Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant was one of the best self-motivators in NBA history. Much like his on and off court stylistic predecessor Michael Jordan, Bryant was the king of finding ways to rev his own engines for a seemingly mundane matchup.
There have been tons of tales throughout the years of Bryant using this skill to motivate himself, but the latest one to surface from Dallas Mavericks director of player personnel and former Team USA coach Tony Ronzone is one of the best yet.
In a larger feature from Isaac Harris of Mavs.com about Ronzone’s basketball journey, Ronzone told a phenomenal story about how when he was preparing tape of players who members of Team USA were going to guard during the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship, and how while trying to answer the question of “how could I motivate Kobe?”, Ronzone came up with one of the best strategies any coach ever used: Challenging him.
After practice the next day, Ronzone handed Bryant a single DVD and told him to watch it that night. “He came in the next morning and said ‘I like you,’” Ronzone said. “He looked at me and said ‘I got you.’”
Admitting that it was hard to do for his video guys, Ronzone’s DVD for Bryant consisted of 15 possessions over the past four years where Bryant was matched up on Brazilian guard Leandro Barbosa. All 15 times, Barbosa had scored on Bryant.
“He was foaming at the mouth in the locker room,” Ronzone said. “We start the game and we are going over the lineups. Kobe literally says ‘Coach, I have Leandro.’”
Off the opening tip, Kobe knocked the ball away and literally dove on the floor in the first five seconds of the game after a loose ball. Team USA scored on the possession. The place went nuts.
Ronzone wasn’t kidding about Bryant’s effort level either. Headlines coming out of that game included “Kobe Bryant Shuts Down Leandro Barbosa, Team USA Routs Brazil 113-76” and “Bryant becomes ‘pacesetter’ for Team USA,” the latter of which included this hilariously salty quote from Barbosa:
“He don’t guard like that in the NBA, but he did tonight and I was impressed,” Barbosa told ESPN.com.
Which was later followed by the most Kobe quote possible for the situation:
“We have to continue to get better,” Bryant said.
That level of will to prove there wasn’t a single person on the planet who could challenge him when he was locked in was what made Bryant so great, and it’s evidently a quality that carried over even into FIBA play.
Poor Barbosa never had a chance.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.