The Secret I Learned From Kobe


I remember hearing this story about Kobe a few years ago.

The U.S. basketball team was in Vegas one summer, and on a day off Kobe rented a bicycle and went for a 40-mile bike ride. Through the desert. In July. All by himself.

If you heard that about almost anyone else, you’d say “Nah. That’s made up.”

But the crazy thing is: With Kobe, you’ve got to at least consider that it could be true.

I remember thinking, Yeah, why not? Not impossible.

There are a lot of legends about Kobe, about his crazy work ethic in practice and his intense drive to be the best.

I once heard that he would watch game film of the first half … at halftime of the same game.

Then there’s the story that whenever the Lakers signed a new player, Kobe would make him play him one-on-one in front of everyone. Just to show the new guy who was the boss.

I also heard that in high school Kobe used to make the bench guys on his team play him to 100.

I also heard — but, honestly I don’t know if it’s true — that during draft workouts, Kobe showed up to another guy’s session with the Lakers without asking. Jerry West was there, and he had never seen someone do that. I guess the rest is history.

There are only a few athletes in any sport who have achieved at such a high level that myths about them mix with the truth.

Kobe was a myth for me growing up. I’m from a neighborhood in the Bahamas called Eight Mile Rock, about as far away from L.A. as you can get. But as a kid I only wore number 8 or 24. I watched a lot of Lakers games on TV. Those were the Shaq-Kobe championship years.

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On draft night, I got a text from Kobe.

Just like those other Kobe stories, my first reaction was, Wait, is this real? (I’ve also heard that Kobe is known to prank-call people for fun, but I don’t know if that’s true.)

Draft night came up fast — one minute it was the NCAA Tournament and the next thing I knew I was getting fitted for a suit and all that. Sitting in the green room I was seeing a lot of numbers on my phone that I didn’t recognize. So many people were calling and texting with advice and predictions about where I would go, or where I should go.

A few people were asking, Could the Lakers take me at No. 2?

So when Kobe texted, my first thought was, Does he have some … inside info?

I still have the text saved on my phone.

First he said, What’s up? and then said congratulations. But the last thing he wrote to me is what I still think about.

“It doesn’t matter where you go,” he wrote. “It matters more what you do when you get there. Just go there and work.”

No inside info. No tips. No recruiting me to the Lakers or anything like that. Soon after, the Pelicans picked me at No. 6.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

About a month later, I got another text from Kobe. Actually, it wasn’t from Kobe, it was from a mutual friend of ours. I was out in L.A. working out. Did I want to work out with Mamba?

Of course I said yes. The friend told me that Kobe would meet me at the gym at 6 a.m. the next day.

I got nervous. Another story I’d heard about Kobe was that he has been known to arrive like 30 minutes early and if you’re not already there by then, he just bounces. That’s how serious he is about being early. So the night before I set like five alarms. I ended up getting up at 4 a.m. and just staying in bed, awake, till about 4:45. Then I drove to the gym to make sure I was there by 5:30.

When I got there, it was still dark out. No one was there yet. I had beat Kobe to the gym.

See … that’s the problem with myths. The story about him arriving early … I don’t even know if that story is true. I just believed it. Kobe was in my head already.

At 6 a.m. sharp, a black Range Rover pulled up. Kobe got out, shades on, and said, “What’s up?” We went straight to work.

Jed Jacobsohn/The Players' Tribune

I tried to observe everything about Kobe during the workout. I didn’t know if I’d have another chance like this again and I wanted to impress him. The dude is very serious when he works out. He doesn’t joke around in between drills or talk about nonbasketball stuff. It’s all basketball.

That wasn’t a big surprise, but a couple of things did amaze me. During our two-hour workout, we never left one half of the court.

That said a lot to me about how Kobe approaches the game. It’s not all over the place, it’s very methodical.

The way we did our shooting drills impressed me even more. It was different. After warming up, we didn’t do a normal shooting workouts — like taking 10 shots from one spot and 10 from another. Kobe was having me copy specific moves he was doing, and then repeating them over and over until I got bored of doing them. It wasn’t like one dribble to the elbow for a jumper, it was full sequences — moves that you might not even attempt once a game.

One move started in the high post. Kobe pump-faked at the free throw line and reverse-pivoted into the lane for a floater.

He made me do that one move maybe 100 times in a row while he watched.

“MSG!” I said. “I know this one.”

I did know it. It was this move:

“Oh, you’ve studied?” Kobe laughed.

“I’ve studied.”

It was nice to see him crack a smile.

“Well you still don’t have it down,” he said and pointed to my feet.

We did another 20 reps from the same spot.

I know people like to say that basketball is all about footwork, but if our workout was anything like what he did during his career, Kobe took it to a whole other level. Actually, if that’s how he worked out during his career, Kobe treated footwork kind of like a religion. I watched a lot of Kobe when I was growing up and even when he was in his prime there were other guys in the league who were way more athletic. But I think footwork was his cheat code.

At 8 a.m. Kobe said he had a breakfast meeting to get to. My arms were like noodles. I was drenched in sweat, we both were. It felt good. Two hours in the gym. A good day’s work.

On his way out, he turned to me and cracked another smile.

“You know, when I was younger I’d have come back in the afternoon and done the other half of the court.”

Damn, Kobe.

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I’m lucky to be in New Orleans. Everyone in the city has been really cool to me. We’ve got Caribbean food here, which makes me happy, and a lot of people talk fast here with an accent, just like me. It’s laid back — my style. And it’s not a huge city, so I can walk around and actually talk with people.

People will say things like, “Buddy! You gon’ put on for the city?”

I can feel their excitement for our team. I’m a rookie. I’m still adjusting. If I have an off night, I don’t get down. I see it as a growth thing. I know it’s a long season.

Sometimes I think about what Kobe texted to me on draft night, about the work being more important than where you are.

New Orleans is the where part. I’ve got a coach, team and a city that has my back.

Now comes the work part. And that part … you can’t make that part up.