Isaiah Rider took great pleasure in heckling Kobe Bryant at the Lakers. The Black Mamba got off on displaying it in front of the entire team.
Los Angeles, 2000-2001 season. The Lakers of Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson had just won their first title together by defeating the Indiana Pacers a few months earlier. Determined to make the back-to-back, the Angelenos signed Isaiah Rider, aka J.R., during the offseason.
« J.R. kept insulting Kobe. We knew Kobe would eventually wear him down. » Horace Grant
« J.R. was brash. He’s an Oakland guy. Oakland guys are a different breed. He was confident. We had just won the title in 2000 and J.R. came in, » Horace Grant says.
« He wasn’t even a threat to Kobe’s playing time, but it didn’t matter. J.R. kept calling Kobe names. MF (motherfucker) here, MF there. We knew Kobe would eventually wear him down. «
A loudmouth and orange ball star since his high school days in Alameda, near Oakland, Rider arrived in the NBA in 1993. A scoring machine capable of putting up 30 points per game in his sophomore season at UNLV, he was drafted fifth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves and quickly established himself as a valuable player in the NBA. A free agent in 2000, he turned down a more lucrative offer from the Miami Heat to play in Los Angeles.
« Oh, J.R. Rider. He was an interesting guy. He was so talented, » recalls Devean George.
« J.R. was a star in Minnesota and Portland. He was their first option. And he’d had some really good games against the Lakers. He came in with a lot of confidence, » adds Brian Shaw.
« One day, J.R. said to Kobe, ‘Don’t forget I’m a star too and I used to score on you,’ and Kobe said, ‘Man, you really think you can take me? Okay, after practice, you and me. One on one’. «
« Kobe just completely demolished him. « Brian Shaw
Kobe Bryant had barely turned 22 and had four short NBA seasons under his belt. He had surpassed the 20-point mark for the first time in his career in his title year. He was already a star, but not yet the legend we know today. This anecdote says a lot about the talent and character of the man. This story is told by his former teammates at the Lakers.
Ron Harper: « Phil Jackson loved this stuff. He didn’t even wait until after practice. He said, ‘Oh you want to play? OK, everybody off the court.’ ‘I was an old hand at that point in my career. You don’t have to tell me twice. Give me a gatorade, a bag of ice and some popcorn. I pulled up a chair and waited for the show to start. «
Devean George: « The veterans were bantering all the time. It felt like Rucker Park when a guy would get scored on in practice: ‘Oh, he got you, he got you, man!’ And Shaq would add, ‘Oh, don’t let him cross you like that!’ It was the show every day. Kobe versus Rider? Oh, my God. Nobody went to the shower. Everyone took their chairs to the side of the court, it was like a heavyweight fight. «
Brian Shaw: « They played a ten point match. Kobe just completely demolished it. «
Ron Harper: « Kobe destroyed him. «
Brian Shaw: « That was the 22-year-old Kobe. Crazy athletic. Unlimited stamina. He kicked his ass. He did everything to him: dunks, up-and-under, shots, crossovers. «
Devean George: « Fadeway. Left hand. Right hand. He blew it up. »
Brian Shaw: « We were chambering on the side. We were laughing, yelling at J.R. to be careful what he really wanted. «
Ron Harper: « Guys were waving towels: ‘Stop the killing, stop it!' »
Horace Grant: « J.R. wanted to fight everyone in the gym. «
Devean George: « When Kobe was done with him, we were almost there thinking but why did he finish it like that. You have to understand that it wasn’t against a bench driver. J.R. had put up stats in this league. He was very talented. »
Horace Grant: « For the first time in his life, J.R. left with his tail between his legs. «
This season marks a break in J.R. Rider’s career. He was a star in Portland and Minnesota – and during his brief stint in Atlanta – but he went off the rails in L.A. Originally a sixth man, he was eventually dropped from the roster just before the playoffs because of another practice incident. He went from 19.3 to 7.6 points per game between his departure from Atlanta and his arrival at the Lakers. He played only ten games (with the Denver Nuggets) the following season before leaving the NBA for good at the age of 30.
Kobe Bryant was still a young wolf. He went on to win four more NBA titles in the process, establishing himself as one of the greatest players of all time.
« He tried to test me, it went bad for him. It was bad, really bad. «
The Black Mamba kind of broke his career.
Rare images of the duel between Kobe Bryant and Isaiah Rider