Even NBA players are starstruck every now and then. One of the most beautiful things about this game and this league is that, more often than not, it allows youngsters to meet, play with or against, and even work out with their idols.
Most youngsters grew up idolizing LeBron James or Kobe Bryant and some were lucky enough to coexist with them in the league. Kyle Kuzma, for instance, can brag about getting to know both.
In a recent article, Kuzma shared an untold story about the time he first met Kobe Bryant. Kobe walked in on him while having a meal and he couldn’t believe he knew his name:
“All of a sudden Kobe walks in, and it’s literally like Moses spreading the ocean,” Kuzma wrote in The Players’ Tribune, as quoted by The Gazette. “Everybody in the restaurant is just looking at him. And he comes to the table, and he’s like, ‘Kuz, what up man?’ Just completely chill. But I’m like, Oh sh*t, Kobe knows my name.
Kuzma told how Kobe tried to mentor him during the first couple of months, how Kobe tried to bring out the best of him and getting to actually know him:
“We’re just talking about life, basketball, how I grew up, how he grew up,” Kuzma added. « The ups and downs of his career. We talked about his business life. Things that really influenced him.
“The cool thing with Kobe — he was always trying to get smart. He was always trying to gain knowledge, and he’d find that from anything. So he’s not just sitting there answering questions. He’s asking me all this stuff, too. Man, just like, ‘How has your upbringing shaped you? How do you think it’s helping you in your pro career right now?’ ” Things like that. And he didn’t have to do those things, but he did. That was a really cool night for me. It’s a memory that just gets more important and more special to me as time goes by.”
But of course, none of that meant a thing unless you proved Kobe that you had a solid work ethic as well. Kuzma wanted to live by the Mamba standards and told a great story about how the ‘worst’ workout of his life helped him get Kobe’s respect:
“Kobe’s telling me, ‘All right, we’re going to do this move, do that move. We got 25 reps of each movement. Usually, you’re in a gym and it’s like make 10, make 12, whatever. We’re doing 25 of each thing, man. I get done with this workout, I’m completely, completely dead tired. And I thought it was the worst workout of my life because I’m missing shots and stuff. But you know, we finish strong, shake hands and leave.
“I run into Rob (Pelinka) the next day, and he says, ‘Aw man, Kobe said that y’all had a great workout. He said that you were in really good shape.’ And I was like, No f*cking way he said that. I’ll be telling my grandkids about the time Kobe said I was in shape. You keep stuff like that with you, » he concluded.
That’s just the kind of player and person Kobe Bryant was. It wasn’t enough for him to be great, he wanted to lift everybody around him as well, inspire young players and pass the torch as he headed towards the sunset of his career. What an incredible character.