Kobe Bryant has ended a miraculous 20-year career that engulfed sacrifice, pain, and championships. From the first day he entered the league, we’ve seen huge growth in his game and how he carries himself. Early on, the word leader wasn’t a word that was acquainted with Bryant, but he eventually embodied that role through leading by example and pushing his teammates to want to strive for greatness. It caused others to bash his name and call him a “horrible teammate” or even an “a**hole” but those who have won with him know that’s not the case.
That leader title quickly turned into mentor as Kobe’s mileage caught up with him and he found himself playing alongside a bunch of 19 and 20-year-olds — guys whom he could relate to because he was once that young kid out of high school, playing in a Lakers jersey. But in addition to those young Lakers grabbing knowledge from the 20-year veteran, there was one guy some miles north of Los Angeles that wanted some pointers of his own.
Draymond Green found himself being a sponge in Bryant’s presence trying to soak up as much as he could. Although they differ in position and styles of play, their styles of leadership and demeanor are similar in many ways. Green has become the heart and soul of the Golden State Warriors. He’s their defensive anchor and his vocality has put him into a position of leadership. He can come off as demonstrative and mean but that strong personality fires his physicality which holds down the defending champions’ defense. The way Draymond plays and leads his teammates gravitated to Kobe and in an interview with Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle; he explained why he zeroed on Green:
“Draymond is a rare breed in this day and age,” Bryant said. “He’s a competitor, and he’s not afraid to show he’s a competitor. He’s not afraid to address certain issues with teammates and with (opponents) that may seem uncomfortable. He’s a challenger.”
Bryant added, “He has great intuition. He’s studied the game a lot. He’s a historian of the game, he asks a lot of questions about old stories and players and what they would do here, what they would do there. I think he cares about a certain depth of the game, whereas the majority of young players just stay on the surface.”
Those are high praises from a legend, but that shows how great Draymond is trying to be. Reading that quote from Bryant, you can also see a lot him in Green. When you go back and listen/watch old clips of Kobe, he was the same exact way. He always asked questions, always wanted to know what to do when and where and that’s what made him so great.
Kobe Bryant later went on to explain how he wants Draymond to ignore the perception of himself and just focus on getting the best out of his teammates. Sometimes that agitation and discomfort is needed to force your teammates to raise their game a notch and to be ready, no matter what situation is ahead of them.
“In the playoffs,” Bryant said, “there’s so much friction that emerges, there are so many tough things you have to go through emotionally, if the team is constantly on an even-keel path, when those moments of tension arise in the playoffs, your teammates won’t be used to handling them… It’s like sailing on glassy water. If you do that all the time, and all the sudden the storm hits, you have no idea how to handle it.”
The Golden State Warriors have been a team that hasn’t faced much adversity in this two year run. The biggest challenge was playing without Stephen Curry early in these playoffs, but they figured out how to beat an uninspired Houston team and an inadequate Portland Trail Blazers squad. They now see themselves down 0-1 at home in the Western Conference Finals against a very talented Oklahoma City Thunder team, a game where they played one good half and laid an egg in the second.
This may be that situation that Kobe was discussing where you need a guy like Draymond Green to press the buttons of his teammates to right that ship. Although it’s only a one game deficit, you have to look at every game as a must win. Hopefully Draymond Green listened to Bryant because now is his time to lead the troops if they want any chance of repeating.