SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Kobe Bean Bryant.
33,643 career points, five NBA championships.
We know his accomplishments, but at one point, Kobe was just a preteen looking to make a name for himself in a new city. And it didn’t take too long to do just that.
His lifelong friend, Doug Young, said there were already rumblings that Kobe was a good ball player when he was in middle school.
“Then he came into the gym as an 8th grader and practiced with us, and we knew within 90 seconds that he was the best player in the gym,” Young said.
His old coach, Jeremy Treatman, said they knew Kobe was destined to be even greater before the young player turned 18.
“He was toiling around the gym where me and Joe were coaching, and I was watching him in the back. He was doing all these dribbles and moves and shots and I remember having this discussion with Joe: I was like, ‘how good is Kobe?’ and he said, ‘he’s going to be so much better than me it wasn’t even funny.'”
And so Kobe started to prove his legendary status in the basketball world.
In suburban Philadelphia, Kobe began to lead both on and off the court. His high school teammate, Emory Dabney, said the work ethic was there early on.
“Everyday he is at Joe’s putting up shots, at the track. He would invite me and I would feel like I would be letting him down if Iweren’t there because of how hard he worked,” said Dabney. “You wanted to work hard with him because you were going to be teammates that upcoming year.”
Dabney said their relationship flourished as Kobe motivated him to practice as hard as he did. “It became an older brother, little brother relationship,” said Dabney.
Kobe set the tone and everyone fell in line. After a slow 3-3 start the season, lower Merion won 28 straight games and won the state championship.
“We didn’t win this thing easily. RIP Hamilton and Coatesville, we were down 10 in the 2nd half. And by 8 with 2 minutes, the Chester games were wars. We won the state games in overtime,” said Treatman.
With a state title in hand, the stage was now set to declare for the NBA draft, which apparently was the worst kept secret around. Because the year prior, Kobe had been letting people in on his plans.
“The summer before when we’d be working out, he said he was planning on going to the NBA. And that was a known thing amongst his friends before even the year started,” Dabney said.
Brian Shaw remembers Kobe coming to him, no longer the 10-year-old he last saw. He was now 6’6″, able to look him right in the eye. “He comes over to me and says hey, one more year of high school and I am going to be joining you.”
So Kobe’s NBA chapter began. Most know the highs of his career with the Lakers, but maybe not the day-to-day moments with his teammates.
“He takes himself to a limit where people wouldn’t take it. And it showed. His prep was amazing. His practice habits. He really got after it in that gym. Which led him to be the greatest. He wanted it. He left it all on the court,” said teammate Metta World Peace.
Shaw said the team saw things they never saw before with Kobe’s skill on the court.
“Phil Jackson would be diagraming plays, talking us through film, 30 minutes before the game started and while he was doing that, Kobe would be in front of his locker with the big heavy ball working on his moves. Dribbling, working on his dribbling, jab steps, pivots, while the coach was doing his pregame talk,” Shaw said.
His teammates even found out that Kobe’s legend was international. Wes Johnson described how the whole airport in China was shutdown for his arrival.
We were “walking through and security is barricading back. I’m in awe. He has his book bag, headphone, glasses. Hood on walking. I’m like, this is insane. And when we walk out the airport it was a mob,” Johnson said.
Off the court, Kobe was also a rapper — with mixed reviews.
Metta World Peace said they would spontaneously start rapping to each other, adding that Kobe was really good. “He’s a writer and loves putting words together.”
Young said they would “harass” Kobe for his rapping back in the high school days.
“He kind of fancied himself a budding rap star and on the back of the bus on our away games, he would throw down a couple bars,” said Young. “I think as he got older and eventually became a senior, nobody gave him any crap for that anymore. But as a senior captain of the team, after it got a little annoying we’d let him know it.”
Dabney concurs — Kobe loved rapping and they had freestyles on ht back of the bus. But overall, Dabney says he was really laid back, and he just liked having fun.
“He was a regular guy, he really was,” said Dabney.
And even during championship runs, while being the darling of Hollywood — Kobe still stayed true to his roots back home. He became the biggest cheerleader and critic during Lower Merion’s 2006 state title run, 10 years after he brought it home.
One of Kobe’s Lower Merion mentees, Garrett Williamson, said he would try to sneak back to the high school.
“I remember we were in practice, we were maybe in district playoffs. We were running sprints. And we look over and he has his hood up and he snuck in the back door. We were like oh it’s Kobe over there. We were all excited, it’s Kobe we are trying to keep it cool,” Williamson remembers.
Even after he retired from the game, the pride for Aces Nation still pumped through Kobe’s blood. He made it a point to be a mentor to future generations of Aces.
“Post NBA, we were starting to have a relationship with him that in many ways was as close as we’ve been since high school. And for our players to get a sense of that and included in that — that was something that he was intentional about,” said Young. “He closed those doors and I thought that we’d be there for a half an hour, maybe 45 minutes. We were there for almost two hours. He was answering all those guys questions and having really powerful, emotional conversations.
Kobe was a proud Ace – and as writer Mike Sielski says — the Kobe the world came to love manifested in a small gym on Montgomery AVenue.
“It seems like people think he sprouted fully formed out of a hill in Los Angeles, and I understand why,” said the author of The Rise: Kobe Bryant and the Pursuit of Immortality. “He grew up before America’s eyes. But as you mentioned, this other aspect to his story that is fascinating, dramatic, and gives people an indication of the man that he became.”
But it doesn’t really matter when you met Kobe — the impact he made was more or less the same. Here’s how the people in his life sum it up:
“It was somebody that everyone sees as a hero. Somebody who everyone sees a their favorite player the best to ever play the game,” said Johnson.
“No is not an option. Not succeeding is not an option. You have to succeed. And I think that Kobe rubbed off on everyone that way,” said Treatman.
“It goes even beyond basketball, I think that after his passing, he really put a lot of things into perspective and the type of man he really was,” said Williamson.
“I always thought I was the most competitive but I think Kobe had me beat. I wish I would have met him earlier because it would have made me do things differently,” said Metta World Peace.
“Just seeing how he was embracing this second chapter and how passionate he was about coaching Gigi and the family man he had become. Those are the moments I hold dearest,” said Young.