Kobe’s Friends, Teammates, Coaches, and Rivals Reflect on the Rise of a Legend

In this oral history, agent Arn Tellem, coach Del Harris, teammate Mark Madsen, and others tell the story of Kobe’s emergence as one of basketball’s greatest
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For a period of two weeks, beginning the day after Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others perished in a frightful helicopter crash in Calabasas, Los Angeles interviewed 15 of the Laker icon’s friends, teammates, coaches, and former rivals as they grieved for Kobe and remembered his extraordinary life.

The interviews consist of personal recollections from the ten-year period in which Kobe rose from a highly touted—and mysterious—eighth-grader, newly arrived after a childhood spent in Italy, to a Philly high school basketball phenom who skipped college and jumped directly to the NBA. There, he became a 19-year-old all-star—winning the slam-dunk contest that same year—and conquered Tinseltown with a starring role on the only Laker team to bring three consecutive championships to the City of Angels.


“He’s 13 years old, and I’m gonna tell you something: He made his first six threes, just swish, swish, swish.”

Jeremy Treatman

Former assistant basketball coach, Lower Merion High School

When Kobe’s dad came back from Italy in 1992, he became the girl’s basketball coach at a Jewish day school. I was the boy’s JV coach at the time, and Kobe would drop by from time to time, and you’d see him playing on a side basket while both teams were practicing.

 One day I just started asking Joe questions like, “Is Kobe really serious about basketball? Is he good?” Joe says, “Kobe’s so much better than me at this age it’s not even funny.” I’m like, “Joe, you were an all-American; you played for the 76ers; you played for the (Houston) Rockets; you played for the (Los Angeles) Clippers; you’re a two-time MVP in the Italian league.” He goes, “I’m telling you, I’m not even close to this.”

Sam Rines

Coach, Sam Rines AAU, Philadelphia



I remember going down to the Delaware Shoot Out. The game had already started, and I showed up late. I went to the sideline, and I’m watching this skinny kid, and I’m like, “Who’s that?” I never seen him before. They said, “Oh, that’s Kobe, Joe’s son.”

 So I’m watching him. He was a tall, lanky kid, almost corny to a fault, but he had an unbelievable … I call it a Jordan swagger. I’m like, “What’s up with this? This kid is trying to be Jordan.” He’s 13 years old, and I’m gonna tell you something: He made his first six threes, just swish, swish, swish.

Susan O’Bannon

Biology teacher and faculty adviser to Lower Merion High School Class of 1996



He didn’t have that same kind of aggression, I guess you could call it, as he did on the court. Back in his sophomore year, his in-school, in-class persona was just cool and collected. He worked hard; he got good grades; he was an incredibly respectful young man.

He was also a great student to have in class because his cool demeanor would sometimes make other people settle down. Dealing with teenagers is not easy, but when he was around, everybody wanted to just be cool like Kobe.

Donnie Carr

Star basketball player, Roman Catholic High School, Philadelphia

The first time I heard the name Kobe Bryant, Hoop Scoop magazine had rated him as the No. 1 rising ninth-grader in southeastern Pennsylvania. They rated me No. 2. The Sonny Hill League was basically all the different neighborhoods in Philadelphia. He played for West Philly, and I played for South Philly. 

At that time Kobe was wearing two kneepads, two elbow pads, and goggles. He was this tall, skinny, lanky kid who did not seem all that athletic and, honestly, he was laterally slow. So I don’t see what all the hype is about. I had heard the name Joe Bryant. And when I first played against Kobe, I’m like, man, they’re just hyping him up because he’s Joe Bryant’s son. 

I was always taught the low man wins at basketball, and since he had trouble bending down, I used to get up under him and dictate his movements and be able to guard him pretty well. And since he couldn’t move quick laterally, I used to be able to score against him. Two years later his body was developing, his handle had gotten better; his lateral quickness got better; his athleticism got better. When he was in 11th grade, he was doing things that were like, “Wow, did you see what Kobe just did?”

John Linehan

Star basketball player, AAU Bryant teammate, Chester High School, Chester, Pennsylvania 



In AAU games, his dad would stand up and shout things out in Italian when Kobe was on offense and defense. And in dead-ball situations, Kobe would look at him and acknowledge him. But nobody else understood what they were talking about. After games Mr. Joe would speak to Kobe in Italian, and they would just sit there and talk about the game. Like they would just sit down and analyze the game of basketball all in Italian.

Sonny Vaccaro

Sports marketing executive, Adidas

The ABCD Camp was the most renowned in America, no question. It started in 1982, ’83, when I was with Nike, and it went with all the shoe companies I ever worked for. We’re getting ready to open camp in a couple of days, and I’m on the court when a very good friend of mine comes over to me and says Joe Bryant is here, he wants to know if you’ll take his young son into ABCD Camp. 

Jellybean Bryant was the MVP of the first national high school all-star game I ever worked for, the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic in 1972. Now this was 1994—he and I haven’t spoken for over 20 years, I certainly didn’t know Joe had a son. Kobe comes from Italy—nobody knows if he can play or not—and I certainly didn’t know. But there was always room for a favor or whatever. 

Kobe comes to camp an unknown. We had Lamar Odom, Tim Thomas; we had eight or nine guys off of that team that went on to be NBA all-stars. Kobe makes the all-underclassman all-star game, which is a big honor. So anyway, Kobe comes up to me afterward and says, “Mr. Vaccaro, I apologize.” And I say to Kobe, “Why are you apologizing? You made the all-star team for the underclassmen.” And he said to me, “I’m coming back next year, and I’m going to be the best player in the whole camp.”

