For nearly all of Staples Center’s existence, one player sat at the locker towards the back of the Los Angeles Lakers locker room near the showers: Kobe Bryant. When he retired, the Lakers immediately announced that their most recent No. 2 pick at the time, Brandon Ingram, would take his old spot.
The gesture was more than just housekeeping. The Lakers were sending a clear signal that Ingram was the next wing player they wanted to carry their franchise forward, putting no small amount of pressure on their young forward.
“I think about it every day. First it was the one over at the old practice facility, then it’s Kobe’s locker at Staples, and he had the suit locker right beside,” Ingram said.
“Every day I go in the tunnel I think about how blessed I am to be in this position. How this guy spent 20 years in this same position. I have to say, it’s an honor to try to fill the same shoes.”
Ingram has played well this season, averaging 16.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. But he still has a long way to go to merit comparisons to Bryant, who will see both his No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys retired when the Lakers take on the Golden State Warriors on Monday, something Ingram said he’ll be “blessed” to witness.
“The 20 years he’s been in this league, having his No. 8 and No. 24 jersey retired, is unimaginable,” Ingram added.
Bryant made the unimaginable reality by being one of the hardest-working players to ever grace an NBA roster, and the results both spoke for themselves and influenced a generation of players like Ingram.
“Not just for the team, but for the league, he’s an inspiration for how hard he works,” Ingram said. “He kind of sets the bar as one of the greatest players to ever play this game. When you come in here, you see all the accolades and everything he’s done, it’s crazy.”
All those accolades give Bryant nearly-unparalleled cache with the next generation of NBA players, and Ingram will always hold on to the first piece of advice Bryant gave him.
“Just staying in the moment. The first thing he told me was about the defensive end and how I could be really good. Just trying to challenge myself on that end,” Ingram said, adding that doing so was something Bryant was uniquely qualified to speak about because of the “tenacity” with which he did the same thing.
“Sometimes he’s guarding guys full court, guarding different positions, guarding the point guard, shooting guard, small forward, probably the (other team’s) best player every night. To be locked in for that 48 minutes on the best player and go and score 30 or 40 points, that’s special,” Ingram said.
All of those factors combined are why Ingram says he’s so honored to take Bryant’s locker, no matter what extra pressure it adds.
“I think I kind of take the pressure off myself by coming in here every day and try to work every single day to be the best that I could be,” he explained.
“I know that I’m going to be something special. I come here every day to work hard on different parts of my game. I know eventually I’m going to get there. When you put in the work, I don’t think you feel pressure or fear or anything.”
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