Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bean Bryant never inspired indifference on or off the hardwood. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound Bryant, an 18-time All-Star and 11-time member of the All-NBA first team, is the quintessential alpha male. A cutthroat competitor, Bryant made a handful of friends and countless adversaries over 20 years in the association. Somewhat ironically, most of the “Black Mamba’s” rivals were former teammates of his. Phil Jackson coached Bryant to all five of his NBA championships. Jackson spoke with the Los Angeles Times about Bryant’s fiery personality and how he interacted with his peers.
"Kobe is different,” said Jackson.
“He was reserved as a teenager, in part because he was younger than the other players and hadn't developed strong social skills in college. When Kobe first joined the Lakers, he avoided fraternizing with his teammates. But his inclination to keep to himself shifted as he grew older. Increasingly, Kobe put more energy into getting to know the other players, especially when the team was on the road."
Bryant acknowledged that his abrasiveness could be problematic. Nevertheless, the native Philadelphian also refused to apologize for his demeanor and contends that it’s what made him a winner.
“Does my nature make me less enjoyable to play with? Of course,” said Bryant, 38, who permanently shelved his high-top sneakers in April 2016.
“Is it possible that some top players in the league are intimidated by that? Yes. But do I want to play with those players? Does the Laker organization want those specific players? No. This organization wants players who will carry this franchise to another five or six championships. The player who does that has to be cut from the same cloth. And if they’re not cut from that cloth, they don’t belong here.”
Considering his temperament and overall psychological makeup, let’s review the relationships that Kobe Bryant had with some of his past teammates.
15 BRYANT CONFIDED IN CARON BUTLER AND CONSIDERS HIM A LIFELONG FRIEND
The Los Angeles Lakers shipped Shaquille O'Neal to the Miami Heat for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom and Brian Grant in July 2004. Butler, a two-time All-Star who helped the Dallas Mavericks win a title in 2011, only lasted one season as a Laker. Still, Butler and Bryant forged an everlasting bond.
“It’s very rare for me to open up to somebody like that, but I just had a connection with (Butler),” said Bryant.
“He’s one of my favorite teammates. There are certain players that I just automatically get along with. You gravitate to each other because you see eye to eye on things and you get along extremely well. And Caron was one of those players.”
Butler and Chucky Atkins were sent to the Washington Wizards for Kwame Brown and Laron Profit in July 2005.
14 RON ARTEST WORKED, AND PLAYED, HARD SPECIFICALLY FOR BRYANT
Ron Artest, who legally changed his name to Metta World Peace in September 2011, is borderline insane. Nonetheless, when focused and motivated, the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Peace is a solid ballplayer and lockdown defender. Peace signed a five-year contract valued at roughly $33 million to become a Los Angeles Laker in July 2009. Despite being a mentally unstable badass, Peace was determined to impress and befriend Bryant.
“Kobe is the main reason why I worked so hard in the last couple of years,” said World Peace, 37.
“I always wanted to come back and play with Kobe. I remember playing with Kobe, the sacrifices he made, playing hard, making unbelievable shots and showing unbelievable fundamentals. People can say he’s selfish all they want. But in the game, he’s so fundamentally sound.”
Peace and Bryant won championships together in the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
13 BRYANT ULTIMATELY BECAME A MENTOR TO ANDREW BYNUM
Kobe Bryant requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2007. Already sickened by the Lakers’ perceived cluelessness, Bryant flipped when management rejected the New Jersey Nets’ proposal of Jason Kidd for a 19-year-old Andrew Bynum.
"Ship (Bynum’s) ass out. We're talking Jason Kidd," said a 28-year-old Bryant. "They didn't want to do that. That's why we're in this [messed up] position."
Surprisingly, the Lakers’ decision to keep the 7-foot, 280-pound Bynum paid dividends. Perhaps more surprisingly, Bryant decided to mentor and even flatter Bynum.
