Kobe Bryant was a notoriously demanding teammate. The oft-repeated reality TV mantra “I’m not here to make friends” could just as easily apply to Bryant’s approach to professional basketball. He was there to win, whether he personally liked you or not. He’d get the job done.
Still, there were a few players he naturally grew close to. Derek Fisher was one of his favorites to name drop in the first half of his career. During his second act, he became tight friends with Pau Gasol. Kobe being Kobe, these types of relationships with other players were few and far in between.
Let’s dive into the intense world of working and playing with Kobe. Then, we’ll zoom in on Fisher and Gasol in particular, to piece together what made Kobe love playing and spending time with these guys so much.
The most effective teammates
Of all Kobe’s teammates, it was Shaquille O’Neal who literally and figuratively loomed largest. Kobe and Shaq were prickly superstars on the opposite ends of their careers, who famously feuded behind the scenes. But when they won a championship together, it was Shaq who Kobe immediately went to embrace first. As professionals, they worked hard together. But they weren’t friends until Shaq was out of the NBA.
Rick Fox was a crucial defensive piece around Kobe during the early years of that Lakers dynasty. He was the type of role player who consistently opened up space for the superstars around him to shine, and Kobe knew it.
Much like the situation with Shaq, the two became closer in the years after Fox left the game. They were seen together often enough that a scary, false rumor spread that Fox was on the helicopter where Kobe lost his life.
Caron Butler only played with the Lakers for the 2004-05 single season. It wasn’t even a particularly good season. However, he left a strong impression with Kobe from that short time. After Bryant retired, Butler regularly got name-dropped as one of Kobe’s favorite teammates and a close friend.
Why Kobe Bryant loved playing with Derek Fisher
Derek Fisher only averaged eight points per game and three assists per game during his years with the Lakers, according to Basketball-Reference. But his ability to come through at clutch moments impressed Kobe nonetheless. Fisher was regularly cited as Kobe’s closest friend in the game.
On a personal level, the two were locker room pals. “My all time favorite teammate has always been Derek Fisher,” Kobe told Yahoo! Sports in 2013. “He’s been my favorite teammate, I would love to see him back in a Lakers uniform so we could kind of finish out together.”
Interestingly, this dedication to Fisher as a friend still had boundaries. They never visited each other’s homes during their time on the Lakers together.
What Pau Gasol brought to the table as Kobe’s teammate
Later in Kobe’s career, his demeanor softened. He was more generous with young players. But he still preferred to keep his relationships professional, for the most part. It was the enormous Spanish center Pau Gasol who managed to get through on a personal level.
“If I could choose my brother, it would be Gasol,” Kobe wrote in the introduction to Gasol’s book Life/Vida. The praise also turned to Gasol’s skills on the court. “You’d have to search and search and you still would not find another player in the history of the game with his skill set.”
For a man short on praise, he is downright effusive when it comes to Gasol. The two went to the NBA Finals three times and won twice. But their compatible personalities may be the biggest reason why they got along so well.
The habitually private Kobe opened up with Gasol. “We would both face adversity in our professions, so we would talk about our lives and our careers and the pressures of our celebrity,” Kobe elaborated later on in his introduction. “Our bond would be fortified by a trust only brothers share.”
When it comes to Kobe Bryant’s favorite teammates Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol were without a doubt his favorite.
[An earlier version of this article incorrectly indicated Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol only won one title together.]