Pals recall Kobe Bryant and his quintessential Lakers moments ahead of statue unveiling: "He scored 23 straight points in the NBA Finals!"(Exclusive)

Kobe Bryant has left an indelible legacy on the sporting world, and this statue will serve as a reminder
Kobe Bryant has left an indelible legacy on the sporting world, and this statue will serve as a reminder

Well before Kobe Bryant would win five NBA championships and become the league’s fourth all-time leading scorer, former Lakers forward Robert Horry immediately projected Bryant’s greatness during their first morning shootaround together in just his second NBA season.

“He’s going 100 miles a minute. I was like, ‘Yo man, this is a walkthrough, slow down!’” Horry said, laughing. “He said, ‘I got to go at game speed because that’s the only way I’m going to get better!’

Well after Bryant already established himself as one of the NBA’s best players, former Lakers forward Metta Sandiford-Artest immediately sensed Bryant’s hunger for more during their first practice together in the 2009-10 campaign.

“I was impressed by his work ethic. What jumped out to me was even after he was running and fatigued, he was still performing at a high level,” Sandiford-Artest said. “And he didn’t look fatigued. He was still knocking down big shots.”

When the Lakers unveil Bryant’s bronze statue at Star Plaza outside of Arena before Thursday’s game against the Denver Nuggets, his family and friends undoubtedly will miss his presence nearly four years after Bryant, his daughter (Gianna) and seven others died in a helicopter crash. Nonetheless, Bryant’s statue unveiling will still spark more pleasant memories regarding his 20-year career with the Lakers. It seems likely they will share similar stories about Bryant’s drive.

Kobe Bryant tales, as told by his Lakers pals

Sportskeeda spoke to some of Bryant’s former teammates, including Horry (a current Spectrum Sportsnet analyst), Sandiford-Artest, Rick Fox and Wesley Johnson as well as former athletic trainer Gary Vitti about their favorite Kobe-related moments. Those included their favorite stories that captured Bryant’s competitiveness, top scoring performance they witnessed, a notable injury he fought through and other Kobe-related moments that inspired them.

Editor’s note: The following one-on-one interviews were conducted separately. They have also been edited and condensed.

Kobe Bryant at his jersey retirement
Kobe Bryant at his jersey retirement

What is your favorite story that captured Kobe’s competitive intensity?

Robert Horry: The first day I saw him in a shootaround where he’s going 100 miles a minute. I was like, ‘Yo man, this is a walk-through, slow down!’ He said, ‘I got to go at game speed because that’s the only way I’m going to get better!’ At a young age and at an old age, he always had that fire and intensity with trying to get better and to be the best. It was funny. I had just got traded to the team [in 1997]. He was guarding B Shaw [Brian Shaw] and he was just going fast. We were all old vets and had just been to championship games and had been around the league. He’s like not walking through. We’re like, ‘Yo, it’s a walk-through!’ He’s going through screens like it’s a game situation. We would keep saying, ‘Calm down; it’s a walk-through.’ But it was just the fire and intensity that he had."

"There were moments where we’d be in practice where the second team would beat the first team, and he would be so pissed. Then the next day, we would be like, ‘All right we’re going to go play the last six minutes of the game again because we used to do this in practice.’ We would replicate the last six minutes of the game. We would act like it was a full-on game. Some days we would be like, ‘Nah we don’t want to do that.’ Kobe was like, ‘Nah we’re going to do that’ because he wanted revenge. He always wanted to win and be on top. That was the fun part. We just knew if he didn’t do it, he was going to take it out on the next team."

"The best part of practice was the practice where you’re sitting in the locker room and you’re talking. You’re like, ‘yup; kicked your ass today buddy!’ Then Kobe would be like, ‘wait till tomorrow!’ When he would say that, we’d tell Phil [Jackson], ‘we’re not doing that today.’ It was just to mess with him. The best times were sitting around in the locker room laughing and joking with everybody. Of course we had those moments of intensity where we would mess with him not being able to do something. Then he would literally be in practice the next day trying to master that craft or master that skill. He wanted the ball. It was just competitive. Phil would laugh and say, ‘Just let it go. Let him get it out. Let him do what he does. It will only make you guys better.’ We had fun with it. We were very competitive on both sides of the ball with each squad – first squad and second squad. Those were magical moments, man. That’s why we were able to win three championships.”

Metta Sandiford-Artest: “He went 100% in practice. In all of them, he was competing and was not playing around. He was running and working hard. When I first got there that first year, he was working really hard. I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is really impressive.’ I was impressed by his work ethic. What jumped out to me was even after he was running and fatigued, he was still performing at a high level. And he didn’t look fatigued. He was still knocking down big shots. That body of work in practice was impressive.”

Rick Fox: “In one pre-season game, Kobe didn’t play until the 4th quarter and scored 28 points in the 4th. He walked on the bus and shared with me that he thought he could have scored 73 that night. Obviously, he went on to score 62 in 3 quarters years later and 81 a few weeks later. So he wasn’t dreaming. To him, it was on the way.”