Donnie Carr

Star basketball player, Roman Catholic High School, Philadelphia

I’m on the phone with my high school sweetheart, and back then you didn’t have caller ID, and Kobe calls me on the phone. Lower Merion and Roman Catholic played in the same summer league, and this particular summer, going into our senior year, going into that game, a couple of our players were transferring.

 So I click over, and Kobe says, “Yo, Is Yah Davis coming to the game tomorrow?” So immediately when he asked me that question, my antennas went up. Arthur “Yah” Davis was a top-40 player in the country, and he was a teammate of mine. Kobe says, “Man, ‘cause if you and Yah come to the game tomorrow, and it’s you and him against me, man, we probably gonna get it on, man. But if it’s just you comin’ … man, I don’t even know if it’s worth me comin,’ know what I’m saying?”

 And I double take and I look at the phone, like, what? So I hung up on him. And I forgot I was talking to my girlfriend. My sister runs in the room, she’s like, “What’s wrong?” She heard this loud noise. It was like, “Man, this fuckin’ dude called me basically saying that he’s going to destroy me if Yah doesn’t come to the game.” So after that she’s like, “Calm down,” and I’m like, “No, I can’t wait for tomorrow’s game.”

 Little did I know that all the big-time coaches in basketball, a who’s who of college basketball, were coming to the game—Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski of Duke University], who was recruting Kobe to Duke; Rick Pitino from Kentucky; Bobby Knight from Indiana; Steve Fisher at Michigan. Kobe and I guarded each other, he finished with like 36 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, and I finished with like 29 points, nine rebounds, nine assists. You remember that move that Michael Jordan did to Bryon Russell to win an NBA championship in Utah? Kobe did that exact move to me in that game. He dropped his shoulder and rolled a crossover on me, I mean just like Michael Jordan. The funny part about it is when he did the move to me his dad, in rhythm, was like, “Awww yeah, that’s the ticket, son.” And Kobe held the follow-through and swished the shot.

At the end of the game, they had beat us at the buzzer by one. And I fell to the floor disappointed, distraught. He came to me, picked me up, and was like, “I know I pissed you off, but I love competing against you. You bring the best out of me, and you know we gonna do this again.”

John Lucas

Head coach, vice president, and general manager, Philadelphia 76ers, 1994-96

I just got off a five-day road trip, and my wife says to me, “I’ve finally seen a better high school basketball player than you.” My wife has always told me I was the best basketball player in the world. So I went with her and the kids to see Kobe play a game at the Palestra (basketball arena) in Philly. It must have been Kobe’s junior year of high school. And outside the door I run into Jellybean Bryant. I said, “Jellybean, I’m here to watch a young kid named Kobe Bean.” He said, “That’s my son.”

After the game, I invited Kobe to come work out with me with the 76ers. He used to join us every morning for our workouts at 6 a.m. And I lived one block from the gym … and he lived about two miles from there, and I never beat him to the gym in the morning.

Everybody that I drafted that year had to play Kobe one-on-one, and that year I had the third pick in the draft, a guy named Jerry Stackhouse. And Jerry said to me, “What position does he play on the team?” I said, “Stack, he is a junior in high school.” [Laughs]

John Linehan

Star basketball player, AAU Kobe teammate, Chester High School, Chester, Pennsylvania

Chester was a legendary school famous for a lot of guys that played basketball there. And Lower Merion, when Kobe got there, man, they just became an instant, instant hit, a team that was just highly regarded. And we had some battles every time we’d play each other. It was war.

 Our junior year we faced Lower Merion at Villanova in the playoffs, and we blasted them. We beat ‘em by 27 points. Kobe, it stuck with him for a long time. He talked about it all summer.

 Senior year, I’ll never forget, we were going into the district championship against Lower Merion. I was taking a shower, and my mom answered the phone, and she said, “John, Kobe is on the phone.” So I hop out of the shower, and he starts talking about “We’re going to kick your butt next week.” [Laughs] Come on. Like, y’all don’t have a chance.

 So lo and behold, they came out and beat us for the district championship. They were the one seed; we were the two seed. We go all the way to the state tournament, and we meet in a game to get to the state finals. I was able to steal the ball from him about five or six times. But there was no stopping Kobe. It was our whole team that was trying to defend him. And like I said, he scored 39 points, so we didn’t do a great job on him. And they beat us in overtime in the Palestra. So … [Laughs]

Sam Rines

Coach, Sam Rines AAU, Philadelphia

He didn’t live a normal kid’s life. He was serious all the time. It was like a surreal movie where he sold his soul, said I want to be the greatest player ever, and it came with a cost. Every time we went to a game, he wasn’t joking—no earphones on, he was pounding the ball, dribbling in the corner, stretching and getting ready to play. He was probably the hardest-working player that I ever coached, that I’ve ever seen in my life.

 I would meet him at the Bellevue (Hotel sports club) and watch him play against the pros. It was the summer going into his senior year, everybody was talking about him going pro, and he was this and that, and he’s not that good, you know. Everybody’s saying different things about him. All the pros in the city were down at the Bellevue—(Allen) Iverson, Stackhouse, Aaron McKie, Eddie Jones. And Kobe was probably the most dominant player on the court.

 One day he matches up with Vernon Maxwell. Vernon had gotten released by the Rockets that year, he was on his way out of the league, so I’m thinking Kobe’s going to kill him. No, it was the opposite way around. Kobe couldn’t do nothin’ with him because Vernon was shooting from half court and not missing. And Vernon took the challenge personal, telling him, “You can’t mess with me, young boy!” And Kobe came back at him like, “You’re going out of the league, old man.” 

