As if having Shaq and Kobe wasn’t enough, the ’03/’04 Lakers added Karl Malone and Gary Payton to a championship roster. Both veterans were on their last legs, but then again, they weren’t brought in just for their on-court skills.
We now know that Shaq and Kobe’s relationship was done at that point in time and the Lakers needed strong characters to manage the locker room and the two stars. Can’t get stronger characters than The Mailman and The Glove. Malone turned out to be particularly important in that regard. When the Mailman was playing, the Lakers were winning.
Malone was particularly important for Kobe. Not just to manage his relationship with Shaq, but simply to teach him how to be a leader. Kobe may have been born with a killer instinct and an insane drive to win. Other ingredients for leading a championship team, Bryant had to learn.
Thanksgiving is coming, and Karl Malone is sitting there doing an interview, and Kobe’s leaving the locker room. Karl turns to the reporter and says, ‘Hold on one second.’ He goes ‘Yo, young buck, come here,‘ and he whispers something in his [Kobe’s] ear. Then Kobe goes around the player to player and says ‘Have a good Thanksgiving.’ He actually needed Karl Malone to tell him to go wish his teammates a good Thanksgiving.Jeff Perlman, The Full 48
This moment isn’t an illustration of Kobe’s singular focus on basketball. It’s not like he didn’t wish a happy Thanksgiving to his teammates because he was already thinking about his next workout. Kobe was an introvert.
Think about it, wherever he went, Bryant was a bit like fish out of water, the odd man out. In the early days in Italy, basketball wasn’t just his love. It was an introvert’s escape from having to interact with kids in a foreign language. Unlike Italian, Kobe was fluent in basketball the moment the Bryants arrived in Rieti, Italy.
After four years in high-shool, Kobe went straight to the NBA. That’s an awful little time for anyone, let alone an introvert, to develop the social skills needed to be a leader of a championship team. At first, Kobe stayed with Jerry West in LA. West’s son Ryan drove Kobe around because he was too young too drive, or sign his rookie deal. Kobe was 17 and had to have his parents present for the contract to be valid.
Since he was 17 years old, Kobe Byrant was in the spotlight, playing for one of the most famous sports franchises in the world. A lot of skills we take for granted, and have time to figure out through college, Kobe had to learn while playing in the most competitive basketball league in the world. While most of us were preparing for graduation, Kobe was winning his first NBA ring.
A few years later, Karl Malone reminded him to wish his team a happy Thanksgiving.