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What makes the Mamba? 5 little-known stories about Kobe that further his legend

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Olympics Day 6 - Basketball
Olympics Day 6 - Basketball

Kobe Bryant has become, more than anything else, an urban legend as his 40th birthday has come and gone by in a flash. There is a wealth of untold, unexplored lore that one can find when you dig deep into the life and times of the Mamba.

His work ethic, his toughness and his will to win are well-documented and known widely amongst basketball fans - so much so that there can't possibly a Mamba story made up so as to be too unbelievable when you hear it the first time around.

Going for a 40-mile desert bike ride all by himself the night before camp began in Las Vegas? Shoot, he could do it in his sleep. Getting shots up with his left hand while recovering from a fractured right wrist? Check. Hitting two free throws on a busted Achilles? Are you kidding me? You could put him on a stretcher and he'd still make those free throws before giving you leave to carry him off the court.

This article is an attempt to glance into some of the lesser-known tales about Kobe. A couple of them will be unpalatable to people who think he never made his teammates better, or wasn't a good mentor and a leader - perhaps it might serve to open their eyes?

#1 His first bow with Jerry West

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It's 1996, and the Lakers call in Bryant, fresh off his senior prom, for a pre-draft workout at the Inglewood High gym. In attendance are G.M. Jerry West and two members of L.A.'s media relations staff, John Black and Raymond Ridder.

Bryant is tasked with playing one-on-one against Michael Cooper, the former Lakers guard and one of the premier defenders in NBA history - among the few guards to ever have won the Defensive Player of the Year trophy.

Cooper is 40 years old but still in great shape, wiry and long and stronger than the teenaged Bryant. It starts off with Bryant taking Cooper off the dribble. The elegant, smooth footwork Bryant has always displayed, since then and up until now, was on full display. So was the explosiveness. Bryant got inside with his burst or just hit from the outside.

Bryant did so well, with such a steady hand against the guy Larry Bird once called the best he'd ever faced, that the foremost objective had been quickly achieved, and Cooper knew it.

"There was no fear in him. I think that was what they were looking for. Kobe definitely had it at a young age," he said. "I think everybody saw that. I saw it."

"It was like Cooper was mesmerized by him," says Ridder, now the Golden State Warriors' executive director of media relations. After 10 minutes West stands up. "That's it, I've seen enough," Ridder remembers West saying. "He's better than anyone we've got on the team right now. Let's go."

The Lakers duly traded Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for their pick, using it to draft Kobe at #13 in the 1996 NBA Draft.

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Started as an Arsenal fan at the age of 6. Became a Ronaldo and a Real Madrid fan after the 2002 World Cup. Bandwagon Celtics fan this season, though I've watched the NBA with increasing frequency over the past 14 years or so. Played both games with my high school team at some of the highest levels there are in India. Played against East Bengal u-17s in college. A member of Mercurial FC, 1st division Amateur League team in Bangalore.
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