I’d never heard Kobe trash talk like that. He took it personal. One time I teased him about it, and I swear he stopped talking to me for a couple weeks. [Laughs] Like a couple of tournaments he wouldn’t even talk to me because I teased him about Vernon Maxwell giving him words down at the Bellevue. And that’s Kobe.

Kobe Bryant at Lower Merion High School

Eileen Blass-USA TODAY

Donnie Carr

Star basketball player, Roman Catholic High School, Philadelphia

At the time, I’m a top-30 player, Kobe is No. 3 in the country, and we’re walking into an all-American camp held by the NBA Players Association. It was for 50 of the best players in the country. 

All they gave us was fans, and they didn’t give us no TVs because the whole purpose was to make friends and network with the other guys that were there. So we checked in and got our credentials, and I’m walking back to my dorm at Princeton University when Kobe walks up behind me.

 He’s like, “You know you’re my guy, but I’m not here to make friends. Right now they got me rated as the No. 3 player in the country. I don’t want nobody knocking on my door, none of that. I’m not comin’ outside of my room until it’s time to play.” 

Now I don’t know what he was doin’ in his room—sit-ups, push-ups, dips, meditating? But he did exactly what he said. He didn’t come out of his room until it was time to play. He destroyed everybody in the camp. He won the championship. He won the camp MVP award. And he left the No. 1 player in the country.

John Lucas

Head coach, vice president, and general manager, Philadelphia 76ers, 1994-96

The next season I invited him to all our games, and he came. And then I introduced him to Michael Jordan. I set it up after we lost to the (Chicago) Bulls for him to meet Michael for a minute. And I’ll never forget Kobe going to Michael and saying, “Hello, Mr. Jordan.” And I said, “Well, Kobe, next year if you go to the pros, you can’t call him Mr. Jordan.”

Jeremy Treatman

Former assistant basketball coach, Lower Merion High School

Back then you’d get a phone call, “Hi, this is so-and-so from the Detroit Pistons calling.” This was [before] social media. A lot of NBA teams started calling for the stats, and I would always go, “Yes, 31 points a game, 12 rebounds, eight assists, three blocks, three steals.” I had it memorized. “Yeah, he’s got 2,625 points. He’s going to break Wilt Chamberlain’s record probably at this point.”

 There were other things, like just getting Kobe on and off a bus, getting the team in and out of a building. There were a lot of fans. I really felt like Bruce Springsteen was on our team. There was never a rush at him. But there was a lot of interest. There were a lot of long lines. There were tickets being scalped outside. There were 1,000 people turned away from the Coatesville game at the Palestra. The state championship game was played in a big, giant arena. So they got everybody in, but it was sold-out.

Mike Harris

Kobe’s first manager, Philadelphia 

One night, it must have been midnight, he comes to my house on a bike. My mama goes, “Kobe’s at the door.” He said, “Hey, man, I want you to come tomorrow to my school because I’m not going to go to college. I’m going to go straight to the pros.” So I said, “What are you wearing?” He said, “I’m wearing one of my dad’s suits.” So he put his dad’s suit on—it’s a little big, but in those days that was the style—and he put his sunglasses on his head because he had seen this player in New York do that. And that’s the way he did the press conference.

Jeremy Treatman

Former assistant basketball coach, Lower Merion High School

I helped organize the press conference in 1996, when he went from high school to the NBA. I must have called every press outlet locally and in the New York area, maybe some national people, too. I was sitting at the table next to Kobe and coach Gregg Downer. I remember the athletic director Tom McGovern said there is no right choice, there is no wrong choice, there’s only Kobe Bryant’s choice. And then Kobe got up there, and he said, “I’ve decided to take my talents to the NBA.” 

He got a lot of cheers because the student body was there. But he had his early detractors. A lot of people in Philadelphia didn’t think it was the right decision.

 Kobe was a total novelty in that he was the first guard to jump from high school to the NBA. So this is a guy who wasn’t jumping for the money, wasn’t jumping for hardship reasons, wasn’t jumping because he couldn’t get into college. This guy could have gone to any college he wanted on his own merit, academic merits. He spoke three languages, had great SATs, had great grades. If he didn’t play basketball, he’d still have gotten into Duke.

Sonny Vaccaro

Sports marketing executive, Adidas



The summer before his senior year, Kobe does come back to ABCD Camp, and he is the most valuable player at the camp.

 I was sponsored by Adidas then, again this is 1996, and Adidas is trying to get where Nike was when I was with them. People who ran Adidas at the time sent me to New York to live for a year. I was looking at players to be the first national marketing guy for Adidas, and it turned out to be Kobe.

 Adidas had nobody and no money. They had a million dollars, and I gave it to Kobe. I bet everything we had on him. Everything.

Susan O’Bannon

Biology teacher and faculty adviser to Lower Merion High School Class of 1996

After he decided to go to the NBA right after high school, we knew that it wasn’t going to be a normal prom. I don’t remember exactly how close to the prom we found out he was going to be bringing Brandy, but then we really knew it was going to be a pretty intense affair.

Mike Harris

Kobe’s first manager, Philadelphia

When I first started working for Kobe, I took him to the Essence Awards. And when people there started to recognize him, there was this guy, a sports commentator who had his own show. He tells Kobe, “Oh, you should go back to school. The last guy that jumped from high school to the NBA was Kevin Garnett, and he’s 6-foot-11.” And if you’re around Kobe, he oozed confidence at an early age. He just made his little smirk and moved on, going to get the hors d’oeuvres and going around the party. And the guy says to me, “He should be worrying about his prom.” I didn’t get mad at him. He gave me an idea.