"We definitely have a much better relationship than in the past and obviously on the court, the trust is there," Bynum said. "He's even telling me a few things, little footwork tricks and stuff like, 'They can't stop' me. Just giving me confidence."
Bynum matured into a formidable presence in the paint and the Lakers captured consecutive titles in 2009 and 2010. In all likelihood, Bryant would not have earned another crown without Bynum in the middle.
12 BRYANT RUSHED TO THE HOSPITAL TO BE WITH LAMAR ODOM
After flirting for a month, Lamar Odom and Khloé Kardashian married in September 2009. Shockingly, the 6-foot-10, 230-pound Odom and 5-foot-9, 160-pound Kardashian divorced in December 2013. Still hurt by the Kardashian fiasco, the 2011 NBA Sixth Man of the Year went on a near-fatal drugs and alcohol bender in October 2015 at a brothel in Crystal, Nevada. With Odom on life support, Bryant rushed to the Sin City hospital where his former teammate was being treated.
“#justpray,” Bryant tweeted. “When WE feel the need to question the support of others in moments as critical as a life hanging in the balance, then we must question the kind of culture we have created that has led US to such insensitive suspicion.”
Thankfully, Odom regained consciousness a couple of days following Bryant’s visit.
11 ANTAWN JAMISON TRULY ADMIRED BRYANT
The Toronto Raptors drafted North Carolina power forward Antawn Jamison fourth overall in 1998. An elite Tar Heel, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Jamison proceeded to make two All-Star squads and win the 2004 NBA Sixth Man of the Year award over 16 seasons in the association. A 36-year-old Jamison agreed to become a Laker for the veteran’s minimum in July 2012. Despite competing in 1,083 contests, Jamison couldn’t help raving about Bryant’s diligence.
“After games, we're traveling, guys are on their laptops, their iPads, watching movies, listening to music, (Bryant’s) watching film,” said Jamison.
“He's breaking down situations. I'll be watching a movie, he'll tap me like, 'Come here.' He'll dissect plays like, 'This is what we got to do, me and you got to get this going.' I mean, this guy eats, sleeps basketball and the only thing he wants to do is to win another championship and I've never seen anybody as focused, as dedicated as Kobe."
10 BRYANT DETESTED KWAME BROWN
As previously noted, Kobe Bryant developed a close bond with Caron Butler. Much to Bryant’s chagrin, the Lakers traded Butler and Chucky Atkins to the Washington Wizards for Kwame Brown and Laron Profit. The 6-foot-11, 290-pound Brown was the first overall pick in 2001. Although talented, Brown was lackadaisical and soft and he never realized his ample potential. Bryant recounted an exceptionally embarrassing moment for Brown on the hardwood against the Detroit Pistons.
“So I’m surrounded by these players, Detroit players, and Kwame is under the basket, all by himself,” said Bryant.
“Literally, like all by himself. So I pass him the ball, he bobbled it and it goes out of bounds. So we go back to the timeout and I’m [upset], right? He goes, ‘I was wide open.’ ‘Yeah, I know.’ This is how I’m talking to him, like, during the game. I said, ‘You’re going to be open again, Kwame, because Rasheed is just totally ignoring you.’ He said, ‘Well, if I’m open don’t throw it to me.’ I was like, ‘Huh?’ He said, ‘Don’t throw it to me.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ He said, well, ‘I’m nervous. If I catch it and they foul me, I won’t make the free throws.’”
9 DEREK FISHER WAS BRYANT’S FAVORITE TEAMMATE
The Los Angeles Lakers acquired the 13th selection in the 1996 NBA Draft from the Charlotte Hornets for Vlade Divac. With the Hornets’ pick, Los Angeles chose a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant out of Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania. Eleven slots later, the Lakers drafted a 21-year-old Derek Fisher with the 24th overall choice. The “Black Mamba” and Fisher teamed together for 13 seasons and played vital roles on five Lakers’ squads that won championships. Fisher retired at the conclusion of the 2014 season as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, if Bryant oversaw the Lakers, Fisher would have finished his career in Los Angeles.
