE CONTESTING YOU, AND YOU CAN’T MAKE A [expletive] SHOT?!? AGAIN!
[Nance makes 2 of 5.]
[The drill continues for hours with Kobe yelling incessantly. Nance cannot surpass 4 makes in a row. Nance begins to cry silently in frustration.]
Kobe: Oh my dear God, are you one of those single tear people? Get off my damn court. GET OUT!
[Nance sulks out the door. Kobe continues the workout alone. The clock shows 10AM.]
[Four months pass. The regular season is now in session. Nance has finally worked his way into the rotation. The Lakers are playing the Knicks at Staples Center. It’s late in the first quarter and Kobe comes out for his regular rest. Nance enters the game shortly after. Within seconds, Kobe is at the scorer’s table waiting for the next dead ball. 15 seconds later, Kobe subs in for Nance.]
Nance: [confused, to D’Angelo Russell on the bench] What the hell was that?
[The second quarter begins and Kobe comes out again. At the 7:54 mark, Nance enters the game. Kobe subs in again for him within the minute. Nance sits on the bench frustrated until halftime. He storms into the locker room.]
Nance: [Expletive] you Kobe, I earned this spot! [Expletive] YOU! YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME!
Kobe: Earned? The only reason you’re on this team is because I told Mitch to draft you, so don’t tell me what you’ve earned or what I can and can’t do. Enjoy riding the pine this year.
[Nance tackles Kobe to the ground. He is quickly pulled off and restrained by teammates LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMarre Carroll. Kobe quickly rises to his feet.]
Kobe: I hope you’ve been saving that paycheck because you’re not gonna have an income for much longer!! [Kobe spits in Nance’s direction.] Enjoy unemployment!
[The season has ended. Kobe is shooting alone at Staples Center. Nance enters wearing street clothes to pick up the rest of his items from his locker. He watches Kobe silently from the shadows. Nance’s phone rings and it catches Kobe’s attention.]
Kobe: Long time no see. [Nance reluctantly walks down to the court.] You’ve probably heard by now, I’m retiring. [A look of shock crosses Nance’s face.] Don’t look so surprised.
Nance: [sincere] I had no idea… congratulations.
Kobe: [stays silent for a few moments] Do you know why I was so hard on you? [silent again] There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’. Do you think Michael Jordan would have become the GOAT if he would have gone first overall and had everyone kissing his ass all along the way? Do you think Kevin Durant would have been so successful had the Blazers chosen him over Oden? Hell no. I push people… beyond what’s expected of them.. I believe that is an absolute necessity and I will never apologize for trying. At least I tried, I actually [expletive] tried.
Nance: I… [cut off by Kobe.]
Kobe: I want you to come back and play for the Lakers next season, but this time I don’t want you to quit. Can you do that for me? I know it’s been a while so take the weekend then call Mitch and let him know what you think. [Kobe walks out before he can answer.]
[Nance signs a three year deal with the Lakers in the off season. Nance and the rest of the Lakers arrive on the first day of training camp dressed and ready to go. Word of Kobe’s retirement is now old news. Warm-ups begin. Kobe arrives suited for practice to everyone’s surprise. Kobe walks up to Nance.]
Kobe: Did you really think that I’d just walk away from the game and let you play for my team? The thing about me is I never forget, Larry. Hopefully I can keep my hands to myself this practice. [Kobe mocks.] Enjoy riding the pine for the next three years.
[Upset, Nance walks quickly to the Practice Facility locker room, throwing his practice jersey at his locker. He sits down for a minute then storms back into the gym where scrimmage is just about to begin. He defiantly stares Kobe in the eye.]
Nance: [to his teammates] I got Kobe.
[Nance finishes the full scrimmage with 48 points, 14 rebounds and 6 blocks, all on Kobe. The team finishes up and heads to the showers. As they walk past each other, Kobe and Nance lock eyes. Kobe subtly smiles and nods, Nance can’t help but do the same.]