Susan O’Bannon

Biology teacher and faculty adviser to Lower Merion High School Class of 1996



Maybe a week or two before the prom we started getting lots of phone calls from reporters. They would try to field them at our front office and not let them through to the classroom, but every once in a while calls would actually come into my class. And they were asking things like, “Oh, is it disruptive that this whole thing is going on?” You know, asking me this while they were interrupting my class, which was very frustrating at the time. [Laughs]

Mike Harris

Kobe’s first manager, Philadelphia

I was friends with (singer) Monica and the people that represent her, and Monica had some hit songs out, and I thought she was really attractive. But Kobe had his eyes set on Brandy. He was in love with Brandy. No matter what we would do, he would always say, “Hey, I’ve got to get home because I gotta go watch Moesha.” I was like, “Oh, that show?” He said, “Can you get Brandy?” And I said, “OK.”

 I was working for Boyz II Men at the time, and Wanya (Morris) from Boyz II Men was secretly dating and working with Brandy. For the awards show, Kobe and I were in one hotel room, and I knew Brandy was in the room down the hall with Wanya. So I told Wan we were coming by, and I didn’t tell Kobe. And when I brought him in I said, “Hey, this is my client Kobe Bryant.” And so he sees Brandy while I whispered something to Wan, and Wan said to ask Brandy about the prom. So I asked Brandy, and she said, “Well, you gotta ask my mom.” I knew Ms. Norwood and, of course, I knew Pam, Kobe’s mom, really well. So Wan said let’s connect them and make that happen.

 When we went back to the room, Kobe went bananas. He jumped on me, on the bed, screaming, “Ohh, my God, I can’t believe it was Brandy! Oh, my God! Oh, my God.” He was just in heaven that he actually met her and about the prom. So I had to make it happen.

Susan O’Bannon

Biology teacher and faculty adviser to Lower Merion High School Class of 1996

Going to any prom there’s a certain element of craziness, but there was so much media coverage and paparazzi outside the front of the Bellevue Hotel where the prom was that we had to bring the students and the chaperones and everybody in through a side door. There was definitely a heightened sense of expectation until Kobe arrived with Brandy.

John Lucas

Head coach, vice president, and general manager, Philadelphia 76ers, 1994-96

When Kobe went to the prom, my daughter and her date, a high school teammate of Kobe, went with him and Brandy. He took all of his prom pictures over at my house. My wife had a fit because Brandy had these bodyguards, and Brandy’s mom didn’t want pictures. I’ll never forget, my wife said, “Oh, no, this is a special night.” [Laughs]

Mike Harris

Kobe’s first manager, Philadelphia

I watched them get in the limo. Kobe was Kobe. He was about as chill as can be, like this was what was supposed to happen. I still see it right now, man, his little shaved head. He had his little prom suit on, and he thought he was the man.

Susan O’Bannon

Biology teacher and faculty adviser to Lower Merion High School Class of 1996

I was out in the hallway, in the ticket area, where we were manning the ticket table, making sure everybody was there who was supposed to be there. And when he came in, he was flooded. He and Brandy were flooded by people wanting to get their photo taken—and I was one of them. They were almost like royalty.

It was like everybody was waiting for the celebrity couple to arrive, and then when they did, there was this electricity in the air. Everybody was either looking at Kobe or Brandy and/or trying not to look at them and being like, “Oh we’re cool. We don’t really need to pay attention to the stars that are here.”

Brandy

R&B singer

To the Philadelphia Daily News in 1996:

 I pecked him twice. His lips were so soft.

Mike Harris

Kobe’s first manager, Philadelphia

They got pretty close afterwards, and they actually … I need to make sure I keep my mouth shut. A little bit closer afterwards, and Wanya didn’t particularly like that, but that’s what’s going to happen when you have two charismatic individuals that are that age.

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“He played against Michael Cooper, who was NBA defensive player of the year. … And Coop couldn’t contain him.”

Arn Tellem

Kobe’s first agent, Tellem & Associates



On the day of the draft, I remember going to see Kobe in his hotel room, and he was lying in bed. I said, “The (New Jersey) Nets are wavering. I’m working to get this done.” And he pulled me close to him while he was lying on the bed, and he made a joke. He said, “Remember, you’re Hyman Roth. No one says no to Hyman Roth (a crime boss in The Godfather Part II).” He was a movie buff. 

The Nets were saying they were going to take Kobe with the eighth pick, notwithstanding that we didn’t want him going to New Jersey. The Lakers had assured me if I could get him to 13, he’d be a Laker. 

It took a lot of guts on Kobe’s part, because he was moving down in the draft, and there was this risk. He had to give up the sure thing of the Nets. And what happens if someone else took him? He was 17 years old, and he understood that to be able to play on the greatest stage for one of basketball’s most historic franchises, in a premiere market like L.A., it wasn’t about the initial rookie contract. He understood immediately what the opportunity was.

 And I said, “All right, I’m going to go get it done.” And I remember pressuring the Nets’ general manager, John Nash, a fellow Philadelphian, which broke my heart, trying to persuade him not to take Kobe.

Sonny Vaccaro

Sports marketing executive, Adidas

Arn arranged for Jerry West and the Lakers to hold a workout for Kobe at the old Forum in [Inglewood]. Jerry West was on one side of the gym; I was on the other. Jerry has another NBA prospect there to work out one-on-one with Kobe, Dontaé Jones from Mississippi State, a future NBA player who went very high in the draft. And Kobe kicked the shit out of Dontaé. 

Jerry West comes walking across the gym. He says, “Stop it. Stop it. I know what I want.” That’s all Jerry West had to say.

