OKLAHOMA CITY—In his final NBA season, Kobe Bryant regularly speaks in two or three languages during his media availability, usually Spanish, Italian and English.
Monday night in Oklahoma City required knowledge of multiple languages to gauge and comprehend Bryant's feelings towards Russell Westbrook and the prospect of the former UCLA guard taking the mantle from Bryant and leading the Lakers into a new era of success.
First, Bryant spoke in English.
"I've never seen a guy get triple-doubles as many times as he has in a season,” Bryant said. "It's pretty outrageous what (Westbrook)'s been able to do all year long, seems to fly underneath the radar because of what Steph's (Stephen Curry) doing up there in Golden State and what [the Warriors are] doing as a team, but he's having a historical season himself."
Bryant thought hard, hesitated and added, "He's probably the most athletic player I’ve ever played against."
In only 18 minutes, Westbrook notched the 18th triple-double of his NBA season, which tied former LA Lakers legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson's best tally in a season and the most triple-doubles in an NBA campaign since 1982-83—all of 33 years. To boot, Monday's triple-double went down as the fastest recorded since the 1955 NBA season and the second fastest of all time.
"A ton," Bryant responded when asked how many similarities he sees between himself and Westbrook. "I didn't smile much on the court either. He plays the game with such an energy and such an aggressiveness. It needs to be appreciated. I mean, he's not out there trying to be cute with the basketball. He's not out there trying to make friends. This guy is playing hard every time down. It takes a lot of energy to be able to do that and he never seems to run out of it."
After speaking seriously and gushing over the similarities between himself and Westbrook in English, Bryant fielded a couple questions in Spanish relating to the explosive Thunder guard.
A Spanish reporter Bryant is familiar with asked the superstar how many times he had tried to convince Westbrook to join the Lakers.
"This question, I cannot answer," Bryant said in Spanish with a giant smile that bordered on a guilty laugh.
Another report yelled out, "You can answer that in English, too."
"No hablo Ingles," Bryant laughed as he claimed not to speak English.
Asked in Spanish if Westbrook would have been a good player to pass on the torch for the Lakers as he retires from the sport, Bryant responded holding the same telling smile, "I don't speak Spanish."
English and Spanish may have not drawn the truth out of Bryant on this night, but his body language screamed what his lips failed to utter. Westbrook would be the perfect player to assume the Lakers' throne vacated by Bryant's retirement. A basketball player's prime is generally considered to arrive between the ages of 27 and 33. As a self-proclaimed die-hard lifelong Lakers' fan, along with being a massive fan of Westbrook's style and attitude, how could Bryant not have recruited the Thunder's guard to Los Angeles? After all, Westbrook went to UCLA, attended Leuzinger High School in Lawndale and was born in Long Beach.
A local kid like Westbrook understands exactly what LA offers off the court, and his ability on the court is unquestioned.
When the press conference finally ended, a laughing Bryant, unprompted, said to the Spanish reporter with an air of feigned surprise, "Mira, hablo Espanol" (Translation: "Look, I speak Spanish").
On this night, Bryant didn't need to speak Spanish or English to relate his feelings about Westbrook potentially taking his place and leading a Lakers' franchise desperate for a return to relevance.