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OAKLAND — As he sported an afro and a No. 8 Lakers jersey as a middle-school kid, Warriors forward Nick Young grew up in Los Angeles admiring former Lakers star Kobe Bryant with the kind of childhood innocence that mirrors his smile.
Once Young became Bryant’s teammate, though, Young saw the side of Bryant that did not just involve making game-winning shots. With a four-year stint with the Lakers (2013-14) that coincided with Bryant’s final three NBA seasons, Young also had a first-hand view of Bryant’s demanding personality.
Bryant often talked trash, and even called his teammates “soft as Charmin” during a practice in the 2014-15 season. Bryant sometimes became annoyed with Young’s goofiness, such as when he celebrated a rare regular-season win over Boston that same season by interrupting a post-game interview. After ending his 20-year NBA career with a 60-point performance on 50 shot attempts at the end of the 2015-16 season, the Nike-backed Bryant threw a pair of Young’s Adidas shoes in the trash can after he asked for an autograph.
“That’s Kobe,” Young said following practice on Saturday. “I knew something was going to happen like that if I went with some Adidas.”
Young maintained “it definitely will be cool to see him” when the Los Angeles Lakers (10-17) retire Bryant’s No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys at halftime of their game on against the Warriors (23-6). Yet, Young still sounded uncertain about asking for his autographs, remembering what happened the last time.
“I’m kind of scared,” Young said. “There’s too many cameras out that night. He might throw my shoes in the crowd or something.”
Then again, Bryant might show his friendly side to Young, who considers Bryant “one of my favorite players and one of the best players to play this game.” Even if Bryant threw Young’s Adidas in the trash can, Bryant signed his final game box score as well as a pair of Nike shoes for Young.
During Young’s time with the Lakers, Bryant played only a combined 107 games out of 246 possible appearances in his three seasons amid overlapping injuries to his left Achilles tendon, left knee and right shoulder. That dynamic and their differing personalities limited most of their interactions. Yet, Bryant and Young shared some moments that still left him nostalgic.
Young loved talking trash with Bryant. Young followed through on Bryant’s request to show up at the crack of dawn for an early workout, with Young sharing in amusement that Bryant arrived to the darkly-lit gym wearing sunglasses. And Young once pretended to be Bryant as he sat at his locker and conducted a pre-game interview providing a status on his health.
“I was Kobe one time; he thought it was pretty funny,” Young said. “That’s the personality I have. I pretty much get along with everybody.”
In what marked his first appearance in the 2014-15 season after nursing a right thumb injury, Young and Bryant traded baskets in a regular-season game in Atlanta with enough frequency that something unexpected happen. Bryant performed a few “Swaggy 3” celebrations, a gesture Young performs after a made 3-pointer byholding out three fingers with both of his hands. Young called that gesture “dope.”
“I had Kobe out there swagging a little bit, a ‘Swaggy P’ dance,” Young said, laughing. “I taught him something. I taught him how to groove a little bit.”
Bryant taught Young a lot more with his scoring, competitiveness and trash talk. Through the tough moments during the Lakers’ worst-stretch in franchise history, however, Young enjoyed Bryant’s presence more than feeling frustrated with it.
“Kobe toward the end, I couldn’t see how people couldn’t play with him,” Young said. “He was going well with us. He adapted to playing with young guys and having to be a leader.”
That does not mean the two are close. When asked why, Young joked, “I don’t really need to talk to him no more.” Will the two talk on Monday?
“He won’t have time to. Knowing Kobe, he might leave right after his ceremony,” Young said, laughing.
But not before Bryant either signs an autograph for Young, or throws another pair of his Adidas shoes in the trash can.