Whenever you start a new job, there’s a moment when everything sinks in and becomes real. That’s even true in the NBA; once a player hits the floor and lines up alongside a living legend, they know that they aren’t in college anymore. In 2015, D’Angelo Russell joined the LA Lakers had his own ‘welcome to the NBA moment,’ courtesy of Kobe Bryant and Damian Lillard.
Yes, you read that correctly. Despite the fact that Kobe Bryant and Damian Lillard were on different teams, the two men teamed up to teach D’Angelo Russell a lesson about life in the pros.
D’Angelo Russell’s road to the NBA
These days, D’Angelo Russell is simply a part of the NBA landscape. Before arriving in the pros, though, the guard had already made quite a name for himself.
Despite growing up in Kentucky and starting his high school career in Louisville, Russell transferred to Florida to play ball at Montverde Academy. There, he teamed up with Ben Simmons; both teenagers developed into legitimate stars.
After graduation, Russell headed back to the Midwest, enrolling at Ohio State. Although he only spent one season on campus, he still managed to make a significant impact. The guard averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5 assists per outing, earning consensus First-Team All-American honors.
On the back of that impressive campaign, Russell decided to leave college and enter into the 2015 NBA draft. The LA Lakers snapped him up with the second-overall pick, setting the stage for his ‘welcome to the pros’ moment.
Kobe Bryant and Damian Lillard teamed up to teach the rookie a lesson
Making the transition from college to the pros can be quite tough. As D’Angelo Russell learned, though, dealing with guys like Kobe Bryant and Damian Lillard can make things even more challenging.
“We were in Portland, we’re playing Dame… the start of the game I’m guarding him. They’re like, ‘you’re gonna guard Dame, accept the challenge.’ I’m like, ‘cool, let’s do it.” Russell explained on “The Old Man and the Three” podcast. “So we’re out there, and I’m just, like, in awe. This is Damian Lillard. Wow. I’m still in awe through maybe the whole first quarter. I’m in awe. This dude pulls up, deep ball, three. Come down, foul on me, and one. Look up, deep ball, three. Another one. Another one.”
The story doesn’t end there, though. Kobe Bryant, unsurprisingly, wasn’t happy; after some choice words, he took over the responsibility of guarding Lillard. That was another learning experience for the young guard.
“Kobe, he shut it down, Russell continued. “But I watched the refs kind of let Kobe beat the s–t out of him to do it. I was just like, ‘man, that’s just reputation, one. Then two, man, refs really control the game.”
The box score seems to confirm D’Angelo Russell’s story about Kobe Bryant
Sometimes, stories like D’Angelo Russell’s can grow into tall tales over the years. Based on the box score, though, the guard’s recollections seem pretty accurate.
According to Basketball-Reference, the Lakers visited the Portland Trail Blazers at the end of November 2015. That night, Damian Lillard scored 29 points while shooting 5-11 from three-point range; 10 of those came in the first quarter, which Russell specifically mentioned during his anecdote.
As for the second part of the story, Kobe Bryant finished the game with only one personal foul; D’Angelo Russell finished the night with four.
Almost five years later, D’Angelo Russell has developed into a legitimate pro. He still hasn’t forgotten what he learned from Kobe Bryant and Damian Lillard, though.
Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference