In a column published on Players Tribune, the Wizards’ new wingman tells of his first meeting with Kobe Bryant.
Kyle Kuzma didn’t get a chance to play with Kobe Bryant. He arrived in June 2017, and the late Kobe had already been retired for a year. But the former Lakers scorer had remained close to the team, and the two had crossed paths for the first time during his rookie year.
It was Kuzma who recounted that first meeting, set in a restaurant with Rob Pelinka, the current franchise president.
« From the day I became a Laker, I had one thing in mind. I had to sit down with Kobe. All summer long, I’ve been pestering Rob Pelinka on his phone to try to get through to Mamba: ‘Come on, help me out. I’m just trying to talk to him.
Then finally one night, we’re in Minnesota for a game the next day. It’s almost 11 o’clock, I’m stretching in my hotel room and I get a random text out of the blue, « Yo, it’s Bean. Let’s go to dinner. Sunday when you get back. »
I think to myself, it’s Kobe… texting me… Seriously, what’s going on… »
« This rocks, and I’m thinking, « Kobe knows my name! »
So in Players Tribune, the Wizards’ new wingman recounts that dinner.
« I show up at the restaurant this Sunday. I’m always on time for dinner, but tonight I’m 15 minutes early. I just sit there for a while until his security shows up. They come in and tell me, « We’re bringing you to the table. Kobe’s going to be here soon. He’s in the car right now.
So I find myself sitting at the table and waiting. There are two tables: one for me and Kobe, and one for his three or four bodyguards. And I’m just sitting at the table by myself waiting for him. I’m on the phone, thinking about this dinner, drinking water, thinking about how this is going to go. And then one of the security guys gets up from his table. He comes up to me and says, « Kobe just parked. He’ll be here in a couple of minutes.
I tell them that’s cool… But inside, I’m just sweating, and I don’t even know why I’m sweating right now. I have a white shirt on and I’m looking at my shirt…
All of a sudden, Kobe walks in, and it’s like Moses splitting the sea in two. Everybody in the restaurant is looking at him. And he comes to the table, and he says to me, « Kuz, how are you doing buddy? » It rocks, and I’m like, « Kobe knows my name! »
« It’s a memory that becomes more and more important and special to me as time goes on »
What followed was a meal that would last two hours, and Kuzma obviously remembered everything.
« All we talked about was life, basketball, how I had grown up, how he had grown up. The ups and downs of his career. We talked about his professional life. Things that really influenced him. The cool thing about Kobe was that he was always trying to learn. He was always trying to gain knowledge, and it was in any field. So he wasn’t just sitting there answering questions. He was also asking me questions. « How did your education shape you? How do you think it will help you in your professional career? » Things like that. And he didn’t have to do it, but he had.
It was a really cool night for me. It’s a memory that becomes more and more important and special to me as time goes on. »