Wesley Johnson: “We had practice after not seeing him for a couple of days or a week. We’re losing that season [in 2014-15]. He showed up to practice. He walked in and told everybody to check up. We went from having practice to playing five-on-five. I think he talked [trash] to everybody on the floor the entire time just because of how we were losing. He was sending a message to us that this is how we should be playing with our intensity level. How we’re playing and how we were treating it wasn’t the way we should’ve been going about it. Everybody knows the ‘Soft as Charmin’ line. That was that practice. It wasn’t a regular practice. That was our practice time. But we ended up playing five-on-five. He had his moments where he would come in and do things like that. For me, that was one of those ‘oh shit!’ moments. He was calling people soft. I know Nick [Young] was trying to tell him that nobody can guard him, and all of this. But Kobe was basically telling him, ‘I’m not nobody.’”


Gary Vitti: “In 2010 when we beat the Celtics in a seven-game series, I don’t think Kobe had a great game in the last game. But sometimes just him being out there made things happen. There wasn’t anything specific to the game. But it was the game itself with how much that game meant to him. Kobe was probably the last Laker that felt that rivalry meant something with beating Boston. I don’t think it's there anymore, right? When the Lakers and Celtics play each other today, it’s not the same.”

What is the best Kobe Bryant scoring performance that you were a part of on the team?


Robert Horry: “The run that he went on [in the 2002-03 season] when he had a lot of 40-point games (nine) when Shaq was out. He would be like, “Hey man, can you all help me keep this run going?’ This is the best part about basketball. We were sitting in the locker room after practices. Someone went up to the chalkboard and said, ‘This is the list of things we want.’ Everybody started writing down, ‘This is what you got to give me in order for me to keep giving you the ball.’ That was a funny thing we did. Those are the memories we remember the most – the fun parts. The other stuff, you don’t always remember. But the locker room shenanigans are the best shenanigans. It was a run of games. You could have one run of games you score. An 81-point game was a part of that. But you think about that run of games that he had. We were still winning in that process, and we were without Shaq. That was more important than anything. We were able to feed him, and he was on a scoring run and still able to win. Take these last couple of guys that scored 60-plus points. They all still lost their game. That doesn’t really mean crap Kove was able to do that, and still win.”


Metta Sandiford-Artest: “He scored 23 straight points in Game 5 with the Boston Celtics versus Lakers [in the 2010 NBA Finals]. That was the craziest thing I had ever seen in my life. We didn’t score, and he was scoring all the points. I remember at one point just being in awe and having to check my mind back into the game.”

Rick Fox: “I had a retirement ceremony at Staples during a Dallas home game, and I was sitting courtside. That night, we laughed and talked throughout the game as he ran up and down and dropped 62 in 3 quarters for the win. He outscored the Mavs himself for 3 quarters.”


Wesley Johnson: It was in Detroit when he scored 12 points in a row in the third quarter [106-96 win over Pistons on Dec. 3, 2014]. We were on the road. We were in the game, but we weren’t always. He was arguing with the refs, walked over and sat down and got up out of the huddle and didn’t say anything. After that, he was like, ‘Give me the ball.’ It was like a childhood dream going up and playing alongside him watching him be him in those moments. It was crazy. That’s what he does. You watch that stuff on SportsCenter. You watch those things throughout your career. But him doing that first-hand, it was cool to see.”


Gary Vitti: The guy scored 81 points and scored 60 in his last game at 37 years old at 20 years. To score 81 points? Wilt [Chamberlain] is the only other guy that scored more with 100. 81, for sure, but the 60-point game at his last game is right there given it was his last game and he was 37 at the time …We both knew that we were retiring together [after the 2015-16 season]. We both knew that we had no chance of winning. So we thought, ‘Let’s just go and have a good time.’ Byron Scott understood the situation. He just let Kobe do whatever he wanted to do. I used to joke with Kobe and say, ‘You’re unbelievable, man. You would go out in the first quarter and shoot us in the hole and would take 10 horrible shots and miss all 10. Then you’d take the 11th shot equally horrible, and it would go in and you would get a standing ovation.’ He would laugh and look at me and say, ‘I know.’”

What top moment did you witness of Kobe either rehabbing or playing through an injury?


Robert Horry: There was a time he broke his thumb and was sitting on the sideline. He had a torn ligament and his hand was in a cast. When he was watching us play and we were winning without him, his point was ‘I’m going to come in and do what I can to keep us winning. I’m not going to look for mine.’ That’s a sign of a mature and smart player. He understands it’s not about who has the ball, who is getting the points or who is getting the rebounds. It’s about getting the dubs, and that was us."

"Then in the [2000] Finals against Indiana, Kobe was pissed off. He wanted to kill [Jalen] Rose. He knew he did it on purpose, and it was a dirty play. First championship, Kobe wanted to be there. That was a role for him with trying to catch Mike [Michael Jordan]. When you’re talking about legacy, that was the first feather in his cap to become legendary. He wanted to become legendary in the sense of not only putting up numbers and getting steals, rebounds and everything. But he’s getting wins with it. That’s what everybody says. It’s not about how many championships you win. If you don’t win championships; you’re pretty much a loser.”

