LOS ANGELES — Because of Kobe Bryant, Anthony Davis will always remember to wear his jersey. Because of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James will always strive finding the perfect balance between maximizing his productivity without sacrificing his family time.
Safe to say that Davis and James are at different stages of their NBA careers. But that partly explains why Bryant could influence so many NBA stars. Following his unexpected passing this week because of a helicopter crash, it appears Bryant could offer a lesson on almost anything.
The most notable one for Davis? It happened in the 2012 Olympics when Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski unexpectedly asked Davis to play in mop-up duty during an eventual blowout win against Nigeria in preliminary play. Only one problem: Davis had a white T-shirt on instead of his jersey underneath his warmup.
“Kobe got on me. I can’t say what he said,” Davis said with a chuckle following the Lakers’ 127-119 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday at Staples Center.
Well, Davis could share at least some of what Bryant said. Just not the expletives. Bryant asked Davis, “Why are you not going in the game? This is your chance!” Davis replied, “I don’t got my jersey on.” That prompted Bryant to look underneath Davis’ warmup and then chastise him for the mistake.
“So now every game, I check to make sure I have my jersey on to this day,” Davis said. “He taught me how to get dressed for a game.”
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James did not exactly need those lessons. James entered the NBA in 2003 out of high school seven years after Bryant did the exact same thing. The two were respectful albeit distant until the two played together on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team. Then, Bryant talked to James about the importance of having a killer instinct and a disciplined regimen.
Nearly 13 years later, the 35-year-old James is playing his 17th NBA season with the same kind of production that helped him win three NBA titles, rank third on the league’s all-time scoring list and land 16 NBA All-Star appearances. It’s the same reason why Bryant won five NBA titles, finished fourth on the all-time scoring list and made 18 NBA All-Star appearances.
“I just watched and saw what he was able to do and why he was great and why he’s successful int his league,” James said. “The reasons why he was one of the best players in the world year after year after year. It would be impossible for me to say the one piece of advice because there’s so many directly or indirectly.”
James also learned something from Bryant’s tragic death. He had spent the majority of his 20-year NBA career with a maniacal approach with both his work habits and personality. During his post-NBA career? James observed to his wife, Savannah, that “these last three years are the happiest I’ve ever seen.” That is because Bryant had become more at peace with both his NBA legacy and his increased free time with his wife (Vanessa) and four daughters (Natalia, Gianna, Bianca, Capri).
“If you want to be the best at something, you’re so driven that you won’t let nothing stand in the way of it, not even your family sometimes,” James said. “When you get compared all the time to greatness, that makes us even more driven and even more sheltered away from even our own family. That’s a difficult part we deal with as professional athletes.”
Bryant surely had his personal problems. He was charged with sexual assault in 2003, though the charges were eventually dropped and the case was settled out of court. Vanessa had filed for divorce in 2011 before the two reconciled two years later. Despite Bryant’s workaholic tendencies, though, those on the Lakers marveled on how well he balanced his job and family responsibilities. Bryant achieved that ideal by having only a select group of friends. During his post-NBA career, Bryant coached Gianna’s AAU basketball team and often left his storytelling production studios in the middle of the afternoon to pick his daughters up from school.
James also has prioritized his family life with his two sons (Bronny, Bryce) and daughter (Zhuri). He has frequently attended Bronny’s games at Sierra Canyon High School. James even watched Bronny’s game in Springfield, Massachusetts, despite needing to make a two-hour drive to Boston that ended in a 32-point loss.
“Make sure you hug your family. If you have kids, tell them you love them,” James said. “Try to make it as much as you can, and don’t feel bad. Don’t feel bad if you happen to go to one of your loved ones and sacrifice your job. I didn’t feel bad in Boston. I went to see my son two hours away and we had a game that night. We got our ass kicked. I didn’t feel bad at all. That took a twist. In the name of Kobe, why not?”