“My all time favorite teammate has always been Derek Fisher,” said Bryant. “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.”
8 BRYANT CAUSED JEREMY LIN TO LOSE HIS LOVE FOR BASKETBALL
Jeremy Lin seized New Yorkers’ imagination as a Knick in the winter of 2012. In an especially memorable display of brilliance, Lin recorded 38 points and seven assists to lead the Knicks over Kobe Bryant’s Lakers on February 10.
"Players playing that well don't usually come out of nowhere,” Bryant said of Lin.
“It seems like they come out of nowhere, but if you can go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the beginning. It probably just went unnoticed.”
Two years later, Lin became a Laker in July 2014.
Lin struggled playing alongside Bryant and only averaged 11.2 points, 4.6 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 74 games. Following the disappointing campaign in Los Angeles, the Harvard graduate inked a two-year deal worth $4.3 million to become a Charlotte Hornet in July 2015. Lin said that being a Hornet “was just beautiful. It just brought back everything I thought basketball to be, and I had so much fun with it.”
It’s safe to presume that Lin “had so much fun” in Charlotte because Bryant was 2,400 miles away.
7 BRYANT WANTED DWIGHT HOWARD TO PLAY HURT
Dwight Howard is seemingly an unlikable man. Since getting drafted first overall in 2004, the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Howard has created toxic environments in Orlando, Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta and Charlotte. A typically disgruntled Howard forced the Magic to trade him to the Lakers in August 2012. Heartbreakingly, Howard quickly became gloomy as an employee in “La-la-land.” Howard suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder against the Los Angeles Clippers in January 2013. Bryant urged Howard to brave the pain and continue playing for the betterment of the team.
"Kobe put some pressure on me,” said Howard, 31.
“He said something like, 'We don't have time for Dwight to be hurt.' The media is asking me, 'Did you talk to Kobe about your injuries?' I said, 'I didn't realize I was supposed to check with another player about my health.'”
Bryant responded that he unsuccessfully “tried teaching Dwight” how to become a champion.
6 ALTHOUGH BRYANT LOVES DEREK FISHER, HE’D GO TO WAR FOR MATT BARNES
Loony Golden State Warriors forward Matt Barnes assaulted Kobe Bryant’s best friend, Derek Fisher, in December 2015. Still, the 6-foot-7, 225-pound Barnes is certain that former teammates Bryant, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin respect him.
"what HAS ALWAYS KEEP THAT FIRE INSIDE OF ME BURNIN & THAT...DOGG YOU SEE ON THE COURT, is EVERYONE who says I CANT!!," Barnes eloquently wrote on Instagram. "ASK KOBE,CP OR BG WHO THEY GOIN 2 WAR WITH?? BET IM ON THAT LIST!"
Bryant, who teamed with the UCLA standout from 2010 through 2012, says that Barnes is “crazy, but he’s not that crazy.” Barnes praised Bryant’s legendary worth ethic when he left the sport in April 2016.
“When I first signed to the Lakers, we went overseas and he was over there and he was drawing on a piece of paper and I didn’t know what he was doing,” said Barnes.
“He was figuring out when teams double and triple team him, where his teammates were going to be open. That was kind of one of my first times seeing how deep he is and how involved he is with the game. I think that’s why we get along so well.”
5 RONNY TURIAF IS ONE OF ONLY FOUR FRIENDS THAT BRYANT MADE IN THE NBA
Who in the world is Ronny Turiaf?!? The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Turiaf was a star center at Gonzaga University where he earned WCC Player of the Year honors in 2005. The Lakers took Turiaf with the 37th pick in 2005. Following two years in Los Angeles, Turiaf and the Golden State Warriors agreed to a four-year contract valued at $17 million in July 2008. Although Bryant and Turiaf were only co-workers for three seasons, they became lifelong buddies. In fact, Bryant has stated that Turiaf, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol and Caron Butler are the only friends he made in the association.
“There aren’t many like that,” said Bryant.
