To My Lakers Family

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From the day I became a Laker, I had one thing on my mind.

I had to have a sit down with Kobe.

That whole summer I was banging down Rob Pelinka’s phone every damn day trying to get hold of Mamba.

I’m hitting Rob all the time like, “Come on, help me out. I’m trying to talk to him.” And this goes on for like a minute

Then finally one night, we’re in Minnesota for a game the next day. It’s almost 11, I’m stretching in my hotel room, and I get a random text, just out the blue.

“Yo, this is Bean. Let’s do dinner. Sunday when you guys get back.” 

I’m like, This is Kobe….. texting my phone. What the fuck is going on right now?

Kyle Kuzma | Los Angeles Lakers | Washington Wizards | The Players’ Tribune
Courtesy of Kyle Kuzma

So I show up at the restaurant that Sunday.

I’m always on time for dinner, but tonight I’m 15 minutes early. I’m just sitting there for a while, until his security shows up. They walk in, and they’re like, “Hey, we’re gonna take you back to the table. Kobe’s almost here. Driving in right now.”

So now I’m sitting at the dinner table, and I’m just waiting.

We have two tables because one table’s for me and Kobe, and the other table’s for his three or four security guards. And I’m just sitting at the table by myself waiting for him. I’m on my phone, I’m thinking about this dinner, I’m sipping water, I’m thinking about how it’s gonna go. And then one of the security guys gets up from his table. He walks over to me and says, “Hey. Kobe just parked. He’s two minutes out.”

I’m like, “Alright, cool.” But on the inside I’m just fucking sweating, and I don’t even know why I’m sweating right now. I have a white t-shirt on, and I’m looking at my shirt like, Dang.

All of a sudden Kobe walks in, and it’s literally like Moses spreading the ocean. Everybody in the restaurant is just looking at him. And he comes to the table, and he’s like, “Kuz, what up man?” Just completely chill. But I’m like, Oh shit, Kobe knows my name.

We’re at that table for about two hours. And we’re just talking about life, basketball, how I grew up, how he grew up. The ups and downs of his career. We talked about his business life. Things that really influenced him. The cool thing with Kobe — he was always trying to get smart. He was always trying to gain knowledge, and he’d find that from anything. So he’s not just sitting there answering questions. He’s asking me all this stuff, too. Man, just like, “How has your upbringing shaped you? How do you think it’s helping you in your pro career right now?” Things like that. And he didn't have to do those things, but he did.

That was a really cool night for me. It’s a memory that just gets more important and more special to me as time goes by.

But you know, that really just speaks to how many people I’ve had the chance to meet and build relationships with here. There’s Kobe, but I’ve also had great mentors like Magic, and Robert Horry (he’s always checking in), and James Worthy. And having LeBron here, you obviously can’t get better than that. I was always trying to beat LeBron to the gym. I don’t think he even knew. That was just a goal I had for myself. And other guys, too. Having Anthony be the type of defensive player he is has really inspired me. Having Rajon teach me the essence of watching film has been so important. 

I’ve accumulated all of that knowledge over four years, man. 

It really just blows my mind. That’s the best way I can put it. I’m incredibly grateful for all the relationships, everything I’ve had in Los Angeles. 

Kyle Kuzma | Los Angeles Lakers | Washington Wizards | The Players’ Tribune
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I keep thinking to myself like, How many people on earth get to say they were part of bringing a chip to the Lakers?

After my second year, when the AD trade went down, they kept me here, and that for me personally was like, O.K., this is it. 

It was like a certified, Hey, we believe in you. We believe that you’re a winning type of player. And we believe that you can help us win a championship. That’s when I started to see myself as part of the bigger picture here. An actual piece of the puzzle.

And then it happened — it really came true.

We went to the Bubble, during an incredibly difficult time in the world, and we got it done.

I remember the night we won the championship, we’re in the Bubble, and we’re just celebrating with the organization. It was just us as a team and the staff that had been there with us the whole time. So everybody went to this place that we always ate at called Three Bridges. It was like midnight, and everybody’s out there. Everyone’s getting lit. Everybody’s drinking, smoking cigars. And it was just so surreal because it’s like, Man……. this really is the end of the road. We WON. What the hell do we do now???

How often in a career do you get to experience something like that?

How often in life?? 

Kyle Kuzma | Los Angeles Lakers | Washington Wizards | The Players’ Tribune
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Out of all the surreal parts of being a Laker, the one I’ll cherish most might be this: the opportunity to play for fans who really love you. 

Checking into a game and scoring a couple big baskets, and just hearing the crowd roar KUUUUUZ in Staples Center…. Man, that feeling is electrifying. It’s something I’ll never ever forget.

I have so many great memories from games. Like, the game I had 41 in three quarters. That was a possessed type of a game. It’s amazing how Staples is so in TUNE to those types of moments, those scoring barrages. All those Kobe nights: whether it was 81, or 65, or 60 in his last game ever. Or even games where AD went crazy and had 45s, 50s. When a night like that happens, you see the fans gravitate to every basket. They want you to score every single time. And for me to actually have one of those nights, it was just…… surreal.

