November 30th: Flight to Philadelphia
Roy Hibbert thinks it’s funny to mess with me. It started during a flight from Sacramento after our first road game. I’m not a fan of flying. Any bumps whatsoever, and my mind starts playing tricks on me. So it was our assistant coach Larry Lewis’ birthday and I was about to stand up with the rest of the rookies to sing “Happy Birthday” when we hit a bit of turbulence. He saw me grip the armrest like the plane was going down. No way I was getting up after that. But he essentially forced me to stand up, pulling the “vet” card. Roy could clearly tell I was shook — like really shook — to my core. He thought that was hilarious … and it just wasn’t.
Ever since, he’s been ruthless about turbulence. Every bump, it’s, “Uh oh! Uh oh, rook! Uh oh!” It’s really not even rookie hazing.
It’s just Roy being Roy.
December 1st: 103-91 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers
It was our first road game after Kobe announced he would retire after the season, and the atmosphere was unbelievable. It’s what everybody dreams about when you go back home. I don’t know if the Sixers had one fan in that building. From the time we started warming up, there were people in gold jerseys, regular Kobe jerseys, customized Kobe jerseys. As we were getting ready to run out of the tunnel, their mascot rode past us on a bicycle. He stopped, got off and, like, bowed to Kobe before he got back on his bike and went out to pump up the crowd.
We were all laughing. It was nuts.
I wish I could have that kind of introduction … 17-time All-Star … third all-time scorer in NBA history … just hearing the crowd get louder and louder with each accomplishment. And then Kobe opening up with three 3s in his first four shots. That must have been a dream scenario. It was such a special night, and even though it was a bad loss, I was happy for him.
I hear some people saying, “Kobe should just step aside.” That he’s hurting the development of our younger players. He’s not. It’s funny to me, because he’s the third leading scorer in NBA history. You’re gonna tell him which shots to take and not to take? C’mon. This is what Kobe does. For me, it’s the biggest honor to be on the same court, to call him a teammate. I don’t look at it as, Aw, man! He’s stunting my growth! I try to learn as much as I can from him. On the bench. On the court. In the locker room. I’m listening to every little tidbit of knowledge he gives out.
Our last game before the trip was at home against Indiana. We were on the bench together when Metta World Peace got a steal. Kobe looked at me and said, “You see Metta? You need to watch him every possession, because defensively, he is it. And you can do that.”
I just think it’s cool that he thought I could become a Metta World Peace-type defender. In my mind, I already I believe defense is what I do and where I can make an impact. If Kobe believes it, shoot, it must be possible.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GETTY IMAGES
December 4th: 108-104 win over the Wizards
That win was big-time for us because we were two teams on completely different sides of the scale. We had just lost to the 76ers, and Washington had just beaten the Cavaliers in Cleveland by 10. So you had one team on the lowest of lows and another riding a high. To come out and play like we did, to see vintage Black Mamba down the stretch, with Kobe scoring 12 fourth-quarter points, it was big time. We really needed that for morale.
As a rookie, you’re always feeling things out, and it can be tough. I never want to take a bad shot or force anything. If ever I catch the ball and think one of my teammates might be a little more open, with a little bit better of a shot, I’m going to give it up. Immediately. To me, that’s just how basketball is supposed to be played. If it looks like I’m a little hesitant at times, it’s more that I’m looking for the best option. Sometimes, though, you look back on a moment and recognize that you had the best shot and that you should have taken it. I run those possessions through my head all the time.
Another big adjustment is the speed of the game when you have the ball. For example, in mid-November we were playing Detroit at home and I had just set a ball screen for Nick Young coming through the middle. He dropped it off to me, and before I even caught the ball I saw what I was going to do and who was sliding over. But I was also thinking that I had to go at a certain speed to make it work, because this is the NBA, you know? These guys are bigger, faster, stronger. I had processed all that and was trying to adjust before I even caught the ball.
I bobbled it.
I was trying to move at everybody else’s pace instead of slowing down and realizing, Hey, I’ve got the ball.
At that point, the game can move at whatever pace I decide it moves. That’s really the biggest adjustment I’ve still got to make right now.
I mentioned Kobe sharing knowledge, but Metta’s also very vocal. During the game, he and D’Angelo Russell were on the bench and I could hear them talking, going through what had just happened on the court:
“When you kick it out to me for that three, if you see the man leave you and come to me, just step back. You’re gonna be wide open. If I don’t have to take the shot, I won’t, because you’re a better shooter. I’ll force him to come out to me and then just pitch you the ball.”
Those are little things about spacing and awareness we rookies haven’t learned yet that those guys have about 35 combined years experience doing. Sharing that knowledge is priceless.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TY NOWELL/LOS ANGELES LAKERS
December 5th: Off-day in Atlanta
Each city has a different meaning to each guy. Lou Williams is from Atlanta, so I don’t even think he’s been to the hotel yet. He’s at home, seeing his family. But even though Atlanta doesn’t hold much significance for me, I still won’t have time to do anything there. (I can’t even see the snake at the Atlanta Zoo that got named after Kobe unless I go at night, and I don’t think I want to see any poisonous snakes at night. If you can’t tell, I’m a very phobic individual.)
We usually have a lot less down time on road trips than I expected, anyway. After having a shootaround and a lift before the game, there’s the game itself. Sometimes, it’s three really good workouts in one day. Then you get on a plane after the game, ice your knees and do all the treatment, and you might land at 2:30 a.m. You go to the hotel, and by the time your bags get up to the room, it’s 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning. But even then, it’s sometimes hard to sleep because you’re still worked up from the game. Then you’ve got to be up again for another shootaround or practice or team meeting a few hours later, and it all starts again.
So even when you have down time, all you want to do is sleep.
Sometimes, though, cool stuff comes up that’s worth staying awake for. We did take a team field trip to Delta Headquarters to do a flight simulator. You can’t actually crash in a simulator, so I’m fine “flying” in that. I’ll do flips in that plane. It was a lot of fun. I got to take off from JFK, fly around the Statue of Liberty, then land. If you ask me, I did great, though I’m sure the instructor probably thought otherwise. But for my first time, I did pretty well.
Roy, by the way, was the worst pilot on the team. First, picture a seven footer in a cockpit. That’s hilarious on its own. And he was terrible at flying. He barely took off and the actual pilot needed to help him land the plane.
It was bad, and I enjoyed that.