LAS VEGAS — As he drove the lane and attacked the basket, Kobe Bryant experienced a flashback that reminded him all too well of his childhood.
Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant, the father of the Lakers’ most popular star, celebrated his 58th birthday by attending the Lakers’ 104-98 preseason loss Friday to the Sacramento Kings at the Thomas & Mack Center. With Joe, his mom, sisters (Sharia, Shaya) and nieces in the stands, Bryant had one more reason to kick his competitive juices into fifth gear, posting 22 points on seven-of-12 shooting, six rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes in the team’s liveliest preseason game.
“It feels good to have him here obviously,” Bryant said.
The Lakers felt the same way.
When Joe lingered outside of the Lakers’ locker room, Coach Mike Brown joke to him, “Hey, you can still play!” Joe’s NBA career included stops in Philadelphia (1975-79), San Diego (1979-82) and Houston (1982-83) before embarking on a wide-ranging career in Italy. That’s where Kobe learned the fundamentals that’s made him into an elite player.
“His basketball IQ,” Bryant said when asked what he admired about Joe’s approach to the game. “He and my uncle Chubby Cox really taught me and my cousins the entire game.”
So much that it didn’t take long for Kobe to beat his father at his own game. Joe’s well removed from playing and is currently coaching a basketball team in Thailand. But Bryant contends his father could still light it up on the court.
“He can play,” Bryant said. “The thing is, it’s not age. It’s the recovery the day after. That’s always the issue.”