It’s almost like, when you have a great game as a Laker, it’s more than just a great game. It’s like it’s part of a legacy.

And I guess what I really want to say is thank you, from the bottom of my heart — to all the fans, all my teammates, every part of the organization, the entire city of L.A. Thanks for making these past four seasons everything that they were to me. 

Thanks for letting me be my own small part of this great legacy.

When you have a great game as a Laker, it’s more than just a great game. It’s like it’s part of a legacy.

Kyle Kuzma

And speaking on that word — legacy — I need to tell you one more Kobe story, then I’m out.

So that dinner happens with Kobe, right — the one I was telling you about?? Well, maybe a year goes by before I get the nerve to hit him up again. Finally, though, the next summer I text him like, “Yo, Kobe, we have to work out. I want to get in the gym with you.”

And it was the same type of situation as the first time….. where I’m hitting him two, three times, trying to get in this workout. He’s a busy man. He’s traveling. He’s doing things. But then near the end of the summer, probably around like August, he hits me up out the blue. That’s just the type of person he was. He was Kobe, you know what I mean?? He was spontaneous and would just do shit on the fly. So I’m in L.A., it’s Saturday night, and I’m about to go out with a couple friends. Then I get a random text at like 9:45, right as I’m out the door. 

“Yo, fella, meet me at Newport at 8:00 AM Sunday morning.” 

That’s Sunday morning as in the next morning. So I call up my friends I’m about to go off to eat with like, “Yo, I’m canceling. I got a workout tomorrow. See y’all later.” And I just hung up the phone. Newport was like an hour away from me, so I wake up super, super early. Like 5:45 and leave my house at like 6:30. Nobody’s on the road, so I’m low-key speeding getting to Newport because I just can’t wait. And I just got this vision of Kobe in my head, him just being in the gym early, already there and waiting for me and sweating or some shit. I get there at about 7:15. Forty-five minutes early. Of course, this fucking guy doesn’t show up til 8:05 — and we got an eight o’clock workout! And it was totally fine, but just hilarious to me because I’m obviously like sweating bullets that Kobe was gonna get there before me.

We get into the workout, and it’s literally the hardest workout I’ve ever had in my life. 

And like I said, it’s August. That’s close enough to the season, where I’m typically thinking I’m in pretty good shape. I’m running, I’m doing hills, I’m doing a bunch of conditioning things. But Kobe’s telling me, “Alright, we’re going to do this move, do that move. We got 25 reps of each movement.” Usually you’re in a gym and it’s like make 10, make 12, whatever. We’re doing 25 of each thing, man. I get done with this workout, I’m completely, completely dead tired. And I thought it was the worst workout of my life because I’m missing shots and stuff. But you know, we finish strong, shake hands and leave.

I run into Rob the next day, and he says, “Aw man, Kobe said that y’all had a great workout. He said that you were in really good shape.” And I was like, No fucking way he said that.

So funny, man.

One little compliment from Kobe, that’s really all it takes. I’ll be telling my grandkids about the time Kobe said I was in shape. You keep stuff like that with you.

Kyle Kuzma | Los Angeles Lakers | Washington Wizards | The Players’ Tribune
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The emotion that I’m feeling most right now, as I sit down to write this, is gratitude.

I’m excited to bring all the stuff I’ve learned from Kobe and Bron and AD with me to D.C., and be a leader.

I’m excited to use all my past experiences to kind of spread my wings — and hopefully have a chance to help us do something special.

Everything I’ve been through…. every relationship I’ve had and lesson I’ve learned…. I truly believe it’s prepared me for success in Washington. 

I know that being around LeBron has reshaped my thinking in all of these important ways. Like, just the idea of thinking about a game as being about more than the score. I think in my first couple of years here, I was kind of a slave to the scoreboard. But now, I’ve had multiple games this year, where I’ve pushed myself so far beyond that. Or the idea of fully committing to doing it all — and just watching a guy like LeBron play defense, score, playmake, and also rebound, basically go all out, every single night. I never thought I would ever even come close to triple doubles….. but I understand how that kind of game is possible now.

And now, I get to make a new name for myself.

Having the opportunity to be in Washington, on a team full of guys who are ready to show what they can do….. I think I’m going to fit right in. I’m hungry to take my game to the next level.

The way I see it, I’m at a crossroads — but it’s not a bad crossroads. 

It’s new beginnings.

I’m not necessarily that same 21-year-old kid coming into the league. I’m a 26-year-old young man that’s been through a lot of things. That’s what’s truly been special about these four years. These are those rocky, early adult years where you’re kind of an adult, kind of not. And so everybody who’s been a part of my time here has watched me go through that. A lot of ups and downs and really just…. growth. I’ve had a chance to learn how to think beyond the individual, and become someone that can help bring a banner to a city. That takes a certain kind of evolution and sacrifice.

And I don’t take it for granted for a second.

So thank you, L.A., for supporting me. For screaming my name in the arena. For sticking with me through injuries and setbacks. For everything.

Like I said, I’m so grateful. And also….. one other thing.

I’m proud as hell.

Once a Laker, always a Laker.