When Kobe Bryant retired in 2016, the NBA community bid farewell to a legend of the sport. But the Mamba didn’t stop there. Although he stopped playing in the NBA, his mind still had the basketball knowledge. Just like how Kobe thrived in the league under the early guidance of Michael Jordan, the Lakers legend found interest in mentioning a player.
So who is the mentee to the Mamba’s mentorship? Back in March 2019, Kobe Bryant sat down for a chat with SiriusXM NBA Radio where he was asked about who was his “mentee,” just like how he had MJ to learn the nuances of the game.
The Mamba recalled an incident from 2016 to name Kyrie Irving as his protege. Here is how Kyrie once startled Kobe when the five-time champion least expected a call from the current Nets star. “We’re sitting on our couch at home after Cleveland came back from that 3-1 deficit and beat Golden State,” Kobe began.
“We’re watching the game and we’re sitting on our couch, and you know, me and Gianna were just hanging out. And my phone rings,” Kobe continued. “It’s a FaceTime call and I’m like I hate FaceTime calls. But it’s Kyrie.”
Kyrie Irving called Kobe Bryant right after winning the championship with the Cavaliers. “I pick it up and Kyrie’s in the locker room celebrating on FaceTime like, ‘Dude, it worked. Your advice worked.’ He’s completely freaking out,” Kobe said. “I was really really proud of him. So I’d say Kyrie is probably the one I’m closest to.”
When Kobe took Kyrie under his wing, he had one very important piece of advice to share with him. It wasn’t just any normal advice on improving his game, but it was something that would make him a better teammate.
“The next move for him is figuring out how to get the most out of the pieces around him. That’s really hard,” Kobe stated. “Understanding how do you find an emotional connection with each player, figure out what their fears are, and help turn those fears into strengths. And to do that, you have to put the time in it.”
But according to Kobe, putting time on the gym was not it. Spending time with teammates during other moments, like lunch or dinner, and listening to them, helping them, would shape them into better players and most importantly, better teammates.
The moment Kobe found out that he had to get close to his teammates was when the Lakers agonizingly lost to the Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals. “Michael told me the same thing,” Kobe recalled. “He said, ‘Listen, now you have all the individual tools. Now you’ve got to figure out how to connect with each one of those guys and bring the best out of those guys.”
This important piece of advice from Michael Jordan helped Kobe find out the flaw in the team. The Mamba fixed it and the success flowed in. The Los Angeles Lakers won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.