Arn Tellem

Kobe’s first agent, Tellem & Associates

Normally what you do in the beginning of the draft process is you try to build a safety net, which I didn’t want to do. I wanted to see what the top teams thought of Kobe, so it was the reverse. The first workout was to get the opinion of Jerry West, who I am very close to and respect. Jerry said Kobe was everything that had been written about him and more.

There were some very big names at the top of the draft—the first five or six picks were pretty much locked in. But I wanted to see how these teams thought of Kobe in relation to Allen Iverson; Shareef Abdur-Rahim; Stephon Marbury, who had played at his freshman year at Georgia Tech; and Ray Allen, a junior from Connecticut.

 So we sent Kobe to Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Brad Greenberg, the GM in Philly, said they should take him with the first pick if they have the balls, since Kobe would probably end up being greater than the guys who were the safer picks. And Kobe worked out for the Nets, and John Nash basically told me that if Kobe was there at the eighth pick they were going to take him.

 At that point there was no talk of a trade yet with the Lakers. And I sent Kobe back to Jerry one more time.

John Black

VP of public relations, Lakers

I was actually in my office one day, and Jerry came in and said, “Hey, come with me, you gotta see this kid, Kobe Bryant. We’re working him out. You’ve got to come and see this kid. You won’t believe it.” So we jumped in Jerry’s car and went over to Inglewood High School. Jerry had made arrangements for Kobe to work out one-on-one with Michael Cooper, who was retired, but he hadn’t been retired for very long. Michael’s reputation was [he was] one of the best defensive players of all time. Larry Bird’s gone on record numerous times saying Michael is the toughest player he ever played against.

Gary Vitti

Laker trainer

He played against Michael Cooper, who was NBA defensive player of the year. … And Coop couldn’t contain him.

John Black

VP of public relations, Lakers

Kobe destroyed him. And in the back of your mind you’re thinking, “Well, maybe Michael’s not trying his hardest.” But if you know Michael Cooper, that’s not his personality type. Michael was extremely competitive. He would have taken it as a serious challenge to try to stop Kobe, to try to shut him down. Kobe beat him badly.

Arn Tellem

Kobe’s first agent, Tellem & Associates

I was there, it was a very short workout. I think Jerry West said he saw enough in 10 minutes.

Then Jerry and I talked. I said, “Jerry, I’m going to limit who he’s working out for. Do you think you have the ability to get him?” And Jerry said, “Let me think about it.”

kobe bryant
Kobe with Magic in 1998

Walter Iooss Jr. /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images/Getty Images

Neal ElAttrache

Orthopedics consultant, Lakers

I’ve known Jerry West for as long as I’ve been here in Los Angeles, and Jerry was raving about Kobe since the moment he saw him. [Kobe’s] instincts and basketball skills were some of the finest he had ever seen, especially for somebody that young. The word was that this kid at 17 years old was ready for the NBA.

Sonny Vaccaro

Sports marketing executive, Adidas

Arn and Kobe’s father, Joe, started the rumor that Kobe would go to Italy. That’s a fact. But Kobe wasn’t really going to do that because he was desperate to play in the NBA. They had offers from Italy, so it wasn’t like they were doing this blind. We had to try everything possible so no one would draft him till the Lakers had their chance. So now we’re in New Jersey for the draft. Picture yourself in the greenroom now, OK. We’re there; I’m with the whole family; me and my wife are with the Bryant family. All this melodrama was going on around Kerry Kittles, who was a very good player at Villanova. He was sitting right behind us.

Arn Tellem

Kobe’s first agent, Tellem & Associates

It was probably the second week of June when Jerry West had told me he came across a possibility with the Charlotte [Hornets], essentially trading Vlade Divac for their pick and that they would pick Kobe. [I had to] get him to the 13th pick. And I said, “That’s a lot of teams I gotta discourage from taking him.”

John Black

VP of public relations, Lakers

So the trade was made with Charlotte contingent on Kobe being there when they had the 13th pick. So if Kobe is taken in the first 12 picks, the trade is nullified. But if he is there, then Charlotte picks him with the 13th pick, and then we make the trade.

Sonny Vaccaro

Sports marketing executive, Adidas

So we’re all in the greenroom. Arn laid the groundwork—and Jerry had nothing to do with that—that Kobe was going to go to Italy. And then [the 76ers] came to me, and Joe and I both told them we may just wait until next year. 

The No. 8 pick is the New Jersey Nets. It’s going to be Kobe Bryant or Kerry Kittles. Right up to the draft we didn’t know.

John Black

VP of public relations, Lakers

At the time, Kobe had some leverage. He wanted to go to only certain teams, and if he didn’t get drafted to a team he wanted to go to, he was going to go to college or go to play in Europe. So if that scenario came true, and they drafted him, Kobe goes to Europe, then they get nothing for the No. 8 draft pick. Whether that all was a bluff or real, who knows?

Arn Tellem

Kobe’s first agent, Tellem & Associates

So close, literally up till the draft started I was with John Nash and [76ers coach John] Calipari. I never made an express threat. I just tried to persuade them that we had other options and other alternatives, and this was not in their interest or in Kobe’s interest.

 Then it got time for New Jersey to make the pick, and I went back to sit with Kobe and his family at the draft table. Kerry Kittles’s table was right next to us, and we were all holding hands. Here we go, the moment of truth.

Sonny Vaccaro

Sports marketing executive, Adidas

The New Jersey Nets [pick Kittles] at No. 8. And we jumped up, because we knew, we were the only ones in the room who knew that [Kobe is] going to the Lakers now. If you watch the film, because there was a film taken of that in the greenroom that day, we’re all jumping up, congratulating and hugging, and then we turn around and congratulate Kerry Kittles.

