(CBSLA) — Quinn Cook had already won an NBA Championship by the time he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers last summer. And when the season was suspended in March, the Lakers, led by LeBron James, were contending for another. A second championship will probably have to wait at least another year. The NBA currently doesn’t have a plan to resume play.
It’s another twist in a long and winding road that started on the basketball courts of Prince George’s County, Maryland wound its way through college and the D/G League, to the NBA. With the release of the Showtime documentary Basketball County: In The Water, Cook joined Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on episode 37 of All The Smoke to talk about his journey.
For the former Golden State Warrior, who was never drafted, signing with the Lakers was “like my draft day,” said Cook.”You get off the phone with the GM. He tells you that we’re signing you to blah, blah, blah. You’re officially a Los Angeles Laker… I called my mom, I called my sister. My sister was driving, I made her pull over. My girl was with me. We celebrated like I just got drafted.”
Quinn, of course, had already been in the NBA for awhile. In addition to his two seasons for the Warriors, he had played a handful of games for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and Atlanta Hawks. But the Lakers were his favorite team growing up.
As Quinn remembered, “getting to LA, putting on that jersey for the first time, I started thinking about my dad, because me and him were the biggest Lakers fans in P.G. (County). Everything was Lakers. Anybody who knew him, he always had Lakers gear on every single day. I was playing for him this year. It’s his big dream to see his son, obviously in the NBA. But to play for my dad’s favorite team, it was different. It was a dream come true. It’s surreal.”
That dream of playing for the legendary Lakers was made possible by a long history of basketball greatness. Cook is much too young to have seen Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Magic Johnson in their heydays. But he was raised on a more recent Laker legend — Kobe Bryant.
“I saw Michael Jordan, but I didn’t really get to live and breath it on a day-to-day basis,” Cook said. “My dad used to always be like ‘Kobe, he’s the next Jordan. He does everything that resembles Michael Jordan…’ So when I realized there was a new Jordan playing, that was my guy. My dad was the biggest Lakers fan ever, so he (Kobe) was an easy idol to have for me.”
But Kobe was more than an idol for Cook, he was a role model, just as he was for the generation of basketball players making their mark on the NBA now. “You grow up [and] you see how hard he works. You see how hard he trains his mind. You start to listen to his interviews, and you just see the respect that everybody has for him. You start appreciating him more. That was my guy. I wanted to be just like him.”
As Cook moved from his days at Duke into his pro career, Bryant, whose playing days ended in 2016, became more of a mentor to him. Cook met Bryant through Mike Krzyzewski, his coach at Duke and Kobe’s coach for Team USA. One moment, in particular, stands out.
In Game 5 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals against the Houston Rockets, Cook missed a last-minute go-ahead shot and the Warriors ended up losing. It was his third miss of the game. He kept telling himself afterwards, “this is going to be my Kobe moment,” in reference to the time the young Bryant air-balled four shots in a playoff game against the Utah Jazz.
Fast-forward to the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors, Cook nailed three straight three-pointers to win Game 2. When Cook and Bryant next spoke, Kobe brought that up. “That was your moment,” he said, according to Cook. “You missed the year before that, and the next year you took the same shot, and you won a Finals game. He said he was proud of me, and that meant the world to me.”
Watch more of Quinn Cook’s “All The Smoke” interview on the Showtime Basketball YouTube Channel.
See “Basketball County: In The Water” — a look into the community that’s given rise to dozens of elite basketball players — on Showtime.