“There’s Caron, there’s Pau, there’s D. Fish, and Ronnie Turiaf. That’s four guys in a twenty-year career.”
Turiaf averaged 4.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 473 games as a member of the Lakers, Warriors, Knicks, Wizards, Heat, Clippers and Timberwolves before retiring in October 2016.
4 KOBE WISHES PAU GASOL WAS HIS BROTHER
The Memphis Grizzlies sent power forward Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers for four players and two first round draft picks in February 2008. Mere hours later, at 1:30 a.m., Bryant knocked on Gasol’s hotel room door at The Ritz in Washington, D.C.
“This is our chance,” a 29-year-old Bryant said to Gasol.
Although unable to clinch a crown in 2008, Bryant and Gasol guided the Lakers to two straight titles in the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
“If I could choose my brother, it would be Gasol,” wrote Bryant in a forward for Gasol’s book.
“He would have the highest basketball IQ in the league and 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.”
3 BRYANT WAS TOO GOOD TO SPEAK WITH SMUSH PARKER
Kobe Bryant and Smush Parker were adversarial members of the Los Angeles Lakers from 2005 through 2007. While Bryant is one of the association’s premier stars, Parker went undrafted in 2002 out of Fordham University. Following a stint with the Florida Flame, Parker became a Laker in July 2005 and Phil Jackson named him the team’s starting point guard for that season. Parker recounted a particularly unpleasant exchange he had with Bryant in a June 2014 interview with the Los Angeles Times.
“He told me one day at practice — I tried to talk to him outside of basketball, about football — and he looked at me in practice and was dead serious and said, ‘You can’t talk to me. You need more accolades under your belt before you come talk to me,'” Parker said.
Parker relocated approximately 2,700 miles away from Bryant after signing with Miami in July 2007. Naturally, Bryant wasn’t upset that Parker bolted from Tinseltown.
"Smush Parker was the worst," Bryant said. "He shouldn't have been in the NBA, but we were too cheap to pay for a point guard. We let him walk on."
2 BRYANT TALKED TO COPS ABOUT SHAQUILLE O’NEAL
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were debatably the preeminent tandem in NBA history. Conversely, O’Neal and Bryant were possibly the most dysfunctional duo in the annals of the association. Ultimately, La-la-land wasn’t large enough for the basketball behemoths and Bryant forced O’Neal’s trade to the Miami Heat in July 2004. Still, although separated by nearly 3,000 miles, their mutual loathing intensified. The “Black Mamba” was arrested in July 2003 for allegedly raping a 19-year-old hotel employee in Eagle, Colorado. Near the conclusion of a lengthy interrogation, Bryant reportedly told Det. Doug Winters that "he should have done what Shaq does ... that Shaq would pay his women not to say anything for situations like this.” When transcripts of the questioning surfaced, “Shaq Diesel” went ballistic.
"This whole situation is ridiculous," O'Neal told ESPN.
"I never hang out with Kobe, I never hung around him. In the seven or eight years we were together, we were never together. So how this guy can think he knows anything about me or my business is funny.”
Bryant and his accuser agreed to a settlement in September 2004.
1 KARL MALONE STILL WANTS TO FIGHT BRYANT
Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Karl Malone joined Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal as Los Angeles Lakers in July 2003. Primarily due to internal bickering, the Lakers were defeated by the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 finals and Malone retired shortly thereafter. However, before the Lakers’ demise, Malone purportedly went “hunting” for Bryant’s Mexican-American wife, Vanessa.
“I’m hunting for little Mexican girls,” Malone told Vanessa after she commented on his cowboy clothing.
While the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Malone denied making the remark, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Bryant was incensed and the two nearly fought. More than a decade later, Malone said he’s still willing to throw fists with Bryant.
“I don’t want no trouble,” said Malone, 54. “But if something’s got to go down, I’m not playing fair. [If] we’ve got to get down, then we’ve got to get down. I’m just telling you. It’s a standing [offer].’’