Arn Tellem

Kobe’s first agent, Tellem & Associates

When they announced Kittles, we leapt up with joy because I knew then we were home free because the other teams weren’t going to take him. And Kerry Kittles’s table looked at us: Why were we celebrating for their guy being picked? And I remember David Falk, who was representing Kittles, came up to me and said, “What do you have going on?” And I said, “You’ll see.”

Mitch Kupchak

Former assistant general manager, Lakers



Not only did Vlade Divac say that he might retire, but there was such excitement around the pick that Charlotte actually didn’t want to go through with the deal. There was a time there—whether from Vlade’s refusing to go or just the pressure on the franchise—where the deal was actually in jeopardy.

Arn Tellem

Kobe’s first agent, Tellem & Associates

So we think everything is fine. But then Vlade Divac hears of the trade, and now he doesn’t want to go there. He’s unhappy, and he’s trying to convince Charlotte not to take him. There was a point where I thought that they were trying to stare us down, to test our resolve. And I told them one thing, I told Charlotte, “You will never see Kobe Bryant in a Charlotte uniform.”

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“He was always the man, even though he was the kid. He did what he wanted. He had his ideas. He had his philosophy. He had his point of view.”

Donnie Carr

Star basketball recruit, La Salle University, Philadelphia

We met up down on South Street in Philly right after the NBA draft, on the 4th of July. He told me everything that the L.A. Lakers management was about to do. He’s like, “Yo, man, they’re about to trade Nick Van Exel because they want me to be in the backcourt with Eddie Jones.” Honestly, I didn’t believe it. He’s like, “I think they’re going to get rid of Van Exel and Eddie Jones because they want me and Shaq to be the stars.”

 Back then I’m still in high school, about to go to college. Nick Van Exel is an unbelievable player. This is like, “Yo, you just got out of high school. How they gonna trade Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones for you? Eddie Jones is a fuckin’ all-star.”

John Black

VP of public relations, Lakers

He was exceedingly polite. The first year for sure, probably even going into his second year, he kept calling me Mr. Black. I was pretty young, I was in my mid-30s then, and I had to tell him, “Kobe, please, please just stop. Call me John. You’re making me feel old.” Jerry West, he called him Mr. West. Mitch Kupchak, who was our assistant GM, was Mr. Kupchak. Everybody was “mister,” which was rare for a 17-year-old. It was kind of the old-school, being-respectful-of-your-elders sort of thing; very well mannered but very confident.

Del Harris

Head coach, Lakers, 1994-99


I had coached Kobe’s dad in the 1982-83 season with the Rockets as Joe’s last NBA coach. Kobe was certainly a cute little guy at age 4, and little did I know that just 13 years later, at age 17, he would be drafted, and I would become his first NBA coach.

John Black

VP of public relations, Lakers

Del Harris was kind of an old-school coach, and he didn’t think Kobe was ready. He wanted to bring him along much more slowly than what Kobe wanted to do. Kobe wanted to get right out there, and he wanted to be a starter and play 48 minutes a game.

Del Harris

Head coach, Lakers, 1994-99

Kobe was like any precocious youth when he signed his contract with the Lakers at age 17—6-foot-6 but only about 175 pounds with a typical teenage body. … The plus and the minus of his coming to the Lakers at that point was that we had an excellent young team. We were not looking to move any older players to make room for him. Kobe’s best position was shooting guard at the start. … The bad news was that the shooting guard was Eddie Jones, who was in his fourth season after being rookie of the year and an all-star in Kobe’s first year as well as in his second season.

 To make the path for Kobe harder, his impatience for practice to start led him to play in a pickup game in Venice Beach, where he broke a bone in his hand. He missed training camp and did not get into a game until the season had started.

Sonny Vaccaro

Sports marketing executive, Adidas

He didn’t get along with Del. That was close to rebellion from the 18-year-old Kobe. Del did treat him like an 18-year-old, and Kobe never thought he was 18 years old.

 A run in basketball is like time on the clock, ten minutes of continuous playing or something like that. A chance to run, play; that’s a phrase, “a run with time.” Kobe never had a run with time. And he would say, “This son of a gun never gives me a run, son.”

Sam Rines

Coach, Sam Rines AAU, Philadelphia

When [Kobe] first came into the league, I knew Del Harris would have problems with Kobe because Kobe was stubborn.

Barrence Baytos

Neuromuscular therapist



I started working with Kobe when he was 18. I once gave him tap shoes for his birthday because I was telling him about the Nicholas brothers, Fayard and Harold Nicholas, and they were both from Philadelphia. I had worked with them when I was younger. And he actually started tap dancing and taking tap lessons because it was great for ankle strength and mobility. And it had a heel on it, so it was great for relaxing the Achilles (tendon).

Del Harris

Head coach, Lakers, 1994-99

He averaged ten points per game the final 22 games of the season and was an important factor in the playoffs as a rookie, so much so that he was given the opportunity to win Game 5 at Utah with the final shot in regulation with the score tied at 89. … 
We lost in OT, but this is how far he had come. I wanted him to know it at age 18 that his coach trusted him to get the big shot.

John Lucas

Head coach, vice president, and general manager, Philadelphia 76ers, 1994-96

In our league, young players don’t play on good teams. If you’re getting ready to win the championship, you’ve got a veteran team. When he took the last shot in the Utah series, and he missed, it was clear Kobe’s mistakes were going to cause wins and losses.

Sonny Vaccaro

Sports marketing executive, Adidas

He called me after Game 5 in Utah, when he was riding home to the Pacific Palisades from LAX. I said, “Kob, you took some wild shots.” He said, “Nobody else wanted to shoot the ball. I wasn’t afraid.”

