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Los Angeles • When an injury kept Kobe Bryant out of action for seven straight games in the spring of 2012, he sat next to an assistant coach on the bench and lessons were shared teacher to pupil.
Though which was which may not have been totally clear at the time.
"Man, [I learned] so much," Jazz coach Quin Snyder says now, looking back on his year as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers. "He was teaching me without knowing what he was doing. I was just watching him and listening. I know he didn't want to hurt his [shin]. But by the end of the year when he was getting healthy, I got to sit by him on the bench. … I learned a lot just watching the games and listening to him talk to his teammates."
These days, even in what should be the twilight of his career, Bryant wants to teach by doing, to school on the court, as he has done for so many years now. And Snyder and the Jazz will get an up-close look at Bryant's comeback campaign when they square off with the Lakers twice over the next four days.
Bryant expects greatness from himself. But what everyone else should expect is still unknown, after injuries, first a ruptured Achilles and later a broken leg, cut each of his last two season's short.
Over the years, Dahntay Jones has had contentious and sometimes controversial battles with the future Hall of Famer. "You know, my job in the past has been to just try to slow him down and try to confuse him and frustrate him," Jones said.
But if the Jazz guard faces off against Bryant this week, things will be different on both sides. Jones is 33, just fighting to make the roster in Utah. Bryant, a few months past his 36th birthday, finds himself in a renewed and very personal battle with Father Time.
"I have a great deal of respect for that man," Jones said this week. "He's one of the greatest to ever play the game. … It's great for the game for Kobe to be back, for him to [persevere] through all the adversity. He's a legend."
Jazz rookie Rodney Hood certainly agrees.
"Just going back to before the Lakers' run around 2001, 2002 … he's been one of my favorite players," Hood said. "One of those guys that I always watched."
And if there's any doubt about Bryant's star power in 2014, let a young child from Salt Lake's west side settle that right now. A few weeks ago, Hood visited with children at a local Boys & Girls Club. A girl, maybe 7 years old, had but one question and she didn't ask about LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Blake Griffin.
"Are you friends with Kobe?" she wondered.
There's little debate about Bryant's status in the grand scheme of basketball history. But questions remain about what he can yet be.
On Sunday, in a blowout preseason loss to the Warriors, Bryant scored just six points and hit only three of his 13 shots from the field.
He is six years removed from his MVP season and four years removed from his last title, an eternity for a man who has won five of them. He may never be as explosive as he once was.
Surely the days of being able to will himself to an 81-point game are gone.
Nevertheless, Bryant has promised greatness still, promised a revamped arsenal made up of smarter and more finely honed moves.
But what else would you expect?
"I don't think it surprises anybody," Snyder said.
Bryant and the Jazz coach share a mutual respect.
"When Quin was here, he and I were pretty close," Bryant told reporters this week in Los Angeles. "I had a great time with Quin. He's really, really smart. Really really high basketball IQ."
That comes, no doubt, from working side by side with legends.
Gregg Popovich, Larry Brown and Mike Krzyzewski are just a few of the men who taught Snyder about the game.
But there have been others, too.
"There are players that have higher basketball IQs than coaches, and it's our job," Snyder said. "You can learn so much from watching players. A lot of times, they'll tell you different nuances of how to execute. They discover things in the moment. You just try to pay attention."
And with Bryant, the world pays especially close attention, wondering how much longer he really has left, wondering how much more is really yet to come.
Jazz at Lakers
At the Honda Center (Anaheim, Calif.)
Tipoff • 8 p.m.
TV • NBA TV
Radio • 1280 AM