In 2018, ten years after “The Redeem Team” featuring Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Jason Kidd and more took back the gold medal for the United States at the 2008 Olympics, Bryant reflected on the experience in his book, “Mamba Mentality.” In that passage, Bryant recalled how he tried to lead and influence James, the star who (while he didn’t know it during the Olympics) would ultimately be his successor on the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I always aimed to kill the opposition. The main thing LeBron and I discussed was what constitutes a killer mentality. He watched how I approached every single practice, and I constantly challenged him and the rest of the guys,” Bryant wrote then.
“I remember there was one half when we were messing around. I came into the locker room at half-time and asked the guys—in a less PG manner—what in the hell we were doing. In the second half, LeBron responded in a big way—he came out with a truly dominant mindset. And I’ve seen him lead that way ever since.”
It turns out that those kinds of exchanges were actually a big part of what drew James to the team, according to former national team head coach Mike Krzyzewski. The man more commonly known as “Coach K” told the story of one of his first meetings with James — when he approached him with the idea of adding Bryant and Kidd to the roster — on the most recent episode of Diversion Media’s “The Dream Team Tapes: Kobe, LeBron & The Redeem Team” podcast (emphasis mine):
“I said, I wanna bring these three guys in and how do you feel about them? Because some of these guys may feel nobody is as good as them... He [LeBron] said ‘well J-Kidd is the best passer in the NBA, I can really pass too. I can learn from him. And at that time Kobe was the best player in the NBA, he didn’t say that, but he did say, ‘Nobody prepares like Kobe, I can learn from that, and Chauncey is really smart.’
“Every meeting that we had with that team, LeBron sat next to J-Kidd, and almost every night Jason and LeBron went to shoot together. I call it sharing best practices. How would they have ever shared best practices if they had not come together and been willing to share that stuff. At the end of the day it was beautiful.”
And while — based on Krzyzewski’s retelling — it was clearly Kidd who spent more time with LeBron, Kidd himself said in 2018 that even in 2008, he could see how much of an influence Bryant was having on the younger James.
“I think for LeBron, he benefited from Kobe, and I think vice versa,” Kidd said then. “I think you can look at Kobe and everybody got better, everybody had great years that following year. ‘Melo, Chris Paul, those guys got better seeing Kobe in that light, and LeBron.”
Now, it’s all come full circle, as James and Kidd ply their trade — James as the team’s star, and Kidd as the highest-paid assistant coach in the NBA — in the house that Bryant built for the Lakers. Would James have ultimately become arguably the greatest player of all-time without that summer spent with the national team, soaking up Bryant and Kidd’s mentorship? Probably — he is really good, after all — but the Lakers should still be grateful he got it, because now it’s James who is renowned by the next generation for his passing and preparation, among other things. Watching him now, it certainly appears like he got what he wanted out of the whole experience. It’s a good thing he saw the benefits all the way back then.