I wanted to share this experience with young players and the coaches that work with them. I read and hear on a daily basis of how players want to be great and do anything to get to the highest level possible. In my 24 years in basketball that statement that “I want to be great” is the most overused phrase never to be backed up by 98% of the people who say it.
It is easy to make the statement that you want to be a great player. The tough part is falling in love with the routine of what makes a great player. I'm not the type that will give you a list of the 50 qualities that make a great player because they are ALL DIFFERENT. Not every great player is the first to get in the gym and the last to leave. Not every great player is a great teammate. Everyone has their own routine that they follow that makes them great. I am about to share with you a story about a player that I got to work with for 4 years that proved to me that he was great by not just saying it but also sacrificed and put in the work to earn that rep.
In 2009 I had the opportunity to start working with Kobe Bryant breaking down his game film and getting him ready for every opponent that he faced. In that time I got to know the mental make up of one of the fiercest competitors that the game has ever seen. The job was offered to me because of a New York Times Article written about how the Houston Rockets would prepare for him and how he would struggle against him. My boss at the time Tim Grover gave me the heads up that Kobe would be calling me about the article and questioning me about it. Most players would say it was BS and they had nothing to worry about. His response was to get him all the intel that was out there about him so he can eliminate it and get back to business.
After searching high and low from every contact that I had with NBA teams that would scout and prepare for him there was nothing concrete that was given to me. If I came back to him with that answer it would be the last time I'd ever speak to him again. I decided that I'd watch every possession that he played against the Rockets and give him a full report on what was going on. I emailed him a detailed scouting report covering the following:
The first three would be information that any competitor would want to get access to, but the fourth thing on that list could get someone thrown out of an inner circle pretty quickly. In my opinion there was no other way to approach this assignment. Brutal honesty is the only way that you can approach working with any player at any level. The only message that I got back was got it and thanks. My report contained every detail that I could come up with to help him win the game and be efficient. Winning and efficiency is what goes through my mind when working with any player and this was no different. Yao Ming was Houston's biggest factor in their defense because when anyone tried to finish in the paint they had to deal with him. One of the biggest messages that I had in the report was to get Yao away from the paint and have him move side to side instead of trying to finish over him.
The game was March 11, 2009 and the game was played in Houston. The Lakers won the Game Kobe shot 14-23(61%) had 37 points including 6 assists and 5 rebounds. The game clinching play was when he drove to the basket past Yao Ming forcing him to move laterally easily getting to the basket. My thought was that was the last I'd ever hear from him. He texted me under a minute after being interviewed telling me that he had the Spurs the next night an h wanted the same exact thing. That lasted for roughly 4 years.
THE ROUTINE OF BEING GREAT
Kobe's routine on the court was simplistic and game speed. He never worked on anything that he wasn't going to do in a game. His on court workout routine didn't consist of tennis balls and 12 dribble fade away ISO moves. His workouts were direct and to the point. He would work on the same shot for several minutes practicing it over and over until it felt right but more importantly done right. His warmup wasn't long just long enough to get his body going to prepare himself for the 1-2 hour workout that he had in store for that session.
His footwork was impeccable, the result from working hours and hours his whole career trying to master every facet of his game. He explained every type of jab, fake, and counter that he had in his repertoire. After maybe the first 5-6 minutes everything is done game speed. He would never work on set moves or 4 counter moves, his philosophy was to master individual things and be so good at them that if a defender would take something away it would be his second nature to go to something else. His jabs, his fakes, and his drives were always on point and were perfect or he would do it again. Repetition and correction were taken very serious and not as punishment but was something that would make him the best. His court routine consisted of hundreds of shots per session with several sessions per week.
What amazed me about his work on the court was that he would have an offensive session, but usually come back the next day and not even pick up a ball but just work on defense. He would work on his stance, close outs, footwork, conditioning himself not to leave his feet on fakes. To be one of the best of all time it wasn't all about offense but stopping the best player at the other end to earn it on both ends. That was something that shocked me about him that I've never heard of another player wanting to do unless made to do it by a coach.
