In the days leading up to Kobe Bryant playing his final game for the Los Angeles Lakers, several of his former teammates shared their favorite memories of the five-time champion. One in particular that gained national attention involved J.R. Rider and a heated practice session.
The talented but embattled guard signed with the Lakers in August 2000. It was the first notable roster move completed by Mitch Kupchak as general manager. Although Rider had a checkered past, he was capable of providing a scoring punch off the bench.
Lakers head coach Phil Jackson of course had a history, if not a proven track record, of handling difficult personalities. Rider averaged 7.6 points in 18 minutes over the course of his only season with the team.
But his time with the Lakers might be most-remembered because of the war of words he had with Bryant during one practice, which even Jackson couldn’t — or chose not to — stop.
Bryant explained on the “Jim Rome Podcast on iTunes” what led to his demolishing of Rider in a game of one-on-one:
“He was always great with us, to be honest. I think that moment, I think that day things had kind of been wearing on him a little bit because Phil wasn’t playing him as much as JR wanted to play. And I was just starting to rise to a level where people were thinking I was one of the best, if not the best all-around player in the game. We were matched up in practice and he felt like he could talk trash. Like, ‘Hey, when you were 18, blah, blah, blah, Portland and I used to come here and we used to do this, that and the other.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m not 18 anymore.’ I said you know what, ‘Show me.’ Phil is watching this, Ron Harper, they start hyping it up. So Phil just tells everybody to get off the court.
“I just wanted, listen, ‘You may be a great player, but I’m a little better.’ I just wanted to put him in his place and show him how devastating I could be. I said listen, ‘Don’t let this triangle offense fool you. I’ve got to pass and cut, screen down and all this other type of stuff. But right here, ain’t nobody in the post behind you. It’s just me and you, man.’ I just destroyed him. One-on-one is what I do. If somebody is going to talk trash, they ask for it, and you’ve got to give it to them. For me, it’s a direct competition. You need to understand that I’m not 18 anymore, and I’m here to show you what’s what.”
As legend has it, Rider never stood a chance in the game. For all the criticism Bryant took during and after his career, he’s been unabashed about his speciality being as a potent scorer, particularly when matched up with just one player.