Lakers News: Ex-LA Teammate Reflects On Kobe Bryant’s Rookie Season

The longtime Laker had a rocky start to his Hall of Fame career.

Hall of Fame Los Angeles Lakers swingman Kobe Bryant had a bit of a bumpy start to his NBA career as a rookie in 1996-97. Drafted with the No. 13 pick as a 17-year-old, the hyper-athletic Bryant had plenty of promise, but was often limited in practice as he developed by his then-head coach, Del Harris, at least according to former teammate Cedric Ceballos, a journeyman small forward who played for LA from 1994-97.

Ceballos shared a wild practice anecdote from Bryant’s early days with Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson of Bally Sports.

“You know when he got drafted by us, he was practicing with us,” Ceballos said. “So it’s Shaq, it’s Eddie Jones, it’s Nick Van Exel, it’s Elden Campbell. He’d practice with us, and then he’d leave and go play with Matt Barnes, Baron Davis, Earl Watkins, all the UCLA players. You know, [at this point] he’s 17, 18, they were his age too.”

“Well his first couple years, he was in the penitentiary,” Ceballos noted. “Del Harris put him in [figurative] jail. He would not allow him to be fancy, be Kobe. Now I can recall, we’re playing half-court, five-on-five, I think he came across the middle, got a pass and tried a 360 dunk on Shaq. He almost got him!”

“Once the trades happened and things freed up, Jerry West was like, ‘Hey, it’s time to play this kid, regardless of if he fails or not.’ Then that’s when we all were exposed to Kobe Bean Bryant,” Ceballos said. “It was always there, he just couldn’t put it together [at first]… He just had a couple of months of doing that, and then after the [1997] dunk contest, winning that, that’s when his attitude really put himself in a position [to succeed].”

Bryant of course would go on to enjoy a 20-year Hall of Fame career with LA, during which he would help lead the team to seven NBA Finals appearances, where it would win five. He was twice named Finals MVP for his efforts.

The 6’6″ shooting guard held career regular season averages of 25 points on .447/.329/.837 shooting splits, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.4 steals a night.

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