With greatness comes great responsibility. That’s why some of the best players in the history of the NBA presented excellent leadership capabilities, whether it was through support, tough love, or straight-up demanding 100% day in and day out from practices to games. We all saw how demanding MJ was towards his teammates in “The Last Dance” documentary, but he isn’t the only guy that pushed his teammates in that manner.
Kobe Bryant emulated Jordan in every way on the court, but these two were very similar even off the court. The insatiable desire for winning and competing brought out the best and worst out of them, as championships were the only result acceptable no matter what. Even at the cost of going at it with your own teammates. We have heard and seen numerous stories about Kobe going 100% even at practice, mostly in his later years. From trash-talking his whole team to saying goodbye before the trade deadline, “The Mamba” was a savage.
But back in the 2003/2004 season, current Kings head coach Luke Walton got his treatment. Walton was a rookie at the time, trying to find his place in the league. Having the chance to go up against prime Kobe every day helped Walton shape up as a player, but it also led to one of the worst days of his life. One day Walton came to practice visibly hungover, smelling of alcohol. Kobe being Kobe, noticed that and decided to teach the rookie a lesson:
“I probably had too much to drink the night before. So I came in, I was a rookie, I felt good, and they could smell some alcohol on me, and Kobe informed the rest of the team that nobody was allowed to help me on defense, and that I had to guard him the entire practice. And I was laughing at first, like ‘Oh, this is funny’. But in Kobe’s mind, in his eyes, he was like ‘No, I see and smell weakness, I’m going to destroy you today.’ He taught me a lesson (laughing), he taught me a lesson. He probably scored 70-something in practice that day, and I’m begging for help, but none of my teammates would help. His killer instinct, and his work ethic will stick with me forever.”Luke Walton, Sports Illustrated
The killer mentality we saw night in and night out from Kobe didn’t come by accident. “The Mamba” was preying on his teammates and getting ready for when it counts, all while teaching his teammates a valuable lesson about what it takes to be a professional in the NBA. Coming to practice hungover was a big no-no for Kobe, as he decided to punish Walton in the best way possible by torching him on the court and forbidding any help. I can only imagine how drained, and humiliated Walton looked that day.
But it’s nice to see that Walton learned a valuable lesson that day rather than developing a grudge against Kobe. A lot of guys would never forgive him for that kind of embarrassment. That eventually helped the two establish a connection, as Kobe shared his praises for Walton’s basketball IQ on a few occasions. They spent nine years together in Los Angeles, as Walton even played a few solid seasons alongside Kobe before eventually becoming a head coach. Just another classic story about Kobe’s unmatched competitive spirit and desire for everyone around him to be great.