Brian Shaw remembers that 20-something kid who used to laugh at him.
“What’s with all the ice?” Kobe Bryant would ask, scoffing at the veteran’s habit of slapping ice bags around his knees, shoulders, back — whatever hurt, really — after most practices and certainly every Lakers game in the early 2000s.
Now it’s Bryant’s turn. Or as he said to Shaw before the Lakers played Denver on Tuesday, “I’ve got to do it before the games. How about that?!”
These are challenging times for Bryant, trying to discover how to keep a 36-year-old body in prime shape while carrying the load for an NBA team. He succeeded in the Lakers’ 111-103 victory over the Nuggets, finishing with 23 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds while becoming the second-oldest player to secure a triple-double.
A newer, more efficient Bryant has emerged from a three-game hibernation, a fair analogy as subzero temperatures circled outside Pepsi Center.
His shot volume is way down. His passing attempts are on the rise. As is his shooting accuracy. Double-teamed him from the start, he responded accordingly.
“To score the ball takes a lot out of my legs. I’m making some adjustments,” he said, crediting his recent basketball break. “Oh my gosh, yes. Absolutely.
“But also it gave me a chance to reflect. Breaking down my game. You see now I’m very, very efficient. I know exactly where I want to go. I get to my spots, I don’t try to beat guys with quickness. I back them down, I get to my areas, I elevate over them. It’s just old-school Oscar Robertson style.”
His turnovers are also on the rise, a byproduct of trying to be more setup man than closer. He had nine against Denver, whisper-thin to a quadruple-double.
But the Lakers (10-22) were in a light mood after the game, and it had little to do with the altitude. Or goofy Nick Young quotes.
They looked like a team Tuesday after plenty of disjointed efforts the last two months.
Players were singing and yelling cheerfully in the shower while Bryant was interviewed by reporters, his feet sitting in a now-familiar bucket of ice.
A box score floated in it, showing Carlos Boozer with 19 points, Ronnie Price with 18 and Wesley Johnson with 16.
Bryant seemed proudest of the veteran Price, a late signee just before training camp began.
“It’s about time he shot the ball,” Bryant said. “I was in there [earlier this season] and I’m kicking it to him and he’s wide open and he didn’t want to shoot the ball. Then I sit out, he makes everything under the sun against Golden State, which I think was the best thing for him. Now he’s sticking to his jumper and making defenses pay.”
Price is nice, but Bryant is whom everybody wants to see. And analyze. And debate.
“I’m more of a natural scorer, but it doesn’t mean I can’t evolve,” he said. “I played more of a point guard role on our first three championships [from 2000-02] so I’ve been taught very well how to do that. It’s not something that’s unfamiliar to me.”
Shaw, Bryant’s teammate on those championship runs, was in a reflective mood beforehand, remembering when the end came for him as a player.
He’d think a loose ball was within reach, but it would be snapped up by someone else. Or he couldn’t box someone out.
Bryant’s not at that point yet.
Shaw, now the Nuggets’ coach, said he could still see the competitor in Bryant, “a guy with probably the greatest will in the game.”
Shaw sensed something else too.
“Father Time is starting to catch up,” he said. “It just kind of makes me chuckle a little bit because the years that I played with him, I was at the latter part of my career, he used to tease me all the time because I was always covered with ice … and I told him one day that ice was going to be his best friend. And I know it’s turned out to be that way for him.”
Bryant, 36, fought off his age for another night. Then he was told that Tim Duncan had a triple-double earlier this month at age 38.
“All 38s aren’t created equal,” Bryant said, smiling, and you wondered if it became another goal for him down the road.