John Black

VP of public relations, Lakers

The fact that they were air balls [in Game 5] led to maybe an embarrassment factor a little bit, but to me it didn’t really matter whether they were air balls or whether they hit the rim and missed. It was him taking the game-winning, game-tying final shots rather than an established multiple all-star like [center Shaquille O’Neal], who was probably the best player in the league at that point, or Eddie Jones or Nick Van Exel, who were seasoned and all-star players. It was a big statement for Del Harris to make [putting] Kobe in that position. And it was a big statement for Kobe to step up and do it. Even though the plays were called, he didn’t have to take those shots.

Joe Carbone

Personal strength coach

We studied the air balls in the Utah series, and we figured out that those shots were all very straight but they were all short. We knew it was a problem with his legs, and we had to figure it out. We really put him through it: clean pull, clean dead lift, snatch pull, snatch dead lift, Romanian dead lift, back squat, front squat, bench press. The Turkish weightlifter Naim Suleymanoglu, when he was with Bulgaria, said the Bulgarians pushed them so hard that the guys who ended up on the Olympic team were just the guys who didn’t break. Kobe reminded me of that. He was the guy who’s not gonna break.

Neal ElAttrache

Orthopedics consultant, Lakers

There was never a question that they had made some sort of a miscalculation on who he was as a player and who he could be. It was just, “OK, we’ve got a kid that is sort of learning on the job, and he’s going to get the timing down and everything.” But they still marveled at his skill and just the sheer drive and determination and confidence to do some of the things that I don’t think any other 18-year-old kid would try.

John Black

VP of public relations, Lakers

The second year was when he became a starter, and he was still only 19. He got voted into the All-Star Game, and then that’s sort of when the hype machine went into hyperdrive, and it went crazy.

Mike Harris

Kobe’s first manager, Philadelphia

In 1997 we went to the All-Star Game in Cleveland, and he won the dunk contest and we couldn’t do anything except sit in the lobby in the hotel and talk because he couldn’t go to any of the parties. He couldn’t do anything. He wasn’t old enough.

Sonny Vaccaro

Sports marketing executive, Adidas

When he played in the first All-Star Game, Joe and I sat together and my wife and his wife. Kobe was such a showman. There were nine or ten Hall of Famers on the floor that night, and you left talking about the kid. He just took over Madison Square Garden at 18 or 19 years old. He was the show. And Joe was the proudest peacock in the arena.

John Black

VP of public relations, Lakers

60 Minutes came out to do a piece on him. Rolling Stone had a reporter who came out and spent a week with us, went on the road and traveled with us, a big, giant magazine feature. Sports Illustrated wanted him for a big feature and a cover photo shoot. GQ. I was getting bombarded by virtually every media outlet, and everybody wanted a piece of him. Here he was, a 19-year-old kid, playing with all-star-caliber players who were in their mid-20s and had been in the league for a number of years. They would’ve liked to be on 60 Minutes and have features in GQ and Rolling Stone. I think there was a certain amount of jealousy. That’s just human nature. 
Jerry being the GM at the time and Del Harris the coach, they were trying to bring him along slowly, and the conversations with me were, “Don’t have him bite off more than he can chew,” so to speak. So I was sort of caught in the middle because Kobe wanted to do everything. I had a conversation with him where I sat him down, and I said, “Hey, look, management wants me to sort of tone it down a little bit. I’m getting bombarded with all these things—what do you want to do, what don’t you want to do?’ He said, “I can handle it all—bring it on. I’ll do them all.”

Arn Tellem

Kobe’s first agent, Tellem & Associates

McDonald’s was one sponsor that came very early. Sprite was another. They talked about him being cast in Above the Rim, the Spike Lee movie that Ray Allen ultimately did, which Kobe passed on.

Del Harris

Head coach, Lakers, 1994-99

It was during that second season when Kobe established himself as a star. He made the All-Star team along with Shaq, Jones, and Van Exel. And, yes, he wanted more playing time—how could one of the game’s most ferocious competitors not want that? And, yes, the coach stood in his way, making him develop and refine his game in order to get the playing time that he carved out that season—just 27 minutes a game.

John Black

VP of public relations, Lakers

Eddie Jones was going to be the big brother to Kobe. Eddie played his college ball in Philly, so they had that connection. They were almost identical in size. They were both 6-foot-6, similar thin builds, slasher-type players, very athletic. But the hard part for Eddie I think was being Kobe’s mentor, and Kobe was trying to win Eddie’s job away from him. 

I think the thinking at the time was that we underachieved. They were really, really talented teams, and I don’t think we ever made it farther than the second round. So the thought was we’ve got to look at other avenues to get to where we wanted to go, which was to win a championship, at least to get to the NBA Finals.

T.J. Simers

Former sports columnist, Los Angeles Times



He was always the man, even though he was the kid. He did what he wanted. He had his ideas. He had his philosophy. He had his point of view.

Sonny Vaccaro

Sports marketing executive, Adidas

[New Laker coach] Phil Jackson was a savior for Kobe. Phil psychologically brought Kobe along the way he should and praised him the way he should without praising him more than he praised Shaq or the other all-stars. He made Kobe feel that he was an equal on Mount Rushmore.

kobe bryant shaquille O'neal
Kobe and Shaq in 2002

John W. McDonough /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

John Black

VP of public relations, Lakers

Phil Jackson had won six championships with the Bulls. And Kobe obviously idolized Michael Jordan, and Phil was Michael’s coach. I think Kobe loved the idea of learning from the coach who had taught and developed Michael. Kobe was beyond 100 percent onboard. Nothing against Del Harris, because I love Del. I worked for a lot of coaches in my 27 years with the Lakers, and Del might have been the best Xs and Os coach of all. But his personality was completely different, the style of play was different, the philosophies were different.

