For all three years that Ronny Turiaf was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, he suited up alongside Kobe Bryant, and during that time, Turiaf seemed to build as strong of a relationship with Bryant as any teammate ever really did.
Turiaf and Bryant were tight enough that Bryant named him as one of the four teammates he grew closest with over his 20-year career, a list that also included Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher and Caron Butler. When Turiaf left the Lakers, Bryant spoke out about being “sad” to see him go, even if he understood the NBA is a business.
For Turiaf, the feeling is mutual.
“I have so many fun memories with him, I’m so thankful to have shared the first three years of my career alongside him and getting to know him a little bit better off the court, and kind of seeing a different side of him,” Turiaf said during a recent appearance on the Locked on Lakers podcast.
Their closeness as teammates produced plenty of fun moments, including the time Turiaf was the only other Laker in a video in which Bryant jumped over a car in an early attempt at a viral advertisement for his shoes, but that’s not Turiaf’s favorite memory of the future hall of famer. That distinction goes to one night on the road together in Indiana, when Turiaf got an up-close-and-personal reminder of Bryant’s always-running mind.
“He calls my phone in the room and it’s like 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, and I hear ‘Lobby. Five minutes,” Turiaf said. “I’m like ‘Uggggghhhhhh. Okay bro, okay.’
“We went to Steak and Shake or whatever to have a milkshake to just talk about the game plan and life for like 30 or 40 minutes,” Turiaf continued. “That was fun, we definitely shared a lot of fun over the years playing.”
Turiaf said that he’ll always appreciate the way Bryant started to let some Turiaf and some of their teammates in towards the end of the forward’s time with the Lakers, beginning to bring teammates into his room on the road to play games with him in an effort to build bonds.
“I’m so proud of him seeing him now just open and let people in a little bit more, I think that’s part of his growth and I’m proud of him,” Turiaf said.
In Turiaf’s eyes, Bryant’s attempt to let people in more was also an act of him balancing his maniacal drive to be great with allowing people to form a connection with him that would let him lead.
“Not to get too philosophical on you guys, but we as human beings are designed to connect, right? And I think that Kobe made a choice to be in the conversation as one of the best to ever play the game, and I think that required a tremendous amount of sacrifice that he’s conscious of,” Turiaf said. “Because he cared so much about both family, but also wanting to be great, I think he was like, you know what? If I’m going to sacrifice off the court stuff, I’d better be sure that I’m going to give everything I have to basketball.’”
Bryant’s development of those leadership and camaraderie skills were on full display as the teams he won titles with in 2009 and 2010 took on the personality of their leader, never letting up because they wanted to get the rings that had been denied to them in 2008.
Turiaf wasn’t there for those championships, but before he departed, he’d already seen the way Bryant was finding the balance that would allow him to win the next season.
“He did not really allow people in too much because he wanted to be so great,” Turiaf said. “I think that comes at a cost, and I think that’s why when I talk about the evolution of the leadership, the evolution of who he is as a man or whatever, it’s to understand that it’s a necessary part of being part of the conversation as one of the greatest. To let people in, to let people understand him more and more.”