Twenty-five years before Darvin Ham became the Los Angeles Lakers head coach, he was battling with a familiar franchise legend — Kobe Bryant.
The two were in the midst of the 1997 NBA Dunk Contest in Cleveland, which Bryant won in a memorable way. Ham rocked the rim with a powerful windmill and 360 jam while Bryant settled for more finesse with a through the legs dunk for the win.
While Bryant reached the final round, Ham didn’t. The Black Mamba shined with 37 points in the first round and then 49 in the final to win the contest. Ham had 36 points, a year after winning the NCAA Dunk Contest and shattering the backboard with a dunk in the NCAA Tournament.
Highlights of Bryant and Ham’s dunks were recently shared via the Lakers’ Twitter:
Coach Ham vs. Rookie Kobe at the '97 Dunk Contest 🍿🍿 pic.twitter.com/drb1nRqlzf
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) June 4, 2022
It was Kobe’s rookie year with the Lakers and the Dunk Contest became a momentous moment in a rocky first season. He averaged 15 minutes and seven points per game as an 18-year-old before jumping on the scene next season.
Ham was in his second year with the Denver Nuggets and was traded to the Indiana Pacers the same month as the contest.
The two reunited in 2011 when Mike Brown hired Ham to be part of his staff as an assistant coach. Bryant and Ham built a strong relationship, with the former appreciating the latter’s physicality as a coach. Kobe said he loved the daily sessions with Ham after practice and that it helped his game.
Laker fans can expect Ham to bring the same intensity as the head coach this upcoming season.
Ham expected to choose his own staff
When Frank Vogel was hired as Lakers head coach in 2019, much of the headlines were that the organization would provide suggestions for Vogel’s staff. It will reportedly not be the same for Ham, who will be given a “large amount of autonomy” to pick his own staff. The assistant coaches are expected to be ones that have previous head coaching experience.
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