Kobe Bryant was a lot of things to a lot of people. While debates rage on about where he stands in the all-time NBA rankings, one undeniable thing is the dedication to his craft. Bryant was often the first one at the gym and the last one at the exit after games.
He woke up earlier than everyone else and went to bed later. After his death, this legacy may live on longer than anything else he did on the court. Former colleagues Dwyane Wade and JJ Redick are still in awe of it and spoke on Redick’s podcast.
The Mamba mentality
Bryant’s emergence as the Black Mamba took several years to take form. Coming into the NBA as a teenager, he had the killer instinct that still defines him decades later, but he had to go through the same trials as others.
He wasn’t a surefire hit like LeBron James, but a high schooler coming into the league with men. However, his first few years in the league saw him mature into the star we know him.
During the later days of his partnership with Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant’s competitive edge and commitment to hard work were already well-known. Still, with O’Neal on the team, he could not establish his place as the alpha dog. However, when O’Neal was shipped off to Miami, Bryant got his time to shine, and the Lakers were officially his.
Bryant led the team from a lottery-bound shell of the O’Neal years to a back-to-back Champion by instilling his killer mindset into the locker room and forcing players to compete with him at a high level every night.
While this commitment to leadership might have made his final years a less-than-graceful exercise in aging, the mindset remained infectious to the young players around him.
Wade and Redick saw this emergence firsthand as Kobe’s opponent and spoke on the matter.
Dwyane Wade and JJ Redick on Kobe Bryant
Speaking about Bryant during what would have been the week of his 42nd birthday, Redick and Wade exchanged stories about the late superstar. Wade never played with Bryant as a teammate in the NBA. Still, he got to experience his legendary work ethic as a teammate on Team USA.
He told a story of finding Kobe in the gym one day to hear he had been there working on his shot for three hours. Redick responded with one of his own:
“I have a somewhat similar story, but in ’07, when I got to Duke, I went to a training camp with you guys in Vegas,” Redick said in the podcast clip. “I got there on a Sunday. We were starting practice on a Monday. So I got there on Sunday afternoon — first thing I do is I hit up the Duke assistant coaches… “Can y’all meet me at the gym? I just want to get some shots up.”
When Redick got to the gym, however, somebody was already there. It was Kobe Bryant. One assistant, Johnny Dawkins, looked tired and dead, and Redick asked him what was wrong. Reiterating what Wade said, Dawkins told Redick that Bryant got him up at 6 AM to practice the same move for three-straight hours.
The Mamba legacy
Bryant’s legacy stretches far beyond the realm of basketball and into the world of folklore. Stories like this are just as prevalent, if not more so, than those of him dropping 81 on the Toronto Raptors or shooting a free throw on a busted Achilles. They really highlight a man who was never content to be as good as he was. Bryant always wanted to be better.
Bryant may have been taken from the basketball world tragically, but his legacy will live on through those who played with him and those who watched him. A new generation of gym rats may think twice about giving up when they hear what Bryant did, which may have more impact than any other feat.