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23 Years Before Kobe Bryant’s Work Ethic Impressed Him, 3x All-Star Shares a Freaky Coincidence With ‘Black Mamba’

Published 08/20/2023, 7:34 AM EDT

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It’s an understatement to say that Kobe Bryant inspired an entire generation of NBA players. He’s one of the reasons many from the current crop of players are in the league. Many contemporaries can recall how they sought the Mamba greatness. One retired NBA pro wanted to be the Los Angeles Lakers star so bad, he did something arguably silly. At least he can look back on that incident and laugh about it now.

That’s exactly what Gilbert Arenas did on the Iman Amongst Men podcast. He revealed to Iman Shumpert that he aspired to be like the ‘Black Mamba’ from the get-go. However, it was just a little injurious to his health.

Gilbert Arenas names Kobe Bryant his childhood hero

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While hosting Gilbert Arenas on his show, Iman Shumpert had to ask who was Gil’s role model as a kid. He grew up admiring Magic Johnson and later looked up to Penny Hardaway. But when he was a basketball standout at Ulysses S. Grant High School, his eye was on the local rising star of the NBA. When Arenas was in his early high school years, the Lakers selected 17-year-old Kobe Bryant in the 1996 NBA draft. Being an LA native, Arenas was enraptured by the Kobe phenomenon. “And then when Kobe came, you know the high school, you know what I mean?” he gushed.

An interesting incident occurred when Bryant was a newly-minted Laker. He missed his first-ever training camp with the team because of an injury. He was playing pick-up basketball at Venice Beach a few days before camp started and hurt his wrist. The injury would slow him down initially but Bryant would overcome it to have a great start in the league.

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This news was covered in the media in 1996 and didn’t escape a teen Arenas’ attention. He was enticed enough to go to Venice Beach himself the next day where a coincidence occurred.

He broke his hand at Venice Beach. And then I went down there, playing, broke my hand.” That was not the setback to Arenas as it was to Bryant. In fact, he took it as a sign. “I’m like, Kobe, I’m going to the league!” Shumpert was in stitches imagining young Arenas ecstatic about his broken hand.

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Gilbert Arenas’ destiny

Even after he entered the NBA, Gil’s obsession with the Mamba continued. He once found out that Bryant was working out in a gym at 3 a.m. and went there himself to verify it. He stayed and watched Bryant through an entire practice session as a study.

Arenas’ tendency to catch up with Bryant existed long before that. After he broke his hand in the same place as the then Lakers rookie, he truly believed he was going to follow in Kobe Bryant’s footsteps. “I broke my hand and thought I was destined. Going to the league, guaranteed. Like Kobe, same hand. That’s all I’m saying.

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Kobe 2.0,” as he dubbed himself, did make it happen. The Golden State Warriors selected Arenas in the 2001 draft and the three-time All-Star played 11 seasons in the NBA. And Kobe indirectly made it happen.

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Written by:

Caroline John

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Caroline John is an NBA writer at EssentiallySports. She has been covering athletes outside the sports arena since the start of her reporting career. A writer at heart, she graduated with a degree in journalism from a reputed university.
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Edited by:

Bagavathi Eswaran