Memories of Kobe Bryant
Today, Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
One person who will not be in attendance is his former LA teammate, Metta Sandiford-Artest.
But he has a good reason.
“I don’t even know how that works,” he told me by phone. “I wasn’t invited to the Hall of Fame Induction.”
All jokes aside, there was no bad blood between Bryant or Metta, who now goes by Metta Sandiford-Artest (not Metta World Peace), and he couldn’t be happier for Bryant to have his name listed amongst the greats at the Hoop Hall.
Metta and Bryant’s relationship developed before their NBA playing days. Metta says the two met while both were still in high school – Kobe at Philadelphia’s Lower Merion High School and the then Ron Artest at Manhattan’s LaSalle Academy.
“I met Kobe when I was 15 and probably when he was playing in a basketball tournament,” recalled Metta.
“I was on Shaheen Halloway and Shammgod Wells’ [now God Shammgod] team. Kobe was on the other team. He was 16 years old, but he was a junior. It’s hard to remember, but I think he had 40 [points] in that game.’’
The two would later be opponents on the basketball court. Bryant was drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 NBA Draft straight out of high school. Metta would spend a year at St. John’s University before being selected 16th overall by the Chicago Bulls in the 1999 Draft.
After being traded, Kobe would play for the Lakers all 20 years while Metta played for six different teams in 19 seasons. But the two joined forces on the Lakers for four years and won a title together under head coach Phil Jackson in 2010. You’d think Metta would enjoy being Bryant’s teammate better than playing against him, right?
“Definitely the opponent because he’s so good," he said.
Bryant is listed fourth on the NBA’s career scoring list with 33,643 points, he won five NBA Championships with the Lakers and both his Nos. 8 and 24 were retired.
His early years were fascinating, and he earned the respect of his peers over time. “Kobe came in real arrogant,” Hall of Famer and former Laker teammate Gary Payton told me in April while on the Scoop B Radio Podcast.
“He was a high school kid coming in there talking about he’s going to be the greatest, and then it was like, ‘Who does this kid think he is? Making people do this and that?’ and he’s coming up in there saying that he’s the greatest. How did that work out? It worked. I just say a lot of people were really against him because of how he acted. But I loved him. He had an attitude, he had a dog to him, he told ‘em what he was going to be and he did it. So, it is what it is.”
During his retirement tour in 2016, I asked Bryant what it would have been like if he’d been able to retire winning a championship, he was candid. “It would have been amazing,” Bryant said.
“It would have been amazing, but you know, it just wasn’t meant to be. But at the same time, I couldn’t complain about it. I’ve enjoyed winning to the tune of five championships and been very fortunate to have those. Most players haven’t been able to get one. So, you gotta be able to take the good with the bad.”
Bryant died in a helicopter crash that took the lives of nine people, including Bryant’s daughter, Gigi, on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. “I was home when I got the news from one of my friends,” Metta told me.
“And then I called KG and I called Lou Williams and they confirmed it and you know… just very, very, very, very, very sad.”
Metta said he remembers the last conversation that he and Bryant had.
“The last conversation that I had with Kobe, I was supposed to go see him and he was helping me with some marketing stuff. He was reaching out and I was supposed to go check him out, but probably for three or four months I hadn’t made contact with him.’’
During the Hall of Fame induction in Springfield, Bryant will be introduced by his idol and mentor, Michael Jordan. “I thought it was cool because I love Michael,” Metta said.
“He’s my favorite player – him and Rodman. Those two are my favorite players. But Michael’s just amazing. Michael is just Michael … he’s just so amazing to me. So, I think it’s really cool.”
Philadelphia 76ers head coach, Doc Rivers echoed Metta’s sentiment.
"It’s still sad that KB can’t get the award and give his own speech,” Rivers told NBA scribe, Landon Buford.
“I think for most of us that will be a reminder, the fact that MJ is doing it is important. Whenever MJ speaks it seems important because he doesn’t speak a lot.”
A 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, a 12-time member of the All-Defensive Team and two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist, Kobe Bryant retired from basketball in 2016 after putting on an epic performance against the Utah Jazz where he scored 60 points and stated: “Mamba Out,” followed by a mic drop.
When judging Bryant’s career, Metta said three things come to mind when you bring up Kobe’s legacy on the basketball court: “Determination, work ethic and fearlessness.”
And when it comes to the GOAT conversation between LeBron James and Michael Jordan that is consistently debated, Metta weighed in on where Bryant fits in that conversation. “The reason why Kobe is not in these GOAT conversations, I think that like, LeBron is kind of … here right now.
“So, it’s hard to focus on Kobe. I think Kobe got hurt; which hurt him – he was playing really well and then he had that Achilles injury… If you gave Kobe another couple players on his team when he hurt that Achilles, we’re talking a different ball game. Kobe is arguably one of the greatest players to ever play man. It’s getting harder and harder to choose. Now you got Russell Westbrook. Now you got this guy and what happened is unbelievable! That is unbelievable what he just did.”
Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett will also be honored at the Hoop Hall today. Arguably the best power forward to have ever played in the NBA, Duncan won five NBA championships, was named NBA Finals MVP three times and earned two NBA Most Valuable Player awards. Recently on Instagram live, Metta shared that Duncan is up there with the greats. “Tim Duncan is the second greatest basketball player that ever lived.’’
I pressed World Peace on that topic and asked him to expand on that more. “What I meant about Duncan was, I just thought that Duncan deserves the right to be talked about amongst the greatest ever because he was so dominant, you know,” he said.
“Who was as dominant as Duncan was? I mean, LeBron was very dominant. But who was as dominant as Duncan? And we don’t talk about Duncan enough in that same conversation that we talk about everybody else – and Duncan got MVP in the Finals and has been to the Finals a lot! I just think that we just have to start talking about him, you know, as a basketball fan.”
A 15-time NBA All-Star, 2003 league MVP, 2007-08 NBA Defensive Player of the Year and NBA Champion with the Boston Celtics, Garnett also earned his way to the Hall of Fame. “Garnett is just so amazing,” Metta added.
“Garnett definitely had a great individual career. He got to the Finals, and I’m really happy he got the championship because that really solidified the type of player that he was – winning that [NBA] title is hard man; I don’t care who you are. It’s so difficult to win a title. Everything has to go the right way and he’s just an amazing player.”
The Minnesota Timberwolves’ fifth pick in the 1995 NBA Draft out of Chicago’s Farragut Academy, Garnett became the first NBA player drafted directly out of high school in 20 years. He retired from basketball in 2016 with career averages of 17.8 points, 10 rebounds and 3.7 assists per contest.
“The thing about Garnett is that he is an AMAZING defender,” Metta said. “He’s a hustler and really hustles so, you have to take that into account.”
Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett were legendary basketball players on the court and seemingly good human beings off it. Commemorating their greatness this weekend should be a treat to watch.