Losing the 2003 Finals and stopping the three-year streak of championships for the Los Angeles Lakers resulted in them forming one of the best collections of talent the NBA has ever seen - at least on paper. Karl Malone and Gary Payton joined the infamous duo of Shaq & Kobe in hopes of bringing the Lakers back to glory and the new veteran duo their first championship. Even though they were at the very end of their career, both Malone and Payton could still contribute with their experience, especially when it came down to passing down their knowledge to the younger superstars.
That dynamic was especially felt between Kobe and Payton, as GP became a mentor to "The Mamba." With both of them playing the guard positions, Payton could give Kobe many tips and tricks Payton used during his great run in the '90s. Payton, known for his trash-talking and defense, helped Bryant improve vastly on the defensive end, helping him earn All-NBA First Defensive Team honors. Outside the floor, GP was also a massive supporter of Kobe as a person, helping him get through the Colorado case, one of the most challenging times of Kobe's career. The Glove was a guest on the "All The Smoke" podcast last year, where he shared what made Kobe different from all the other players he encountered during his career:
"Kobe was just a little different. He didn't have no ego. He did have an ego, but I'm saying an ego in asking OG's what to do. And how to become better. And when he approached me at the All-Star Game and asked me how to make First Team All-Defense and I sat there at center court and taught him a lot of things and he made the First Team All-Defense with me that year, I said this kid has a lot of different things in him, a different mentality,"
Gary Payton, All The Smoke
No matter how good Kobe was, he didn't shy away from asking for advice from older players. It showed he knew he could improve on various aspects of his game no matter how old or established he was. That hunger and willingness for perfection are precisely what made Kobe the icon in the NBA world he is. One of the greatest players ever with one of the best work ethics in the history of sports.