You’ve seen the many tributes this season for the Lakers legend, the pre- and post-game player handshakes with the Mamba, the photos after games of players getting a jersey or sneaker signed by one of the greatest ever.
But what are those special moments really like for the player interacting with Kobe Bryant? What is it really like learning from him and studying his game?
In honor of Bryant’s final game on April 13, the NBPA asked 24 players to share the most admired hoops skill and most meaningful advice they took away from No. 24. Some players have ties to Los Angeles or Bryant’s hometown of Philadelphia, some have played with him and others have grown close to him through the years. Bryant, for many around the league, has been this era of basketball’s Michael Jordan—a go-to teacher, motivator and, above everything else, a friend for a lifetime.
We spoke with (as featured below in alphabetical order): Tony Allen, Kent Bazemore, Steve Blake, Devin Booker, Chris Bosh, Avery Bradley, Tyson Chandler, Jamal Crawford, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, Wayne Ellington, Monta Ellis, Jordan Farmar, Pau Gasol, Paul George, Gerald Henderson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Joe Johnson, Kyle Korver, Courtney Lee, Jeremy Lin, C.J. McCollum, Evan Turner and Sasha Vujacic.
Their candid and revealing insights are presented in a first-person perspective, and edited for clarity and length.
Tony Allen (Kobe: “The best defender I ever faced!”)
Most admired hoops skill: His competitive edge and his attitude to seek and destroy. That’s all I can take from a guy who is that prolific and who is that dynamic on the offensive end.
Most meaningful advice: We really don’t speak too much because we’re so busy trying to tear each other’s heads off, but one time he told me, “Guys like us are cut from different cloths.” We’re different breeds when we approach this game. It was definitely flattering to hear that in game considering the fact that he never really talks.
Kent Bazemore (played with Kobe in 2014)
Most admired hoops skill: How passionate he is about the game, and how much passion he plays the game with—the way he approaches the game, the fire he has, how competitive he is. That definitely changed my game. It’s incredible how he’s done it on a nightly basis for 20 years.
Most meaningful advice: He always told me to develop a one-two-dribble pull-up. That was great coming from him, because he’s the master of it—playing angles, getting to certain spots, looking to elevate over defenders and hitting tough pull-ups.
Steve Blake (played with Kobe from 2010-14)
Most admired hoops skill: His approach to the game, even before we’d get out there—how he’s constantly prepared both mentally and physically. He’s always working on his game and on his body, and mentally just understanding who’s out there and what’s going on. One time, I wasn’t quite getting a read in a pick-and-roll in a game. So the next day, he’s knocking on my door of the hotel and came in with an iPad just to show me exactly what he was talking about. We really got on the same page.
Most meaningful advice: He approaches everything, basketball and business, where he just completely tries to understand it and figure it out. He’s always prepared for stuff on and off the court. More than anything, we’d just hang out and get together for dinner here and there, and just hang out as friends.
Devin Booker (Kobe: “To Book, Be Legendary”)
Most admired hoops skill: His mindset and how he approaches the game. You hear stories about it. I remember playing in the front yard, shooting the fadeaway, yelling “Kobe!” Everyone was always a fan of Kobe, even if you weren’t a fan of the Lakers. He’s perfected his craft, and he knows he’s the best and he feels he’s the best, and he really is. He’s really friendly with everyone, but everyone knows he’s about his business. Every time he steps on the court, he’s got that competitive nature.
Most meaningful advice: Kobe’s first regular-season game was four days after I was born. When he came and played us for the last time, I talked to him a little about it. After the game, he wrote a little message on my shoe, “Be Legendary.” He told me my future is in my hands and I have the skill set, footwork and things like that. He sees the potential, and he said, “The rest is up to you.” He said, “How much do you love the game of basketball? Whatever you dedicate into it is what you’re going to get out of it.” That’s just one thing that he kept stressing to me.
Chris Bosh (won a gold medal with Kobe in the 2008 Olympics)
Most admired hoops skill: I just like his work ethic and competitiveness playing with the Olympic team. You see those things when you watch film on him.
Most meaningful advice: Passion. I got to speak with him over All-Star Weekend in Toronto, and he just talked about passion, what he’s doing and how he’s going to use that to inspire what he’s doing next. He’s just taking that same passion from basketball, work ethic from basketball, and just translating it to other stuff.
