- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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But let’s get one thing straight: He doesn’t want Kobe’s nickname.
When a reporter suggested after the Los Angeles Lakers’ 102-100 overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday that Young, fresh off 31 points, his new high-scoring game as a Laker, that his new moniker should be “The Swag Mamba,” he swatted the suggestion away with Dikembe Mutombo-like gusto.
“Swag Mamba? Nah. Nah. I’m Swaggy P, baby,” said Young, who had 60 points over 48 hours versus the Toronto Raptors and Bulls. “Can’t be no Mamba. I don’t want to be a snake. I like the flash of the jewelry. I’m a flashy man. Look at my backpack, baby.”
Young takes the red leather backpack (made by some designer label) to every game. When he was leaving the visitor’s locker room in Toronto on Sunday, he actually ran into a young woman who happened to be accessorizing with the same bag, only it was beige colored. She offered to trade.
“You’ll have to give me that mink coat you’re wearing, too!” Young joked before bouncing down the hallway to the team bus.
While he clearly exudes individuality when it comes to his fashion and rejected the Mamba nickname, he is actually embracing the Bryant comparisons so much so that he was the lone Laker that Nike had wear the special Martin Luther King Jr. Day version of Bryant’s Kobe VIII sneaker on Monday.
In even bigger news, considering Bryant himself hasn’t even donned them yet on the court, Young will become the first player ever to wear Bryant’s newest signature shoe -- the boxing bootlike Kobe IX -- in an NBA game when the Lakers play the Miami Heat on Thursday, according to a league source.
The 28-year-old Young is coming into his own in his seventh season in the league, but it’s easy to see how much of an influence Bryant had on the southern California native when he was growing up. Long before Young became Bryant’s unofficial sneaker model, he modeled his game as a young kid after the Afroed shooting guard who was winning championships alongside Shaquille O’Neal.
Now Young has Bryant’s shoes. He has Bryant’s old Afro. And on Monday he found himself having what used to be a healthy Bryant’s role in crunch time, trying to lift the Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back in Chicago -- a day after scoring 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Raptors.
With the Lakers trailing by three with 4.1 seconds left in regulation, Young had the ball at the top of key beyond the 3-point arc with Joakim Noah guarding him on a switch. He baited the center into fouling him and was granted three free throw attempts with a chance to tie the game.
“I went to the line thinking, ‘OK, this is where big players step up,’” said Young. “That’s what I was trying to do.”
He rattled in the first one and swished in the next two.
“Just to be in that situation, I know most people want to be in that situation and it was big,” said Young, who missed a potential game-tying 3 with 9.9 seconds left in the Lakers’ eventual 120-118 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers less than a week ago.
“If there's somebody that wants to take the ball and hit a shot, that’s Nick,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. “No doubt about it. He’s a big-time scorer and he can hit a shot anytime, or get fouled, as we saw.”
Pau Gasol was reluctant to loop Young in with the player he won back-to-back championships beside, but he did marvel at one aspect of his game.
“I think he’s the guy that gets more fouls from the 3-point line than I’ve ever seen,” Gasol said. “It’s incredible the way he gets fouled shooting 3s. I don’t know how that happens so often. But he does it really well, and I’m happy he plays well for us.”
Young added another ridiculous reverse layup in overtime, as well as a game-tying jumper along the baseline with 6.0 seconds left before L.A. blew it by not guarding Taj Gibson on an inbounds play with 0.9 seconds left.
Afterward, he also heard it from his teammates when another reporter brought up the comparison to Bryant.
“Kobe has more than one assist!” Jordan Hill heckled from a neighboring locker. “Kobe passes the ball and rebounds!” added Chris Kaman, completing a Statler and Waldorf-like routine from “The Muppets.”
That’s when Young turned down the swag and turned up the humility.
“I can’t play like Kobe, man,” said Young. “There’s only one Kobe.”
Well, how has he been able to pull off being the team’s leading scorer this season, averaging 17.1 points as kind of a Bryant proxy?
“Kobe’s been a great mentor for me, just telling me all kind of things during the game,” Young said. “That’s been unbelievable for me this whole year, just learning from the greatest player to play this game.
“Who wouldn’t want to learn from or have Kobe in their locker room?”
Dwight Howard, for one. But Howard’s in the past and gone.
As for Young, who has a player option for $1.2 million for next season, he also could very well be gone in the future, hitting the open market in search of a bigger contract after the value he’s showing this season.
All that is guaranteed with Young is the present. And right now, the Lakers -- very nearly winners of three in a row after that ejection of Young in Phoenix -- belong to Swaggy P.
Just listen to how D’Antoni described the turnaround.
“I think we’re getting our swagger a little bit back” said the coach.
And the circle of basketball life continues. Young the student also is a teacher.
“He makes tough shots, big shots,” said the newest Lakers guard, Manny Harris, who was called up from the D-League last week. “It’s definitely someone to watch and learn from.”
CHICAGO -- Nick Young wants Kobe Bryant’s shot attempts. He wants Bryant’s responsibility to make plays in clutch situations. He wants the adulation that Bryant receives from the city of Los Angeles.