It has now been proven, in case doubt existed, that Andrew Bynum has a sense of humor complete with a comedian’s timing. Yes, besides the hair.
On the occasion of the Lakers playing in Philadelphia on Sunday in the reunion that really wasn’t, with Bynum out with knee troubles and yet to debut with his new team, the some-day 76ers center expressed appreciation at the benefits of having Kobe Bryant as a teammate for seven seasons in Los Angeles. Just before the appreciation disappeared.
“I thought it really helped me a lot obviously at first, because he draws so much attention it’s hard for guys to double team and key on you, so it helped me tremendously,” Bynum told a group of reporters before the Lakers’ 111-98 victory, as quoted by Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com. “Later, I felt I was able to get the ball more and do more things with the ball, so I could definitely see how it could stunt growth.”
Stunt his growth.
Cue the laugh track.
Of course having to defer to a superior or equal talent raises internal questions of how good a player could be as the clear one and only, the very emotional conflict a young Bryant went through with established Shaquille O’Neal, a Hall of Famer like Scottie Pippen had as the clear complementary piece to Michael Jordan and others have endured. (Karl Malone and John Stockton juggled it well because they were so reliant on each other, passing point guard and scoring power forward, and because Stockton cared not at all about attention.) Bryant conceded as much when asked to respond to Bynum’s comment after the 111-98 Lakers victory in Philly: “For sure, because when you’re playing with me you obviously have to sacrifice something. Same thing with me and Shaq. You kind of offset each other to a certain extent. So, I mean, that’s true….”
The reality, though, is that Bryant didn’t stunt Bynum. He supported Bynum publicly more than anyone when there was good reason not to, he pushed Bynum, he led Bynum.
Held Bynum back? Held Bynum up is more like it.
Andrew Bynum had so many immature moments as a Laker, on the court and off, but Bryant kept coming to his defense, saying he saw a lot of himself in Bynum’s youthful insistence of always being right and that, most importantly, he saw a passion in Bynum to be great. It would have been a meaningful endorsement no matter what, demon worker Kobe praising the drive of another, but was especially valuable as Bynum strung together foolish decisions and injuries.
While he lived with sizeable scrutiny anyway, there would have been so much more public pressure on Bynum without the constant support of the face of the franchise. There is a good chance Bynum didn’t care, because he never seemed to worry much about opinions in the outside world, but Bryant’s backing undoubtedly made a difference in creating enough space for an immature center to develop into an All-Star.
The irony, of course, is that it was Bryant who screamed for Bynum to be traded years ago, when the Lakers might have been able to turn a prospect into Jason Kidd or another veteran star to help Bryant right then. Time passed, Bynum proved management right for keeping him, Bryant was won over, and then became one of the biggest backers as fans grew restless for more. That Bryant still played at a high level the last couple years despite age and injury, not allowing defenses to focus more on Bynum, is a primary reason for the development. Some growth stunting.