Avery Bradley (has guarded Kobe since his rookie year in 2010)
Most admired hoops skill: His approach. Every single game, he always says, “It’s like a lion attacking his prey.” He almost looks like he’s attacking everyone on every single play. It makes you nervous guarding him or even playing against him because you know that Kobe Bryant is going to bring it every single game. It’s almost like Michael Jordan. I went to a Michael Jordan game when I was in high school, and he said, “Every single game I played, I wanted to show the world that I was the best player.” It’s like Kobe’s same approach. Every single game he brings it, he lets people know why he’s Kobe Bryant.
Most meaningful advice: He’s been telling people as of late, “You just got to continue to keep working harder—just pushing every single year, working to add something new to your game. That’s what eventually makes you an all-around player, wanting to improve any aspect of your game every single summer.”
Tyson Chandler (won a gold medal with Kobe in the 2012 Olympics)
Most admired hoops skill: It’s his work ethic. I was in high school in Los Angeles by the time he came into the league, and I just remember hearing all the stories about how hard he was working, how hard he hit the gym, weight room. That’s what stuck out in my head throughout my career. Every summer when I went through injury, trying to get back from injury, I literally would keep him as motivation in my mind about how hard he worked, and the reason he was having the success he was having.
Most meaningful advice: His will and never-break attitude. I just always felt like no matter what the circumstances were, he was going to win. The type of attitude that he approached the game with is what I witnessed from playing alongside him, and always being able to compete against him. He always had that belief and it rubbed off on his teammates.
Jamal Crawford (has gone head-to-head with Kobe since his rookie year in 2000)
Most admired hoops skill: His mentality was more helpful than anything—not worried about what he was shooting. He could’ve been 1-for-12 at one point in the fourth quarter, but he was always confident enough as far as hitting the big shot. His confidence never wavered no matter what he was doing up until maybe a game-winning shot.
Most meaningful advice: How driven he was was more inspiring than anything—just hearing him talk about different things and different situations, and just his whole journey. Just the love of the game drove him, and I feel like I love the game as well. I have his shoes signed from the first time we played him this year. He wrote, “Great competing against you all these years.”
DeMar DeRozan (grew up in Los Angeles idolizing Kobe)
Most admired hoops skill: I always paid attention to a lot of the little things he did—if it was footwork, if it was using both hands around the rim, post game, counter moves. I always watched how he created his own shot over and over—how he has always capable of getting his shot off no matter if he was double teamed. He always practiced the tough shots that he always took. I was six years old when Kobe got drafted, and he was definitely that player that I wanted to be like. As time went on, I grew a relationship with him starting in high school.
Most meaningful advice: He mainly gave me more of an insight on just enjoy every single moment you have playing this game—take everything you can from it and compete and approach it with a high-level attitude every time. One thing he always told me is, “You’re going to blink and look up and it’s going to be a time for you to walk away from the game, whether you accept it or not.” Just hearing that from him was something big because you really don’t think about the time you put in until it’s all done. So I think that’s one of the best things he told me.
Kevin Durant (teamed up with Kobe in the 2012 Olympics and on seven All-Star teams)
Most admired hoops skill: I just liked the way he kept it simple. He got to his spots. He jumped up over the top of you and shot the pull-up every time. That was something I looked at and I wanted to do. I wanted to make the game as simple as I could. That’s what he did. He shot tough shots, but for the most part he got to his spots. The way he impacted the game, and impacted the culture of basketball, is something that every player coming out of high school or college wanted to emulate. Special player, special man.
Most meaningful advice: He told me to always sit back and analyze what you want to do—how you want to get it done to the best of your abilities. Never quit. Always give it your all. All that stuff sounds cliche, but life is simple and when you look at it that way, everything is a little clearer for you. He said, “Just always fight for what you want and never give up on it, and work as hard as you can.”
Wayne Ellington (grew up in the Philadelphia area idolizing Kobe)
Most admired hoops skill: Growing up, I watched him all the time—just learning the way he was always in attack mode and his edge that he had on the floor. He just motivated me to be better than everybody else growing up. Last year, I got a chance to play with him before he got hurt, and I just watched the way he prepared. I watched his mentality of approaching the game and approaching whatever opponent he had in front of him—the way he studied the game.
Most meaningful advice: When I was going through a lot last year with my father’s death, he reminded me to keep basketball as my sanctuary and to use that to release any negative energy I have. He also told me to use the game to try to help me get through everything. Talking about it is not as easy as it seems, so I just try to stay locked in the game and continue to use the game as my sanctuary to help me.
