During his 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, the greatest challenge Kobe Bryant faced was perhaps learning how to lead his teammates in different ways.
In the first half of his career, Bryant led by example as Shaquille O’Neal was the team’s vocal leader during their 2000-02 championship run. However, when O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat prior to the 2004-05 NBA season, Bryant eventually learned he had to find a balance.
After the Lakers were twice eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns, Bryant adjusted how he approached his teammates and won two championships in three consecutive NBA Finals appearances.
In order to get the best out of teammates, Bryant believes it goes beyond just passing them the basketball. He worked to accomplish that by joining them in social gatherings but then having an expectation early the next morning, via Lewis Howes of The School of Greatness:
“When I played, one of the things I had to learn was how to get the best out of my teammates. Most people think it’s a simple thing: pass them the ball. But that’s not how you make guys better. You have to really affect their behavior. Like, I would tell guys if we had back-to-backs, ‘I don’t care if we’re in Miami. I don’t care if we’re in a great city of Chicago, you can’t go out. Gotta get rest.’ But guys aren’t going to listen, right? So a few times I said, ‘We’ll all go out. We’ll go out together. I’ll drink with you.’ But the next morning, I’m banging on your door at five in the morning. ‘Let’s go!’ ‘Where we going?’ ‘I hung out with you, now you come hang out with me. This is what we do. Let’s go.’ And they’re at the gym, we’re working out, we hit the bus, we go to practice, we play that night. And they’re dead and like, ‘Lesson learned.’ Listen, if you’re going to do that, do that. But don’t let that comprise what we’re here to do. So you’ve got to show them, ‘Kob’ can do that and still has the energy to get up and do this. So either I got to meet that same energy or I gotta keep my butt in my room.’ … I think you have to listen and you have to pay attention to what your colleagues or teammates are saying. What are certain things that drive them? Certain things that motivate them, that trigger them.”
From being the youngest to the oldest player on the roster, Bryant’s evolution as a leader was interesting to watch. As Bryant was the best player during the prime years of his career, he could easily win games by himself during the regular season.
Once the future Hall-of-Famer realized he needed his teammates to win championships, the focus was ensuring his supporting cast was well-prepared during the playoffs.