It’s taken me a few hours to get to this post, the result mostly of my fear at not being able to do the scene justice with words alone. There are some people who are good at humorous writing, I’m probably not one of them. But since space on this blog is relatively unlimited, and I can’t call our staff’s unofficial humorist Tom Hoffarth in for a consult, here goes.
After Lakers practice today, several of us writer types were standing around, shooting the breeze with Kobe Bryant after we’d poked and prodded every possible angle related to his right knee injury. Normally after we get done with the Q&A session, Kobe makes a pretty quick exit into the training room, presumably to beat the afternoon traffic on his drive home to Orange County on the 405 South. But today, he stuck around, talking about the World Series, the passion of Lakers fans in the 300 level seats, and why he’d never want to meet the Red Sox in a dark alley.
Anyway, the point is, he stuck around a while. Which meant he was there when Sasha Vujacic finished his after-practice shooting. And if you’ve ever tried to wait out one of Sasha’s after-practice shooting sessions, you know just how long that is.
So as Sasha’s coming off the court, he grabs a ball and decides to hurl a hook shot from about 50 or 55 feet away, and yells out, “Take that Kob” … And it clanks off the rim.
The door, was quite clearly, wide open for a challenge.
“I’ll give you $20 bucks if you make that,” Kobe yelled out to Sasha. “I got $20 bucks in my sock right now.”
“Twenty bucks?” Sasha said. “No problem.”
There was a rack of basketballs sitting along the baseline. One-by-one Sasha started hurling them to the basket. Some were close. Really close, off the front of the rim, one foot in front, just off the iron. Some where not close at all. Behind the backboard, off the shot clock on top, you get the idea.
After about 10 tries, we all assumed Sasha would give up. Then we realized this was Sasha Vujacic we were dealing with. The Machine. A guy who has never finished a practice without sweating through his entire shirt. A guy who tires out the person rebounding for him in shoot-around. A guy so competitive, if you held a staring contest between him and a wall, you’d almost bet the wall would give up first.
Anyway, after the first 10 or so tries, Sasha runs across the court and starts picking up the balls, then runs back to the spot and starts throwing up another round of 50-foot hook shots.
“We’re going to have to get you a rebounder,” Kobe yells out.
Sasha, completely focused at this point, just keeps shooting until eventually one of the Lakers staffers comes out from the training room and starts rebounding for him.
Sasha keeps going. Another 10 or 20 tries. Literally every third or fourth ball clanking off the rim. The whole gym is rolling with laughter.
“You need your man-band to make this, your hair band,” Bryant says. “We might be here all night. Come on Sampson.”
At one point, we all start to wonder whether he’s right. Ten, 20 more tries and it’s almost getting tragic. How can the ball clank off the front of the rim so many times and not go in?
“Come on! It’s unbelievable,” Sasha says, about ten times throughout the whole session, clearly dumbfounded at how close he’s come so many different times.
“Here, you shoot. You try,” Sasha says to Kobe.
“It’s your shot,” Kobe says back. “You’re the one taking the shot, not me.”
It’s about this point when we all realize that Mirjam Swanson of the Press-Enterprise has been filming this whole thing.
“You know this is going up on YouTube, Sasha,” one of us scribes yells out.
About 10 minutes into the ordeal, the Lakers staffer who’d come out to rebound gets tired and goes back in.
“You know, you may not be mentally strong enough to make this,” Kobe yells out.
Sasha keeps shooting, and shooting and shooting. And when he needs more basketballs, he sprints across the court to go get them himself.
“This would make a great Snickers commercial,” Kobe yells to Sasha. “You know, if you want to quit you can quit.”
Sasha, stone-faced and stubborn, keeps shooting.
No one was leaving. Least of all, Sasha or Kobe even though it was coming up on 2 o’clock and the traffic on the 405 was getting thick.
“Man, I’m going to have to call home and tell (them) I’m going to be late because of you,” Kobe yells out to Sasha, clearly getting very good at getting under his skin by now. “You better make one. I’m going to take this personally if you don’t make one.”
Finally, after what seemed like 15 or 20 minutes, Sasha finally nails one. Straight through the net from 50 or 55 feet away and the whole gym erupted in laughter and cheers.
Sasha runs toward Kobe, grabs a high five and yells out, “Take that, take that.”
Kobe, laughing as loud as everyone else in the gym, turns to all of us and says, “See, this is what I gotta deal with every day.”
No word yet on whether the $20 has been exchanged.