Kobe Bryant, Coach
The NBA legend left a legacy from the sideline.
By anyone’s count, Kobe Bryant was a basketball god.
He led the NBA in scoring for two seasons and ranked third on both the league’s all-time regular season and post-season scoring lists.
His legendary achievements include a league-best 18 trips to the All-Star game, 12 All-Defensive team selections, the most points scored in a single game, and a record 15 appearances on the All-NBA team – and that’s before you start counting the five championship rings.
But there’s one stat that went largely unnoticed in Bryant’s spectacular record: player mentor.
After undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in 2015 to repair a torn rotator cuff, Bryant could have used rehab as a way to retreat. Instead, he took to the sidelines and started mentoring the younger players on the team. “I help them, mentor them and give them advice,” Bryant said, “because I’ve pretty much seen it all.”
Working with up-and-coming stars like D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, Bryant turned the bench into his personal academy. For former Lakers coach Byron Scott, who had a front row seat for Bryant’s second act, it was like having another coach on the sideline.
“I think he enjoys seeing these guys develop, because in the back of his mind somewhere he looks at them and remembers when he was in that position,” Scott said. “I think he enjoys the process of watching these guys grow.”
But instead of dumping decades of accumulated wisdom on each player, Bryant took a more selective approach. For shooting guard Wayne Ellington, he outlined what he called “little tricks” that made it easier to move and shoot more efficiently off the screen. During timeouts, Bryant took out a clipboard to diagram various pick-and-roll coverages to help rookie guard Jordan Clarkson find an open shot. With rookie center Tarik Black, he showed him how to develop better footwork and slow down his drives to the hoop to allow his teammates better penetration in the paint.
For the better part of that season, Bryant, who had just turned 37, played the part of the wise old man to a group of rookies so young they could have been his teenage children. Being the elite that he was, the hard part wasn’t knowing what to say. It was deciding what not to say.
Having perfected his game on both sides of the ball, Bryant could have easily unloaded a sweeping critique of the players’ flaws and missteps, but that never happened. His feedback was precise, tailored to individual needs, and highly selective – the hallmark of a great coach.
Great coaches show you where to look but not what to see. They guide you, with a mixture of prodding and patience, to discover a part of yourself you may not know. Not yet.
In that sense, Kobe’s legacy isn’t what he achieved for himself. It’s what he helped others accomplish for themselves.