Prior to the NBA suspending its season due to concerns over the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Los Angeles Lakers held the distinction of being the only Western Conference team to officially clinch a playoff berth.
The accomplishment was notable, as the team had been mired in a franchise-worst seven-year postseason drought. One of the few bright spots during that difficult stretch was watching Kobe Bryant play out the final seasons of his Hall-of-Fame career.
The 2014-15 season was especially trying, as a rotator cuff tear in his right shoulder limited Bryant to only 35 games. The Lakers as a whole struggled and posted a 21-61 record — good for the second-worst record by winning percentage in franchise history.
One of Bryant’s teammates that season was Jeremy Lin, who the Lakers had acquired from the Houston Rockets the previous summer. It wound up being his only year in L.A., but nonetheless enjoyed the time he spent with the five-time NBA champion.
During a recent appearance on “Inside the Green Room with Danny Green,” Lin recalled when an injured Bryant showed up to a February practice to bid farewell to some of the teammates he anticipated would be dealt before the 2015 NBA trade deadline:
“I remember at this time he had gotten hurt and was out for the season, so he wasn’t around for quite some time. Just rehabbing and being away from the team and stuff. And then all of a sudden after we hadn’t seen him in a few weeks, all of the sudden he walks in the gym, and this is the day before the trade deadline, and we’re all about to start practice. We’re on the baseline, we’re stretching, doing our dynamic warm-up or whatever.
“And then he comes in, sweatsuit, he has a sling for his hurt shoulder, he has his shades on, his Kobe shades. And he walks in and everyone’s like, ‘Ohhhh,’ and Carlos Boozer is like, ‘Kob! Good to see you bro! Dang, we haven’t seen you in a bit, how come you came today?’ And he was just stone-faced, and he was like, ‘I just came by to say bye to some of you bums who are going to get traded tomorrow.’
“And then he sits down at the table where you control the scoreboard at the practice facility and he said a couple words to the coach, and then he left. And I remember one of my teammates was just like, ‘I lost all motivation to practice.’ It was funny, because we couldn’t tell if he was serious, we couldn’t tell if he was joking. Obviously, if I were to guess, he was probably more on the end of serious. But I don’t think he was all the way serious. After that, people had talked to him and caught up with him. So it wasn’t hostile, hostile. It was so him.”
As it turned out, the Lakers did not move any players at the trade deadline that season. The team stood pat, and after finishing with the fourth-worst record that season, solidified the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Bryant returned for one more season, which of course was capped off with a memorable 60-point performance in his final NBA game against the Utah Jazz.