These days, it’s pretty common to hear that an NBA player took inspiration from Kobe Bryant. New York Knicks forward Julius Randle, however, didn’t just watch the Lakers legend from afar. During his rookie year, he received a personal lesson from Kobe.
While Randle now plies his trade in the Big Apple, his NBA career began as a Laker. During a road trip to Dallas, Bryant stopped the big man from hitting the town; basketball greatness, he explained, waits for no one.
Julius Randle started his NBA career playing alongside Kobe Bryant
For a generation of basketball players, hitting the court with Kobe would have been like playing alongside Michael Jordan. When his professional career began, that’s the exact situation Randle found himself in.
After a single season at the University of Kentucky, Randle entered the 2014 NBA draft and joined the Lakers as the seventh overall pick. His rookie campaign, however, ended before it truly began as the big man fractured his tibia during the first game of the season.
The following year, Randle returned to the lineup. While the Lakers suffered through an awful season, the campaign proved to be significant for another reason: it was Kobe’s last season in the NBA.
As you might expect, working alongside Bryant was a masterclass in hard work and dedication. Randle, however, got his own personal lesson when the Lakers headed to Dallas on a road trip.
Kobe Bryant proves that hard work never stops
As noted above, Randle missed virtually his entire rookie year with a brutal injury. That reality made a visit to his hometown of Dallas even sweeter when it finally arrived the following year.
“I grew up in Dallas, so I had this early-season road game against the Mavericks circled on my calendar,” Randle explained in The Players’ Tribune. “I was excited. Excited to feel that sense of accomplishment, of being that kid from your neighborhood growing up who made it to the league.”
The Lakers arrived in Texas on a Wednesday night, but the club wasn’t scheduled to hit the hardwood until Friday. The sophomore planned to hit the town with some old friends to celebrate being back home, but Kobe intervened.
So then we get off the plane, we ride to the hotel, and — ha. Wow. I will never forget this. We’re coming up on the hotel in Dallas, and Kobe turns to me, and he goes, “Julius, what you bout to do.”
I’m like, ‘I’m about to see my family, chill with some friends, you know. Have a night.’
And Kobe, he just cuts me off. He’s like, ‘Nah. We’re going to the gym.’Julius Randle in ‘The Players’ Tribune’
Since Bryant was a living legend, Randle rolled with the punches and hit the gym. While he wasn’t thrilled about the change of plans, he did come away from the court with an important lesson.
“And of course Kobe knew we were in my hometown. Of course he knew. But that wasn’t him being a bad dude or anything,” Randle continued. “It was more like — it was him trying to use the situation to teach me a lesson. The lesson being: To get to the next level in this league, you can’t be putting in that next level of work only some of the time. Has to be all of the time. No such thing as sacrifice without sacrifice.”
Julius Randle seems to have taken that lesson to heart
Without being behind the scenes in the gym, it’s impossible for us to know how hard Randle actually works. Based on his on-court efforts and the stories we’ve heard, though, it’s safe to conclude that he’s taken Kobe’s lesson to heart.
During that season in Los Angeles, the forward averaged 11.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per outing. Those numbers are solid, if somewhat unremarkable; no one would write home about a player who averaged 11 and 10 for his entire career. Since then, though, Randle has clearly grown.
Without tracing every step of his journey, you can simply look at his 2020-21 campaign with the Knicks. While some players wilt under the pressure of New York City, Randle arrived in peak physical condition and promptly got down to business. The forward has played the best basketball of his career this year, averaging 24.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per contest. He also earned a first career All-Star nod and took home the 2021 Most Improved Player title, although he has admittedly struggled thus far in the playoffs.
While Kobe Bryant could be a tough man to please, you’d have to think he’d be proud of Randle’s efforts.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference