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Harris, Bryant Maintain Confidence

Saturday night, in a scrimmage near the end of the Lakers’ second day of training camp, Kobe Bryant brought the ball downcourt with the game on the line and the offense spread, two teammates spotting up on the left side and two on the right.

“Same play,” Coach Del Harris said.

Same play as the one that lingered through the summer, the one when Bryant, an 18-year-old at the end of his rookie season, was given the last shot of regulation in Game 5 at Utah instead of Nick Van Exel, in the midst of a 26-point outing. When the pull-up 14-footer became an airball, the Lakers and Jazz went into overtime.

When Bryant shot three more airballs in the extra period, making him four of 14 on the night, the Jazz went on to a 98-93 victory in the game and a 4-1 victory in the series. So ended the Laker season.

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“There’s one thing I can’t believe,” Ron Boone, the former NBA guard, said at the time in his role as color commentator on the Jazz telecast. “That the rookie, Kobe Bryant, had four airballs, but Del Harris continues to go to a rookie here in pressure situations. And he has not responded.”

A little less than five months later, Bryant still remembers. Remembers that he was given the ball in a crucial situation, remembers that he still got the ball in overtime even as the critical mistakes piled up.

Remembers all the ways that allow a crash-and-burn of four minutes and 55 seconds to be turned into a positive.

“It was forgotten, but at the same time you still know it was there,” he said. “Kind of water under the bridge. People around me, meaning the media and coaching staff, really looked at those shots as kind of being a turning point, so to speak. I just basically looked at it as giving me more confidence. Even though I didn’t hit the shots, I knew that my teammates had confidence in me to take the shots.”

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Figure the chances of him being fazed somewhere in the microscopic region. Maybe with good reason--Bryant spent most of 1996-97 proving to be a much better outside shooter than the pre-draft scouting reports had indicated, finishing a respectable 37.5% on three-pointers. Of course, that also may be the proof that the conclusion May 12 inside the rocking Delta Center was about the pressure.

“When you know his mentality, you know that one failure or 10 failures isn’t going to defeat him,” Harris said.

“I knew he wouldn’t worry about it. He’d want that shot again the next day and tomorrow and today.”

Scrimmages and games.

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Shaquille O’Neal sat out his second consecutive day of workouts because of a strained abdominal muscle. . . . The Lakers have added a Chinese broadcast outlet this season, with selected home games on KAZN (1300).


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