We all know MJ was Kobe’s rolemodel and benchmark for success. Bryant never said he would retire at a certain age; he’d say he will retire “after no.7” – it was about having one more than Michael. But, we all have a few guys we idolize that aren’t superstars. For Kobe, one of those guys was John Battle. Why him?
The best explanation for this would be Battle’s track record against, at that time, one of the best – NBA champions Detroit Pistons. Battle humiliated the champs throughout the 1990-91 NBA regular season by averaging unbelievable 18.6 points on 55.9% shooting from the field in just 25.6 minutes per game!
As the 1990-91 season progressed, Battle, in the role of the critical backcourt substitute from the deep Hawks bench, knew that he could have his way against the Pistons defense whenever he wanted. He played the best ball of the season and perhaps the entire career while humiliating the 1990-91 Pistons during their regular-season series – in five games, he averaged 18.6 points in 25.8 minutes while hitting 55.9% of his field-goal attempts and 90% of his free-throw tries!
My father told me, ‘Watch this. See this guy? This is how you can make use of your left hand.’ It was John Battle, dribbling left and laying it in.”Kobe Bryant
In the second to last game of the 1990-91 season, on April 19th, 1991, he devastated the Pistons by scoring 28 points (8-15 from the field, 12-14 from the line) in 32 minutes of play. Moreover, with the playoffs approaching, he gave Chuck Daly a massive headache by scoring 23 points in the last quarter alone, despite the efforts made by Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson.
That season 10-year Hawks pro played quality minutes at the shooting guard spot behind Glenn Doc Rivers, eventually reaching his career-highs in points (13.6), assists (2.7), boards (2.0), steals (0.6) points appearing in 23.6 minutes played per contest for 43-39 squad coached by Bob Weiss.
Just a week later, on April 26th, 1991, it was the same story for the Pistons all over again, in the opening game of the Eastern Conference First Round series in which they faced the division rival – Atlanta Hawks. Dumars and Johnson were all over Battle again, but he used his extensive experience and a wide variety of the offensive moves to gain some extra ground, which then helped him elevate and launch shots.
The Cricket opened the ‘battle’ by going 5-5 from the field. In one of his most memorable plays from this particular game, he was able to dribble around Vinnie Johnson on the left side of the court, thus facing the Pistons’ most feared shot-blocker at the time – John Spider Salley (1.5bpg in 1990-91).
With none of the 21,454 Pistons fans in The Palace of the Auburn Hills not giving him a notch of chance, Battle was able to launch an off-balance shot just over Salley’s fingertips and eventually connect!
Battle contributed 16 points on 6-11 shooting from the field to a 103-98 hard-fought Hawks road win. Atlanta eventually lost the series by 3-2 with Battle contributing a steady 11.6ppg, 2.2apg, and 2.0rpg. Even though he went only 35.9% from the two-point territory, he hit 40% of his shots from beyond the arc and went almost perfect from behind the charity stripe by hitting 24-25 tries for unbelievable 96%!
Next season (1991-92), Battle joined the Cleveland Cavaliers coached by Lenny Wilkins, thus supplying the perennial contender with an instant offensive punch off the bench.