Cavs' Franklin channels Kobe
Passion for defense, basketball pedigree distinguish veteran star
Ataira Franklin’s favorite player and standard for hardwood excellence suits up in royal purple and gold. He competes most nights at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, and once partnered with Shaquille O’Neal, Phil Jackson and company for three consecutive NBA championships.
Franklin, Virginia’s leading scorer and a senior captain, hails from Bowie, Md., plays most of her ball in college gyms before college crowds and has yet to reach the NCAA Tournament in three tries. The Cavaliers’ gritty, smooth-shooting guard, however, has more in common with the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant than one might initially think.
“I am the biggest Kobe fan in the world,” Franklin said. “I love Kobe. Love, love, love him. Just everything about his game, his attitude, just his approach.”
The parallels certainly extend to the court, where both couple an uncanny knack for scoring the basketball with an intense desire to shut down the opposition on defense. Franklin knows that even when her offense sags, she can contribute by making a standout play on the other end of the floor — like when she took a charge from All-American guard Kayla McBride midway through the first half on Sunday against No. 2 Notre Dame. Though Bryant owns the hardware — nine selections to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team — Franklin has the trust of Virginia coach Joanne Boyle, who calls her one of the Cavaliers’ “best defenders” in the matchup zone.
“When I first came here, then I earned my time by playing defense,” Franklin said. “So I just have a really strong defensive mindset, and I honestly feel that you can affect the game even when you’re not scoring.”
As with Bryant, Franklin’s intense desire to compete has fueled her battle back from recent injuries. Franklin showed such determination Sunday, logging a team-high 37 minutes against the Fighting Irish despite persistent knee trouble. After the game, with both knees wrapped in ice, Franklin signed autographs for kids and teenagers, smiled big for camera-toting fans and talked about playing her heart out every time she steps on the floor, especially with her college career almost at an end.
“I would just say, approaching each game like it’s my last — that’s just the mentality I try to have,” Franklin said. “Just leave it all out there on the court, don’t have any regrets.”
If Franklin and Bryant got their love for the game from anyone, it may well have been their respective parents. Kobe’s father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, teamed with sky-walking wing player Julius Irving for the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and twice scored 53 points for Pistoia, a professional team in Italy’s Serie A. Franklin’s parents, Anthony and Lakita, both played basketball for the University of Chicago at Illinois, and Franklin said she owes her trademark jump shot to their guidance.
“Just lots of work with them,” Franklin said about her development as a shooter. “It’s kind of been an advantage having two parents who understand the game and both also had pretty sweet strokes.”
Franklin’s buzzword for game-day preparation is “focus.” She prefers to listen to music before a game rather than chat with teammates. In this respect, she resembles her other hoops favorite, Kevin Durant, whose reserved demeanor prompted an advertising campaign built around the slogan, “KD is not nice.”
Franklin may share Bryant’s basketball obsession and basketball bloodlines, but she is her own player, talented and dogged by injury, indispensable to her team and in search of her own hardwood narrative. She prefers transition 3-pointers to fade-away jumpers, great opponents to average ones and chasing a loose ball to watching one roll away. For all her likeness to the Lakers’ prime-time player, one thing is certain: Ataira Franklin is not Kobe Bryant, and no other player is quite like Ataira Franklin.
“She’s a veteran,” Boyle said. “She’s been there. She’s a calming factor on the floor. She’s won games for us with big shots. She’s one of our best defenders in the matchup … We’re just getting her healthy and putting her in the best position we can so that we’re getting the most minutes for her this year.”