The big shots he made cemented Robert Horry’s value as he endlessly collected NBA championships.
As he marched toward winning seven league titles, Horry played alongside elite big men (Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan). He played for some of the NBA’s top coaches (Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Rudy Tomjanovich). And Horry wound up on many winning franchises (the Lakers, Spurs and Rockets).
But as he experienced all of this in a storied 17-year NBA career as a dependable role player, something else stuck with Horry. It involved Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, whom Horry said in a Players Tribune article “was the hardest player I ever worked with.” It did not take long for Horry to pick up that impression, his arrival in 1997 via a trade from Houston coinciding with Bryant’s rookie season.
Then, Horry recalled Bryant struggling making 3-pointers in practice against him, Brian Shaw, Mitch Richmond and Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis.
“Kobe would lose every time. We would get to practice the next day and sure enough, Kobe would already be there shooting nothing but threes,” Horry wrote. “Like clockwork, at the end of practice he’d say, “Let’s play the game! I’m ready for you.” And we would beat his [butt] again. He would never stop. It was incredible. He practiced until one day, a couple months later, he finally won.”
That determination obviously helped Bryant, who eventually won five NBA championships and climbed to third place on the league’s all-time scoring list.
“If you literally said, ‘Kobe, I bet you can’t make five in a row by dropping the ball and kicking it in from half court,’ that [guy] would go out there and practice it until he could do it,” Horry wrote. “And that’s what people don’t understand when they talk about champions — when they talk about a winner’s mentality. Kobe’s dedication to the game is unreal. And I mean that in the truest sense … it was literally unbelievable.
Horry should know about a winner’s mentality. His seven NBA championships included two with the Rockets (1994-95), three with the Lakers (2000-02) and two with the Spurs (2005, 2007). All of which had a single trait that players shared, including former Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon and Bryant
“The common denominator in every championship team is the mentality that Kobe has, and the mentality that Hakeem had with me,” Horry wrote. “You have to be so obsessed with winning that you pull no punches with your teammates, even when you’re in first place. Even when you’re a defending champ. Whenever I hear people crying about Kobe yelling at people in practice, or wondering whether or not LeBron [James] is best friends with his teammates, I just roll my eyes.”
Horry has plenty of reasons to roll his eyes over those concerns.
He recalled that Jackson only ever had a personal conversation with him once during his time with the Lakers, something that never prevented the team from winning three consecutive NBA titles during his tenure. Horry appreciated that Olajuwon confronted him at a Christmas party that he did not show his competitive emotions enough. And Horry respected Bryant’s demand for excellence.
“When a team wins a championship, this picture gets painted that everything was perfect — that all the guys are best friends and the coach is a genius,” Horry wrote. “The reality is always way more complicated.”
Hence, Horry has mixed feelings on his time with the Lakers (1997-2003).
Even though Jackson and Popovich have won a combined 16 NBA championships, Horry actually considered Tomjanovich a better coach at least during his time. Horry credit Tomjanovich for making his players feel empowered by letting them to call certain plays. Meanwhile, Horry dismissible called Jackson’s triangle offense a “fancy name for the same plays that 50 percent of the NBA runs.”
“With Phil, his ability to coach Michael Jordan and the success that he was able to lead those Bulls teams to is why he commanded so much respect from players,” Horry wrote. “The titles Phil won in Chicago translated into titles in Los Angeles. His six rings is what made Shaq get into the gym and become one of the most dominant forces in league history. However, as dominant as we were in that three-peat run, I feel we could’ve done more if it weren’t for egos and complacency.”
Horry also took issue with the Lakers with how they handled his departure.
He missed an uncharacteristic 36 of 38 shots from three-point range in the 2003 NBA playoffs, including a potential game winner against San Antonio in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, a series the Spurs eventually won in six games. The Lakers then declined to exercise a $5.3 million option on Horry’s contract and pursued Karl Malone.
“I left the Lakers with so much hatred for that team. I felt that the way they handled my situation was so wrong,” wrote Horry, who suggested his departure happened after the Lakers’ third NBA championship in 2002 when it actually happened a year later. “I said, ‘I know I make too much money and I know you [like] Karl Malone.’ They had been wanting him for five years, ever since Phil got there. I’m a realist. Tell me like it is and I will respect you more, just don’t go behind my back. I told them I’d stay for $2 million, but they weren’t interested. All I asked them was to allow me to find a team before the money dried up and not to wait until the last day to release me. They told me, ‘We won’t do you like that.’ Well, they didn’t do me like that. They waited until the next to last day to release me.'”
That prompted Horry to notice some irony when the Lakers presented him with a pre-game tribute in his first game back at Staples Center after signing with the Spurs.
“Everybody was all smiles. They parade me out there at the Staples Center and I had to act all happy,” wrote Horry, who mentioned the Lakers presented him with a jersey. “I was happy for the fans, and for what we achieved. But if you understand one thing about me, understand this — I’m a guy who is constantly seeking motivation. That’s how you get ice water in your veins. So I remember looking at the smiling people from the Lakers’ front office and thinking, ‘Man, you just wait. I’m gonna break ya’ll hearts.’ I actually have five NBA titles thanks to the Lakers. Three from playing with the team, and two from them showing me the door.”