The 2003-04 NBA season might have been one of the toughest in Kobe Bryant‘s career. After being eliminated in the previous post-season by the eventual champions, the San Antonio Spurs, Kobe, and the Lakers would go into the off-season, facing one the biggest scandals in NBA history.
That summer, the then young superstar was accused of sexual assault by a 19-year-old hotel employee in Edwards, Colorado. The criminal case against Bryant was dropped when the accuser informed the court she is not willing to testify. In August 2004, the accuser filed a civil lawsuit against Bryant which was settled. The settlement was never disclosed to the public, but the LA Times reported that legal experts estimated the settlement was more than $2.5 million.
This was a major stain on Kobe’s public image at the time and made things within his household a mess. In addition to that, all of this was happening around the time the Kobe-Shaq beef had reached its peak.
The same summer, the Lakers acquired two pieces in hopes of bouncing back and winning the championship. One was Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone, and the other was a defensive demi-god, Gary Payton. The ladder of the two would be taking Kobe under his wing that summer to help him steer through the drama and better him as a basketball player.
As he revealed during a podcast interview on “All The Smoke,” that season Gary Payton provided much needed veteran leadership for the then troubled young superstar:
“I had the pleasure of mentoring him for one year when he was in trouble with the whole Denver case and stuff. It was really a joyful time to mentor him. I became a big brother to him.”Gary Payton, “Showtime Basketball – All The Smoke”
He then recalled an occasion during which Kobe approached him wit the pure intent of learning more about and aspect of the game he needed to work on, which was his defense:
“He came and approached me at the All-Star game and asked me how to make the All NBA Defensive Team. I sat with him there at center court and taught him a lot of things. He then made the Team First Defense with me that year.Gary Payton, “Showtime Basketball – All The Smoke”
Things like that made Payton realize that the Black Mamba was for real and that his competitive spirit was truly elite:
“I said this young kid has a lot of different things in him; he’s got a lot in a different mentality. He kept asking me stuff every time he played me, and when I posted him up and got it, he would always come over to me and sneak it in my ear: ‘OG, man, why you keep killing me on these post-ups, man?’ You gotta teach me that!’ What should I do?’ And that was just a big thing for me to hear that, and I respect that, and I couldn’t do anything but to respect it and teach him the game.”Gary Payton, “Showtime Basketball – All The Smoke”
When they became teammates in the 03/04 season, The Glove decided that he wanted his defensive legacy to live on through someone worthy, so taught young Kobe everything he knew:
“We used to stay after practice in LA, and we used to do drills about defense. I used to get him, and I used to throw a tennis ball back and forth, and he used to catch it with one hand and slide. And he got so that at it, that he used to guard all the top guys. And that’s when I started telling him to stop straying away from all of the top guys, if whoever is the top guy on that him, you guard him. Guard him all night, and then you take his heart from him, and then you go down and kill him on the other end. And that’s what he started doing.”Gary Payton, “Showtime Basketball – All The Smoke”
In the end, game recognize game, and both Gary and Kobe had plenty of that, but as we all know, teammates are like family, and GP made sure he took good care of his little brother, Kobe.