HE DOMINATED SIMPLE
H never worked on the spectacular athletic players that you would see on ESPN Highlights. His workouts worked on the most simplistic routine skill sets. He wanted to master them and rely on them this way he can always resort back to his training in games when he practiced his kill spots on the floor thousands of times. He always would mention on how the simple fundamentals were something that he never took for granted from when he was young to that stage of his career. In my opinion he did this so he can always be ready for a counter just in case a defender would take something away.
TOOK CARE OF HIS BODY
Kobe would lift weights, run on the track, yoga, martial arts. You name the activity and he would do it. Anything that would give him an edge and put his team in position to win games. Not only would he hit it hard, but would also care for his body using ice baths and hot tubs after workouts. He took maintenance of his body very seriously as well as rest and nutrition. You would never meet a more disciplined person when preparing for a season than him.
HE WASN'T ON TIME HE WAS EARLY
I remember the first time that I ever worked Kobe out was in the summer of '08 at UC Irvine. I remember that I was given a time of 5AM that he wanted to workout. After arriving at 4:45 he was already at the gym waiting. There is a difference between players that are invested in wanting to be great and those that aren't. Being early to workouts and appointments are early indicators to me a player is buying in to being great. A player that is late all of the time and you always have to wait on isn't one that takes his preparation seriously. Every appointment that I ever had with him he was always early.
Kobe wanted to know everything about everyone that he was facing. There was never enough information for him as he took preparation as serious as anything in his game. The scouting reports that I would give him every day consisted of the following:
This was for every regular season, playoff, and exhibition game that he had for the better part of 4 seasons. It was to be emailed to him by 7 AM his time every morning of a game, not 7:01, 7:02, etc. He didn't want fluff, he didn't want me to sit on a fence on what I thought needed to be done. I remember there was a game against Philly and just to see if he was reading my work I held off and didn't make the deadline. At 7:07 his time I received a flurry of emails asking where the report was proving to me that he was reading the intel.
It was amazing that he did this much preparation for every team. Intel was something that was important to him because it gave him an edge to win. Most players that I ever worked with up to that point just went out and played with little desire to know much about their opponent. This was something very different.
After every game I would put together his shots and defensive clips. I put them in a password protected database that he could access. In each folder were video edits as well as a post game report breaking down his performance covering the good and the bad. A player at his level wanted to be critiqued.... Again not every player that is great wants to hear about the bad, but he did. I gave him a 1 page report and submit it to him but the time he was getting on the bus or in his car. Sometimes we would agree , and sometimes we would agree to disagree but wanting the truth from others was a great quality of his. Again we sometimes didn't see eye to eye on things but they were good discussions about the game of basketball and further evidence that sometimes people can watch the same game but see it differently. The back and fourths could last till 4AM that's how much he was invested in being great.
In closing I want to say this. The work that I did probably helped him 3-4 percent in his overall game which might be overstating it. I'm not like others that work with a player and want to take credit for every shot that goes in and every accolade. My work with Kobe started when he was 30 and it was only to add a piece that would help him. I never posted anything to social media or took pictures with him or wanted to hang out. I did my job to the best of my ability until it was over. To be able to be in his inner circle and observe what went in to his preparation was an experience that was invaluable to me. To be able to be 100% honest with a future Hall of Fame Player and learn from him about some of the things that made him great was an tremendous learning experience.
Players always talk about being great but very seldom want to do the things necessary to be the best at their craft.You don't have to be an All Star player to need to want to do the things that the did to get to the level that he got to. I've worked with fringe NBA players that put that type of work in to just stay relevant enough to stick in the NBA. Be a professional at any level that you are at. Be invested in your craft it is so necessary to take your gam and your career in anything you choose to another level.
I hope this helped some of you understand the work that is done by one of the best to ever play the game. Remember every great player does things a little differently. Kobe took work and preparation to insane levels that most could and would never do. Be invested in your craft. Good Luck