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On Pro Basketball: For Kobe Bryant, a Double Salute, With Two Numbers Headed to the Rafters

Instead, it just fueled Bryant even more. He was determined to prove to O’Neal and every other doubter that he would ultimately surpass all of the game’s greats.

“Kobe didn’t care about night life or anything else,” said Del Harris, who coached Bryant for his first two N.B.A. seasons and the start of his third. “He only had one interest. His only focus was to be the best that he could be. And in his mind that meant challenging Michael Jordan.

“People can argue how close he actually came, but there’s no question that he fulfilled pretty much all of his dreams,” Harris added.

Having shadowed Bryant throughout his 1996-97 debut season as the Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Daily News before tracking him pretty closely thereafter no matter where I was stationed, I can confidently bill Bryant as:

*The most maniacally driven player I’ve ever covered.

*The toughest I’ve ever seen when it comes to playing through injuries.

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Del Harris was Bryant’s first coach when he joined the Lakers as a teenager just out of high school. And in Bryant’s first two seasons with the Lakes, Harris rarely put him in the starting lineup.

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