Minneapolis’ own Devean George played his first 504 NBA games alongside a guy named Kobe Bean Bryant and admits he probably didn’t truly appreciate all he experienced winning three championships and playing in another NBA Finals during his seven seasons in Los Angeles.
He does now.
Six years after he said goodbye himself, George will join his former Lakers teammates and a packed house at Staples Center on Wednesday night to bid Bryant farewell at the end of his 20th and final season.
“It’s a part of history,” George said, looking forward. “It’ll be a special moment.”
Fans across the continent have had their chance to say their goodbyes ever since Bryant announced in November by Internet essay that this season indeed will be his last. In Wednesday’s season finale against Utah, Southern California and Lakers fans will do the same in a long-awaited event for which floor seats are priced at nearly $20,000 on the secondary market and even the nosebleeds are going for $800.
George said he knew it was time to retire in 2010 after he played with Golden State in his 11th NBA season. He needed surgeries — note the plural — to get his body back to right. Splitting his time between Minnesota and California these days, he has watched Bryant’s final weeks and months and can tell both from afar and in conversations with Bryant that it’s just time for the five-time NBA champion to move on, too.
“What I’ve seen him go through this year, you can see the flame is not there and he knows it’s time,” George said. “He’s trying to get to the finish line and you can see it. It’s OK now if you miss a shot. It’s OK now letting these young guys figure it out rather than saying, ‘Oh, no, this is not going on, not on my watch.’ It’s the old cliché: Father Time, no one can beat it. There comes a time where no one wins. Basketball is a young man’s sport. It’s that simple.”
Bryant pushed his body daily during winter and summer alike to win five championships, three of them with Shaquille O’Neal and two with Pau Gasol.
George felt in 2010 what he senses in Bryant now after all those years — at peace.
“You can tell he is,” said George, who now at age 38 owns George Group North real-estate company and operates his Building Blocks non-profit organization focused on residential development and affordable housing in North Minneapolis. “That’s the best part to everybody retiring. When you go out there and you have that confirmation, it’s so much easier. When I retired, I knew I can’t do this anymore. I can’t run. I can’t jump. When you know this has passed you up and it’s time for the next chapter, you’re at peace with it.”
George became the first NCAA Division III player drafted in the NBA’s first round when the Lakers drafted him 23rd in 1999 out of Augsburg College. The Lakers won titles each of his first three seasons and went back to the Finals before losing to Detroit in his fifth season. In his seventh and final season there, he was witness to Bryant’s 81-point game against Toronto.
“You don’t take it for granted because we all knew how hard it was to get there,” said George, who played three more seasons with Dallas and one with the Warriors. “But you do think that’s the way it is: You just get to the Finals, you go deep into the playoffs every year and that’s not the case. You think it’s normal. But when you get away from it and you look back, you realize how special it was, especially when you play with a guy like Kobe and realize you’re not going to see anything like that again.”
NBA Short Takes
Still a believer
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo attended last week’s Timberwolves-Warriors game in Oakland and was asked plenty about former player Draymond Green, Golden State’s unique star point forward. But he also spoke about another former Spartans forward: Adreian Payne, who is struggling to find his way in the NBA with the Wolves.
“It has been a little disappointing year,” Izzo said. “Some of it is maturity, growing up. He’s very talented, but he has to keep working on his basketball IQ … I still have a lot of faith in Adreian, I really do. I just think he has to continue to mature a little bit, take the coaching and understand it. You have to find your niche in the system. I think Draymond is the greatest example of that.”
Beasley is back
Signed by the Rockets last month, former Wolves forward Michael Beasley returns on Monday to Target Center, where he played two seasons ending in 2012.
Now 27, the 2008 draft’s No. 2 overall pick calls himself changed by stops with four NBA teams and this season spent playing in China.
Asked how his perspective has changed, Beasley said: “Hmmm, got to be grateful for every second. Got to be grateful. Don’t take anything for granted.”
A shining moment
Golden State coach Steve Kerr has seen some crazy three-point shots made by a guy named Curry. So what did the former TV analyst think about the double-clutch three North Carolina’s Marcus Paige made in a wild finish to the NCAA title game won by Villanova?
“Incredible,” Kerr said. “I was kind of jealous. I worked for TNT and did three or four Final Fours and none of the games were any good. I was watching and I was like, ‘Where was this when I was working?’ It was a really fantastic game to watch.”
Wolves’ week ahead
Monday: 7 p.m. vs. Houston
Wednesday: 7 p.m. vs. New Orleans (end of season)
Player to watch: James Harden, Rockets
The Beard has led Houston to the playoffs all three seasons since he was acquired in an October 2012 trade with Oklahoma City, but the Rockets are fading to ninth in a Western Conference from which eight teams advance to the postseason. The season started badly — bringing the firing of coach Kevin McHale in November — and hasn’t gotten a whole lot better since then for a team that reached the West finals only a year ago.
“He’s 7 foot, but he can play like a 6-3 guard if he wants to. He can switch it up.”
— Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins after watching teammate Karl-Anthony Towns repeatedly get to the rim in Tuesday’s startling upset at Golden State.