The 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers are one of the better collections of talent the NBA has ever seen.
In an attempt to win one more championship with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers signed Gary Payton and Karl Malone in 2003 NBA free agency. While those two were in the latter stages of their careers, they were still skilled.
During that season, Payton became sort of a mentor to Bryant. The two played similar positions and Bryant wanted to improve as a defender and did so, making the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team. Bryant was also going through the controversy of his Colorado case and Payton helped him face that adversity.
Through it all, Payton learned that Bryant’s willingness to learn and get better made him different from others, via ‘All the Smoke’ podcast with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson:
Payton’s description of Bryant is one of the more perfect ones of him as he discussed Bryant’s hunger to learn more information. It’s also a perfect Bryant story that he told Payton he wanted to be on the All-Defensive team, just to successfully do it that same season.
Payton spoke about how Bryant would always approach him after practices to ask about specific defensive moves and how he did them. Payton was happy to teach Bryant and in turn, Bryant became one of the league’s best perimeter defenders for the next decade.
Bryant is obviously very famous for his ‘Mamba Mentality’ as it was the driving force of his Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame career. It’s clear that this mentality had developed far before he became one of the league’s top players.
Payton also may have been the perfect mentor for Bryant as he is the type of person who would teach him whatever he wanted to know but would never make things easy for him.