Steve Nash, left, and Kobe Bryant share a laugh during a game at Staples Center… (Harry How / Getty Images )
The moment Kobe Bryant connected on the phone with Steve Nash, the past evaporated.
Bryant moved past Phoenix eliminating the Lakers in the first round of the 2006 and 2007 NBA playoffs. Nash moved past the Lakers beating the Suns in the 2010 Western Conference Finals. The two both moved past the animosity that stemmed from such competition. Instead, the two embraced the differences for the sake of winning a championship.
The two want to make this work as they know the window's closing on their careers. Bryant, who will turn 34 in August, still wants to squeeze out more title runs even after collecting five rings. Nash, 38, just wants to win his first one. But here's the reason why the bond will work from an executional standpoint: the two have complementary leadership styles.
They touched base on that facet over the phone. Bryant would forever remain the team's bad cop, etched by his intensity, his dogged work ethic, his intimidation, his demand that others maximize their abilities the same way he has. Nash would become the good cop. He shares a similar workout regiment and focus on detail that he believes helped ensure a prolific 16-year careeer that involves staying in fifth place on the NBA's all-time assist list. But he's done so in a way that inspires instead of intimidates. His on-court play fuels that since his game predicates on passing teammates the ball.
"I’m a jerk," Nash deadpanned before breaking out a smile a few seconds later. "I think everyone knows I’m a pretty positive leader, I’m pretty encouraging and inclusive. I definitely like my teammates to feel extremely confident, happy and ready to go play their best."
Bryant already had a teammate who fulfilled that job description -- Derek Fisher. He shared the co-captain duties with Bryant in recent seasons. Fisher made up for his deficiencies at point guard with clutch shots and determined hustle. Fisher provided positive reinforcement to teammates and provided state-of-the team analysis to the media far more diplomatically and comprehensively than Bryant ever did. With the two entering the league together as rookies in 1996, Bryant tabbed Fisher as one of his closest friends in the NBA.
But there's one key difference.
Nash boasts more talent than Fisher. Not only will he immediately upgrade the Lakers' point guard spot after featuring Fisher and then Ramon Sessions. He will also mitigate the leadership void that's existed since the Lakers traded Fisher to Houston before last season's trade deadline.
"The most important thing about being a leader is to be yourself," Nash said. "I think you have to be yourself or people aren’t going to believe you or understand you or relate to you. But no matter what your difference is, if you’re yourself, people believe in your motives and what you’re trying to accomplish, you can lead without saying a word. You can be a rookie and be a leader because of how hard you work and how great your attitude is, so everyone has to take a leadership stance by being themselves and being committed and dedicated to what we’re trying to do. So I’m going to be myself and Kobe’s going to be himself and it’s just great that we have two guys with a lot of experience."
There could be some transitional periods, though.
Nash never had a dominant scorer whom he could just feed the ball to and watch. Bryant never had an elite point guard who assumed primary ball-handling duties. The two never played together beyond All-Star games, so the locker room dynamic still needs to play out.
Still, Nash and Bryant are incredibly talented so any hiccups will mostly come in training camp. The two also have forged respects from a distance over being in the same draft class and competing in a fierce divisional rivalry.
But Bryant and Nash have moved on from that history that initially separated them. Now they're forging together. The result: The Lakers have two talented men with different leadership styles ready to steer the purple and gold back to championship glory.
"You’re looking at two very dedicated gym rats, frankly, so there’s a lot of commonality in there amongst what seem like a lot of differences from afar," Nash said. "I definitely think we can relate to each other’s drive and competitive spirit."
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