Metta Sandiford-Artest: “He was always in the training room. I know sometimes he was hurt, but it was hard to tell. You could see him in pain and the trainer would tell us how much he was in pain sometimes. We didn’t always know. He was just a tough guy. He was playing through a broken finger [in 2010], and that was wild. I had that, too. I understand playing with pain and coming back from ligament surgery. I remember he would wear a splint. That finger was broken. Then during his last years, he was tired. I don’t know how he was running. He had no legs. He was beat. That was tough. But when he got hurt with his Achilles tear [in 2013], that was pretty wild. Just walking off the floor. I thought he just hurt his ankle. I didn’t know he tore his Achilles. He’s walking off the floor? You’re not just trying to sit there and wait for somebody to take you off? That was wild. The broken finger and Achilles tear were pretty impressive.”

Rick Fox: “My years with Kobe were the Ocho years so Kobe was pretty healthy the first half of his career. But I was amazed at his focus and mental toughness the season he had to carry the weight of a trial [in 2003]. His ability to mentally focus, show up and dominate game after game was what people would understand today to be the ‘Mamba Mentality’: Rising above all circumstances. A dedicated focus like no other.’”

Wesley Johnson: He let me in on his rehab when he was coming back from his Achilles. I saw him workout through that. At the end of the [2012-13] season, I worked out with him until he got back healthy. He showed resilience. It didn’t matter if he was hurt or healthy. He still trained and went hard and worked through it, no matter what. Him letting me in on that showed me his vulnerability. It showed me a side of him that let him know that, ‘No matter what, you still got to do it.’ He was doing the same drills like he always does.”


Gary Vitti: Probably his Achilles [vs Golden State on April 12, 2013]. I went out there and had a couple of words. It was fairly obvious that he ruptured his Achilles. He literally told me on the court that he reached back and tried to pull it back down. To this day, I don’t even understand what that means. It’s not like it rolls up your leg. Maybe it felt that way to him. I said, ‘It doesn’t work that way.’ Kobe then said, ‘Yeah, I figured that out. I tried to walk on my heel and see if I can play that way.’ Nobody has ever said that to me, either. Here’s a guy that knows he ruptured his Achilles, but he’s trying to figure out how he can stay on the court. He said, 'Can we go in the back and tape it up, and I’ll finish the game?’ And I said, ‘No, it doesn’t work that way, either.’"

"Then I explained to him about the free-throw situation. ‘I’ll let you shoot the free throws. You already ruptured your Achilles. You’re not going to rupture the other one just standing there shooting a free throw. It’s up to you. Shoot them. Otherwise, [Warriors coach] Mark Jackson will pick our worst shooter.’ He said, ‘I’m shooting them; I’m shooting them!’ I said, ‘Okay, no problem. Make or miss, we’re going to foul and get you out of the game and bring you back to the trainer’s room.’ Before I knew it, he walked all the way to our bench. I was talking to the official and Mark Jackson to tell them what the plan was. He was already on his way. He walked the length of the court practically. Then he walked back to shoot the free throws. Then he walked all the way back to the locker room. I asked him if he wanted a chair. He looked down at me and said, ‘F--- Paul Pierce!’ You remember in 2008 when Paul Pierce went off on a wheelchair, came back and then kicked our ass. That’s pretty impressive stuff. He lost his mind in the trainer’s room and was throwing Gatorade bottles. But before he left that room, he already started his path back. He wanted surgery the following morning. Then he started his process to come back. He did it under eight months, which was pretty fast-tracked even for him.”

What Kobe moment on or off the court inspired you the most?

Robert Horry: I come from a whole different level of inspiration. I had my different situations. So to be honest, there was nothing I’m inspired by. I was on my own path. But for me, it’s just an honor to play with a person that is not just a great player, but a great person. There were so many things he was doing off the court for the WNBA and girls basketball, college basketball and the homeless. He was doing everything.”

Metta Sandiford-Artest: When I went to visit him at his office to get some jerseys signed for my kids, Kobe had the Wizenard series books that he was writing. He had five stacks of them. I was like, ‘What is that?’ He said, ‘Well, we’re writing this book and I’m making edits.’ He had all of these sticky notes on the books. That was super impressive. It gave me more insight on who he was. That was one of the most impressive things I saw out of Kobe, his work with the book.”

Rick Fox: “The way he seamlessly transitioned from the game to a full-time invested husband, father, mentor and business man. His story telling passion and Oscar winning Documentary made me so proud. I was beyond inspired by his transition after basketball!”

Wesley Johnson:

That [2013] summer and working out with him through that. I saw him not being able to fully walk and do everything, but he could still get his shots up and do that. He was like, ‘No matter what and by any means.’ It was that mentality and determination that he had. You could see why he could set himself apart.”

Gary Vitti:

“The biggest and most superlative sweet moment of Kobe Bryant is when you’d see him with a Make-a-Wish kid. That’s a difficult and emotional thing. Most people, to be honest with you, don’t want to do it. But they will do it because it’s the right thing to do. Kobe almost relished in it. He was really, really good with these kids. You never got the feeling that he was one foot out the door and wanted to get it over with. He talked to them like they weren’t sick. To me, these were the highlights of being around him as that guy.”

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