The experience threw Kobe Bryant off, and the reasons went beyond seeing Russell Westbrook dash across the speed of lightning. Well before Westbrook fulfilled this job description by posting 36 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in the Lakers’ 117-113 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday at Staples Center, Bryant saw these qualities even before Westbrook starred at UCLA.
That led Bryant to think two things.
“‘Who the hell is this kid?'” Bryant recalled thinking during a pickup game.
Then, Bryant wondered why no one else seemed to notice despite being what he called “a relentless competitor.”
“I had never even heard of him. So it was shocking to me sometimes to kind of look at scouts and see what the hell they’re looking at,” Bryant said. “This guy was this way when he’s 16 years old.”
Since then, Westbrook has won a gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics, appeared in four NBA All-Star games and won last year’s MVP award. Bryant has often said Westbrook reminds him of himself because of his competitiveness, scoring streak and indifference toward public opinion. All of which Bryant said he saw before mostly anyone else.
“He cared and competed and guys that compete and it means a lot to them, they’re going to get better no matter what,” Bryant said. “It’s not a surprise to me one bit.”