Kobe Bryant never had a reputation for being the easiest teammate to play with.
Whether he was calling his fellow Lakers “soft as Charmin” during practice, or throwing away their Kobes because they didn’t deserve to wear shoes with his name on them, or openly asking for younger players to be traded (hey, LeBron does that too!), playing with Bean could be emotionally taxing. Just ask Smush Parker and Kwame Brown.
But the one thing that was undeniable about Bryant was that he brought his best to every practice and every game. He had a high standard of excellence; if a teammate matched that effort, even with a lower talent level, then playing with Bryant became much easier.
Pau Gasol was one of Bryant’s favorite teammates. The feeling was mutual, despite the fact that Bryant publicly called him soft and regularly taunted him, like when he hung his 2008 gold medal in Gasol’s locker after the United States beat Spain in the Olympic final. But Gasol needed Bryant’s push to get better, and he was willing to accept it because of what Bryant gave to the game.
On an episode of “Inside the Green Room”, Gasol spoke about Bryant’s commitment and drive:
“His work ethic was unparalleled and unmatched. He was just determined and obsessed with being the best at all times, and he just put in the work. The extra work, it didn’t matter what time it was. He didn’t sleep that much, so whenever he woke up he had that itch and that obsessiveness of ‘I’m just going to take this time to work, to go to the gym to take some shots, to hit the weight room.’ It’s something so unique, but he studied it. He studied MJ from the very beginning. In order to be the best, you have to study the best, and he just studied, prepared, prepared, and it was in his mind at all times.
“We would have dinner and it would be 11 p.m. at night and he would say ‘I’m going to hit the weight room’ when you’re thinking about ‘I’m ready to hit the bed, I’m tired.’ It doesn’t even cross your mind to try and hit the weight room or anything like that, but he would do that pretty much at all times and it was just incredible, and proof of how much he wanted it. How badly he wanted to be the best, to win, and it was inspiring. It was contagious ... And he brought the best out of a lot of guys, including myself. He brought a different level to everyone because he set that tone.”
Bryant brought out the best in Gasol, helping him elevate from an All-Star who never won a playoff game to an All-NBA player who was the second-best Laker on two title teams. He also brought out the best in Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher, and several other Lakes who played important roles on championship teams.
Success doesn’t come easy, and Bryant knew that better than anyone. He was the perfect vessel to preach that message to others because of his willingness to work, which set an example for everyone around him.