Gary Payton and Kobe Bryant shared the locker room in the '03/'04 season. Payton saw firsthand how Bryant acted behind the camera, which led him to believe that Kobe wasn’t a selfish player, contrary to the main criticism of Bryant's game.
“He was a player that wanted to be better”
Gary Payton formed a super team in L.A. with Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone, and The Black Mamba in '03/'04. The team went to the Finals but unfortunately didn’t win the championship. There were rumors that Kobe didn’t want to pass the ball to his teammates, but The Glove has set the record straight in an interview with JJ Redick.
“If Kobe was selfish and all that, why would he always go to the veterans and ask them what can he do to get better? Selfish players don’t do that. He was a player that wanted to be better. He always asked me what to do. The year he asked me how to play defense and he made the defensive team every year after that. I told him how to be that.”
We’ve all seen the 5-against-1 plays and how Kobe would demand the ball in clutch moments. But as Payton said, Kobe was just a student of the game, soaking in all the information and advantage he could get from his veterans. Bryant was already an established star, but he had the humility to ask his teammates to teach him a thing or two.
Why Kobe wasn’t a selfish player
Another proof that the Lakers star wasn’t selfish was how he mentored several young NBA players who are now dominating the league. He trained with Kawhi Leonard, Jayson Tatum, and Paul George. Kobe was humble enough to recognize what he needed to improve and generous enough to pass that knowledge to the next generation.
As they say, greatness isn’t appreciated until it’s over. Bryant demanded that his teammates train as hard as him. That was the only way to gain his trust. Kobe wanted to get better so badly and did it the right way. There were no shortcuts. If fans likened The Black Mamba’s mentality to Michael Jordan, how come the Chicago Bulls legend wasn’t described as selfish when he was still playing?
Regardless of the narratives, Gary Payton is ready to defend his former teammate. He witnessed what happened behind closed doors, and that’s the truth he is sharing with the world right now.