Today marks the first anniversary of Kobe Bryant's death. The Black Mamba was killed in a fatal helicopter crash last season with his daughter Gianna and seven other people. As expected, the NBA world will remember Kobe Bryant the best way they can and recently, we learned more about him as a person and player.
Michael Scotto of HoopsHype talked with Kobe's former teammates and coaches and they remembered all the good things the Black Mamba did during his life and the great impressions he left in each and everyone that shared a moment with him.
To find out answers to those questions and more, HoopsHype spoke with four of Bryant’s former teammates (Robert Sacre, Josh Powell, Jodie Meeks, and Kent Bazemore), two of his former assistant coaches (Melvin Hunt and Darvin Ham), and Brian Shaw, who played alongside and coached Bryant during five total championships.
They talked about Kobe's best stories on and off the court, revealing details that we didn't know about the Black Mamba and how impactful he was in the life of all these people.
Sacre’s first story: “We’re going on a road trip, so they gave us our per diem. I think our per diem was like $1200 for a long road trip. I was like, ‘Yo, Kobe, let me get your per diem. You don’t need it.’ He goes, ‘What are you gonna do with it?’ I had my own little joke with him. We both laughed about it. He’s like, ‘You’re not getting it, though.’ I’m like, ‘Come on, man. Well, how much cash do you have on you right now?’ He whipped out $40,000 in cash and put it on the floor. I was like, ‘Damn! That’s what you’re rolling with?’ I’ve never seen that much cash like that. It was in his backpack.”
Hunt: “I have a picture, it’s me and Kobe, walking off the court. I’m in Dallas, and I’m palming the back of his head. We’re just giggling like two schoolgirls walking off the court. He hadn’t announced that he was going to retire, but he was basically telling me right there. His whole perspective was different. He was telling me then and then after the game when we met up again on the loading dock, and he is talking cryptically. My man is talking to me, and he used an analogy, something like, ‘If you’re a fat kid, how can a fat kid complain about being hungry?’ There was some other stuff wrapped around it, but he was basically alluding to the point of I’ve had a great career. I’ve had an incredible career. I’ve had a great time. I’ve done all the things I wanted to do. I’m good. Then, a couple of weeks later, is when he made the announcement publicly that he was retiring.”
Powell’s first story: “No matter how many stories are shared and information is swapped, it comes back to him being a competitor and being obsessed with the game he loves. I played checkers with him from time to time. We would compete on the planes or wherever. Those games would be so competitive that literally it could turn into 30 or 40 minutes just playing checkers. It’s not like we were playing chess, you know? He just hated losing that much. That’s just the type of guy he was.”
Meeks’ first story: “I would always come back to the gym late at night and get some work in, and no one else would be in there at the time. I like to work at like 10:00 or 11:00 when nobody’s there. I was there for like an hour or two. I thought no one was there because all the lights were off in the weight room. I’m done and about to get dressed and go home, and Kobe walks in. He kind of scared me because my back was to the door. I’m like, ‘You were here?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, I was here the whole time in the weight room watching you. I really respect how you go about your craft.’ I’m like, this dude is maniacal about his teammates and who he’s playing with. I feel like when he knew that one of his teammates worked as hard or worked hard like him, he knew that he could trust you in times of need, and he can go to war with you.”
Bazemore: “I asked him about a couple of books he’d been reading because I also heard he was a philosopher, a really deep thinker. He gave me a book called Zen in the Art of Archery. He gave me that book. He said, ‘When you figure out the meaning, shoot me a text, and we can chat about it.’ I read through it and sent him a text. He said, ‘That’s not it. Think deeper.’ I had no idea how to even process what the book was telling me. Now, fast forward, six, seven, eight years, and I kind of grasp that a bit. He was just on such a different wavelength. He had his purpose. He had his ideals on the way the world worked and how he could make it better. You hear guys across the league how he was sharing his wisdom. Some people give you knowledge, but he was sharing wisdom. He had all the talks of all the greats, Bill Russell, MJ, Magic. He had some of the most intricate conversations with some of the best players of all time and meshed it into his game. I was just excited for once he retired and kind of see him starting to talk about these things and be out in public and show the world how great he was.”
On the court, Kobe was a completely different person, as Meeks explained. He transformed into a killer on the floor and there was nobody who could stop him. He was in another mode when he put on his jersey and his shoes.
Sacre: “I can think of one just off his competitive drive as a competitor. They showed his points, and he was maybe a couple of points behind Michael Jordan at the time, or he might’ve been in third place. I like to poke the bear, I was like, ‘Damn, Kobe, Karl Malone’s got more than you.’ Kobe goes, ‘Well, he never won a championship, so what do those points even matter?’ I was like, ‘Alright. Come on, man. You can discredit him just because he didn’t win a championship, that it doesn’t even matter.’ He was a competitor, no matter what. No matter what statement or anything. He was always trying to argue with you. He’s got to win the argument. That was just how he was.”
Hunt: “The year that I took over as interim head coach with the Nuggets. He comes up to me, and he just jokingly says, ‘Oh, so now I gotta call you I gotta call you head coach.’ I said, ‘Well if the shoe fits,’ that type of thing. We just kind of laughed about it. I saw him not necessarily respect people who hadn’t earned it. He just wasn’t going to give you that respect. You had to earn it. I felt like for me, my 20-year career, it was a little bit of a badge of honor.”
Meeks: “We were in Brooklyn, and I was having a kind of off night. I missed like my first four or five shots. I came back to the bench. He’s like, ‘What’s going on with you? You alright? Did you get some sleep, or you had a late night last night? What’s going on?’ I was like, man, ‘I don’t know, I’m just off tonight.’ He looked at me, and I was young at the time, I think I was like 24 years old, so he was like, ‘What’s our position?’ I thought it was kind of a trick question at first. ‘Shooting guard.’ He’s like, ‘What’s our position? Shooting guard.’ He’s like, ‘Exactly. We shoot, and we guard. We don’t worry about misses. We don’t worry about anything else. So, if you’re 0-for-20, keep shooting.’ To have someone like that instill confidence in you to not worry about how many shots you missed definitely helped my confidence. I already had confidence, but it helped me through the rest of the season and through the rest of my career.”
Bazemore: “I’ll never forget, I got traded from Golden State to LA, on a Thursday. I fly out Friday morning. I do my physical. Come back good and ready to go. We play Boston on ESPN Friday night. Kobe was in the back, and that was my kind of my first time seeing him. I didn’t really want to be embarrassed by him, so in my mind the whole game, I’m like, I’m going to play extremely hard and do my thing. We’re in the locker room after the game, all excited we beat Boston. He walks in, and he’s like, ‘Ya’ll motherf*ckers still suck.’
Shaw: “At the end of the third quarter, we were in our coach’s huddle out on the floor. The players were sitting on the bench resting. I think we had a 30-point lead. Phil Jackson sent me over to ask Kobe if he wanted to stay in for the first few minutes of the fourth and see if he can get 70. I went over and asked him, and he looked up at the scoreboard. He said, ‘Nah, I’ll just do it another time when we really need it.’ And so I got mad at him because I played with him. I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? You got a chance to get to score 70 points. How many people can say that they scored 70 in an NBA game?’ And he looked up at the scoreboard again. He was like, ‘We don’t need it right now. I’ll get it another time.’
Check HoopsHype's article if you want to read more about what teammates think about Kobe Bryant as a player, how they would describe him as a player, as a person, and what people may not know about Kobe Bryant.