Former Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford spent one season with the Los Angeles Lakers as an assistant. That happened to be the last year the team made the playoffs, a season widely remembered for the failed marriage of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and Pau Gasol.
In particular, the relationship between Kobe and Howard was a constant talking point. Bryant’s serious, maniacal commitment to winning never really meshed with Howard’s carefree, joking attitude.
Clifford recently appeared on the Lowe Post podcast with Zach Lowe and was asked about the relationship between Kobe and Howard, and he couldn’t help but to praise Bryant’s insatiable desire to win:
“I felt like it got better and better as the season went on. Kobe was, I mean, just being around him, for me was incredible. His passion for not just winning but preparing to win, and I’ve been around other good players, I’ve just never seen anything like that. He thought that we were going to win every night. I mean he was shocked when we lost. From the film work, to the way he took care of himself, and along with that, he’s not warm and fuzzy now. With coaches, teammates, or whatever. And he sets a tone, in my opinion, of accountability that you need. You can see why the teams he’s been involved with were always right there, because he wants to win everything.”
Clifford would go on to say that Kobe’s standards are warranted and have helped the Lakers franchise as a whole:
“Listen, even as a coach, if you’re in a practice situation or shootaround and make a mistake, he’s going to let you know. Not in a bad way, but he wants to know. He wants the information, and he expects everybody to be at their best. And when you watch him, he’s putting in the work to set that tone. Was there times when there was conflict? I would say yeah. My point about Kobe is, no matter who you are, he has high standards. And to me it’s fair. That’s why they’ve had the culture there that they have for all these years.”
Kobe’s mindset and expectations for himself and others has made it difficult for him to get along with certain teammates. He and Howard couldn’t quite gel in the same way that he and Shaquille O’Neal had issues.
The difference of course is that Shaq’s dominance on the court couldn’t be questioned.
Nonetheless, what made Kobe great was his unflinching desire to be the best and he would test his teammates to ensure they wouldn’t crack under pressure. For Clifford, it was a joy to witness Kobe in his element doing what he loves most.
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