Monta Ellis (chose No. 8 mainly for Kobe as a rookie in 2005)
Most admired hoops skill: Being so competitive. He matched the game behind MJ, with his leadership on how he can take a team and put it on his back, and will them to a win by any means necessary. He played his years out and it was great competing against him.
Most meaningful advice: I’ve learned a lot from him. He did great things on the court, left his mark and he’s the greatest in our era that I’ve ever seen live. I watched Kobe for a long time. That was one of the main reasons why I went with No. 8 when I got to Golden State. I was a Lakers fan growing up, and as you watch Kobe play throughout the years and in my 11 years in the league, it’s been truly a blessing and honor.
Jordan Farmar (played with Kobe from 2006-10 and 2013-14)
Most admired hoops skill: His work ethic—the way he goes about his business and how he dedicated his entire life to his craft, and his demand of greatness from himself and others. Being around that every day, you can’t help but have that rub off on you. I’m a point guard so I have to lead a little bit differently, but that mental expectation that you are great, or you can be great, is helpful.
Most meaningful advice: He always says stuff like, “Be legendary.” He thinks about how he is going to be remembered when he’s done playing basketball. It’s that mentality of, “You can’t get today back, so give it all you got, don’t care about the critics, and go out there and leave it all on the floor, and let the chips fall how they may.”
Pau Gasol (won back-to-back championships with Kobe in 2009 and 2010)
Most admired hoops skill: I’ve learned how dedicated and how much you have to work to become the best on the floor, and how much commitment and sacrifice goes into wining and leading your team to a championship.
Most meaningful advice: I appreciated the times when Kobe challenged me individually to perform at a higher level. He’s always given me his point of view, and has so much experience on so many levels. He’s never sugar-coated anything, and he’s always given me his most honest, direct opinion. I consider him a close friend.
Paul George (grew up in the Los Angeles area idolizing Kobe)
Most admired hoops skill: I think what everyone takes away from Kobe: that patented fadeaway. It’s something that everyone wants to model their game after. That was the move we did in the front yard. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1—the countdown with the Kobe fadeaway.
Most meaningful advice: He told me come playoff time is where him and Michael Jordan made their mark down the stretch. One thing he told me is, “You take these little guys and you work on them at the block—not out on the perimeter. That’s what’s going to expand your years and take you deep into the playoffs.” It’s about not wasting steps.
Gerald Henderson (played high school ball in the Philadelphia area)
Most admired hoops skill: His fadeaway. He’s been my favorite player since Michael Jordan retired. I’d probably say I tried to shoot the fadeaway and just the midrange shot in general like Kobe, when I was in high school, college and now in the pros. I’d like to say him and MJ have perfected it. I’m not close to that, but for me it’s probably one of my most high percentage shots.
Most meaningful advice: In his final game in Portland, he just wished me luck with going forward and staying healthy. I’ve talked to him before and after games. It’s pretty cool that he’s getting his farewell tour and that he’s getting appreciated as much as he has this whole year.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (grew up in the Philadelphia area idolizing Kobe)
Most admired hoops skill: His mentality going into every game—just the way he approached it and the way he went about playing the game. That separates the greats from the gods, and I love that about him and I respect that about him more than anything, and just how passionate he is. A lot of guys where I’m from know him and hung out with him ever since he was a kid, and the one place you could always find him was the gym. That stuck with me, and that’s why I respect him.
Most meaningful advice: How he fell in love with his spots and being able to get there no matter what, and knowing no one can stop him trying to get to his spots. It’s amazing to see that. If there’s anything I can take from him on the court, it’s that. It’s finding my spots, and once I find those, love them and love them hard and just grow from there. Add whatever you have to and get better as the games go on, seasons go on, years go on.
Joe Johnson (has gone head-to-head with Kobe since his rookie year in 2001)
Most admired hoops skill: His footwork—how he’s able to set you up with different moves just using his feet. My best friend, Jannero Pargo, played with the Lakers for a while and believe it or not, he studied Kobe a lot and he learned a lot from him. And what he stole from Kobe, I stole from him.
Most meaningful advice: I remember my second year in Atlanta, they had the All-Star voting and the reserves had been chosen, and I was averaging 25 points a game, but we weren’t going to be in the playoffs. In some respect, I feel I should’ve made the All-Star team, but Kobe came up to me—we played the Lakers; I’ll never forget—and he just told me to stay in there, hang in there, keep working, there will be many more to come. Then Jason Kidd got hurt, and I got in. I made the All-Star team after that for five straight years, so it was a moment, with Kobe, you never forget.
