Long before he became the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer, won the first of his five rings and switched numbers from 8 to 24, Kobe Bryant was a teenager.
In fact, he was probably the only teenager on the court in a 1997 episode of “Hang Time,” the delightfully corny teen sitcom that NBC aired on Saturday mornings from 1995-2000.
The plot: The Deering Tornado kids take a trip to California for a tournament and get hustled by some college kids for $ 100. Star player Michael Manning gets roped into a third rematch with the hustlers and winds up getting hurt before the big tourney.
Uh oh! They try to draft their coach, Bill Fuller, to play but the college kids refuse because he played in the NBA — just like the actor who played him, Reggie Theus.
Kobe Bryant enters the league as a fresh-faced 18-year-old in 1996.
“Yo, Kobe!” Theus yells and in walks Bryant.
While the sight of Bryant scares two of the hustlers out of their sneakers, the overconfident ringleader says he’ll check him.
Cut to a montage of Bryant blocking shots, dunking and assisting on the game-winning shot — this is how you really know it’s fake — and a heroic comeback by the Tornadoes followed by a lesson: The high schoolers will only get back the money they were hustled out of, not any winnings.
“You take that money, you’ll be hustlers, just like them chumps,” Bryant snarls.