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“That was the only reason I took that job.” — how Kobe Bryant inspired Phil Handy to get into coaching

If not for Kobe Bryant, Phil Handy would have been doing something else.
Los Angeles Lakes guard Kobe Bryant and assistant coach Phil Handy

Kobe Bryant and Phil Handy

Some were born to become coaches, while some became one by a weird twist of fate. Count coach Phil Handy as one of them. He has been a coach since 2011 because of one player: Kobe Bryant.

Grabbing the opportunity to coach Kobe

If it wasn’t for Mike Brown, Handy would have been in another career, but thanks to a break in 2011, he’s now known as one of the most successful assistant coaches in the NBA, with six consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.

After playing professional basketball overseas, Handy retired in 2002. As he explained to Gilbert Arenas, coaching wasn’t in his plans, but when the opportunity to test himself against one of the best players of all time, Kobe Bryant, he knew he had to take the challenge.

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I had no desire to be a coach. That was not part of my plan. The opportunity came for me to work with the Lakers, the only thing that really sold me on it, was to have the opportunity to stand next to Kobe, that was it. I wasn’t interested in necessarily coaching in the NBA, I wanted the opportunity to see if my skill set as a trainer was good enough to impact a guy like Kobe. That was my motivation and that was the only reason I took that job.

That stint with the Lakers opened a lot of opportunities for Handy. He stayed with Brown when he went to Cleveland, and the two appeared in four consecutive NBA finals from 2015 to 2018, and Phil helped the city win its first and only championship to date.

Coaching Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard

Phil coached another superstar, Kawhi Leonard, in Toronto from 2018 to 2019, and also won a ring there, the first and only for the Raptors so far. With such an impressive coaching resume and opportunities that some could only dream of, Handy remains grateful.

There’s a lot of coaches that have coached for years and years, and they’re successful coaches. There are good coaches that have never made it to the Finals. And for me to be able to be on this route, I don’t have an answer to it sometimes,” he said.

There were stories where players give credit to Kobe Bryant for inspiring them to become better. And then we have a successful coach who wouldn’t have taken coaching as a career if not for the Black Mamba. Phil Handy saw firsthand how great of a player Kobe was, and it was all he needed to say he’s chosen the right path. 

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