Kyle Korver (was selected as a 2015 All-Star along with Kobe)
Most admired hoops skill: I just look at how he was able to compete at such a high level for such a long time. To be the focal point of everything that his team is doing—the pressure, the expectations and still to compete at that level—I don’t know that people understand how hard it is to bring that kind of energy every night. He showed everyone it’s possible to bring it like he did.
Most meaningful advice: In the conversations we’ve had, he’s been really encouraging to me and affirming of me and my game. To hear that from him means a lot, especially as a younger player. I played against him a lot. When I was with Utah, we played them in the playoffs seemingly every year. He was such a handful. But he always took the time to come over and affirm what I was doing, and it always meant a lot.
Courtney Lee (competed against Kobe in the 2009 Finals)
Most admired hoops skill: A lot of stuff. You watch how he comes off picks, you watch how he squares up, his footwork, how he attacks. You can try to mimic his moves, but you just might not be as successful as he is. I learned a lot from Kobe.
Most meaningful advice: I remember one time I had a conversation with him and I was just asking him all the stories about him working out going crazy hard. He does so many things to take care of his body—a lot of massages, a lot of rest, a lot of cold plunges and just knowing when to get up off his feet. So from that point on, I just tried to take care of my body as much as possible. When I’m not working out at the gym, I try to get treatment. Then when I’m at home, I try to get massages and stay off my feet as much as possible.
Jeremy Lin (played with Kobe from 2014-15)
Most admired hoops skill: I just like his footwork, his spin moves and when he catches it on the block. He has great footwork, so that’s something that I try to watch.
Most meaningful advice: I just remember him always telling me it’s all about a story and that’s really big—finding a story or creating a story. I think that’s been helpful with my YouTube channel. He’s good at telling a story, like, “If you do a video, if you do a documentary, whatever it is, it’s all about creating a story.” Now he’s creating Kobe Studios. I haven’t really talked much business with him, but I do like the way that he approaches it. He’s calculated in everything he does.
C.J. McCollum (Kobe: “I’m a fan of your game”)
Most admired hoops skill: Breaking down his footwork. He’s always had elite footwork—the ability to get his fadeaway off and kind of shimmy and reverse pivot, and do a lot of those things. As a younger player, I just watched his footwork and just tried to figure out different ways to get shots off. He has the ability to not only shoot over people, but he also has the ability to create a lot of separation and space. And as he got older, his footwork got better and more crisp, and he just continued to figure out ways to be an assassin.
Most meaningful advice: I talked to him after one of our home games this season. I just told him I was appreciative of what he’s done for the game of basketball, and the impact he’s had on my life and my brother’s life, and many other kids around the country just looking up to him growing up. He said, “I’m a fan of your game and just continue to keep working and keep going.” For one of the guys I looked up to my entire life to say he’s a fan of my game, that meant a lot to me.
Evan Turner (has been close with Kobe since playing at Ohio State)
Most admired hoops skill: I always admired Kobe’s knowledge of his strengths on the court. I remember him always talking about his kill spots on the floor, and how he’s always confident that he will be successful if he gets to those spots. I think that type of reference and awareness has helped my game and the way I train.
Most meaningful advice: I was able to have a conversation with Kobe back when I was leaving college, and he was kind enough to answer tons of questions for me. I asked him about his mentality and what it takes to be a great leader and have success in the league. And his response was, “Always work hard to be the best you can be, and be accountable so you can empower your teammates to follow your lead. If you can do that, then you can move mountains.”
Sasha Vujacic (won back-to-back championships with Kobe in 2009 and 2010)
Most admired hoops skill: The mentality and the mindset that he had I’m grateful to be able to learn that from him. It’s that big brother relationship, having known him for so long and working out together in the summertime. The workouts were very tough; a lot of elbows. No mercy, but I like it that way and he liked it also. We had a lot of fun.
Most meaningful advice: It’s never enough. You’ve got to keep moving forward no matter what. When you’re on top of that mountain, hard work pays off. He’s someone that when he sets a goal, he achieves it. And I think that everybody that had a chance to play with him, or meet him or know him, knows what I’m talking about. It’s an end of an era. The game will miss him.