 When Phil Jackson came in as head coach, he cautioned that it’s not going to happen overnight. We’re not going to just win a championship the first year. … We did.

Barrence Baytos

Neuromuscular therapist

Phil was giving Kobe books on Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. The Stoic philosophy was very big in Kobe’s life. And with the media, and the L.A. Times in particular, the vitriol that could be aimed at him—well, Schopenhauer has a saying about the three levels of understanding: The first is ridicule, the second is anger, and the third is acceptance. I have never met someone as curious about everything in life and able to just soak up information and retain the information as well. He read Homer’s Odyssey and The Iliad in Latin.

John Black

VP of public relations, Lakers

In the 2000 Finals in Indiana, Shaq fouled out in overtime, and you saw Kobe pumping his hands down, like, everybody relax, I got this. He was making the gesture to his teammates and coaches. Shaq was the [nearly] unanimous MVP that year. He was the most dominant player in the game, and we lost him at a very crucial point in a Finals game. Kobe just took it in stride and said, “We’re going to be OK. We’re going to win it even without him. I got this.” And we did win it without him.

Mark Madsen

Center-power forward, Lakers, 2000-03



The first time I met him, it was the season after the Lakers won their first championship with Kobe. I was in the training room in the month of August of the summer I got drafted. He came in there at 10 a.m., when I was just getting my workout going. And I said, “Are you going to work out?” And he said, “I got up at 5 this morning. I’ve already made 2,000 shots today.”

John Black

VP of public relations, Lakers

Kobe did everything young: He came into the league young; he got married young; he had children young. I think it was the year after the first championship, he was 21 years old, he was married, and he was growing up. He wasn’t your normal 21-year-old kid.

Arn Tellem

Kobe’s first agent, Tellem & Associates

I was with him when he got married. And I remember when he met Vanessa, and he said he met the girl he wanted to marry. He knew right then when he first met her that she was going to be the girl he was going to marry.

T.J. Simers

Former sports columnist, Los Angeles Times

I forget whether it was Jordan or whether it was Larry Bird, but one of them always had to be challenged. Like before a game, he loved it when someone would come up and say, “This guy’s going to score 25 on you.” And then Bird or Jordan would go out and annihilate them. I went down to the court before one game , stood on the court with Kobe while he was warming up and said, “You’re one of the crummiest three-point shooters I have ever seen. Let me bring my daughter out, she’s a high school three-point shooter, and let her give you a lesson so that you can hit some threes.” And he basically said get the hell outta here. That night, (January 7, 2003), he set the NBA record for the most threes made in a game and came off the court screaming at me, “Tell your daughter about that!”

Mark Madsen

Center-power forward, Lakers, 2000-03



In the playoffs that year, (2000-01), we couldn’t be stopped. We lost one game. You had Shaq in his prime, and you really had Kobe rising to his prime. And so then you surrounded those two guys with great players in their own right: Robert Horry, Rick Fox, Derek Fisher, Brian Shaw, Horace Grant. You really had greatness in that locker room.

 San Antonio were the favorites, they had the twin towers, Tim Duncan and David Robinson. I mean they were the team. And we swept them. And Kobe was dunking in the lane in (San Antonio’s arena), the Alamo Dome . Shaquille went public and said Kobe is the best player in the universe. And then Kobe came back and said Shaq is the most dominant in the world. Their working relationship and their synergy, I watched it blossom.

John Black

VP of public relations, Lakers

He didn’t want to be anybody’s sidekick or anybody’s little brother, he wanted to be Shaq’s equal. The first years—two maybe three years—he did accept it. As time went on he accepted it less and less.

T.J. Simers

Former sports columnist, Los Angeles Times

Kobe’s anger at other people stemmed more from how they would let him down in his mind. He wanted to win championships, and he thought Shaq was too soft—he didn’t think Shaq put his body through what [Kobe] put his body through in preparing for the NBA season, for getting through the NBA season. He would just kind of spit it out of the side of his mouth about how something wasn’t going right, and it was because of Shaq. He never went overboard on it. It would be like talking to a coworker at work, standing getting a Diet Coke, and some guy goes, “God damn it. That guy bugs me.” He didn’t go around chewing him up. It’s an endearing quality if you say to yourself, “Wow, there’s a guy who is really dedicated and wants to win a championship.” It’s maybe too extreme of an approach if a guy says the only thing I’m living for in life now is holding the trophy up at the end of the year. It’s all in how you look at it. Kobe’s anger at other people stemmed more from how they would let him down in his mind. So he put his expectations on other people and other people either didn’t want to measure up to it or couldn’t measure up to it.

Mitch Kupchak

Former assistant general manager, L.A. Lakers

They played together for a long time and we won three championships. Nothing lasts forever and to guess what could have been, I don’t think that makes much sense.

Mark Madsen

Center-power forward, Lakers, 2000-03

My role on the team was to be ready when my name was called to go into a game, between five and 20 minutes in the totality of the game. For me it was really hard because sometimes Kobe pushed me harder than I thought I could be pushed. It was past the level of, well, past the level of comfort. You know? [Laughs] Sometimes I didn’t know if I could always handle it. But he always came back and built you back up. And, ultimately, look, for me personally it made me so much better of a player. It just did. Because with Kobe you had to develop your skills, and you had to develop a thick skin.

Whether I was in the game playing with Kobe or on the bench waving the towel, I can’t describe how much energy and excitement and good feeling there was during those years.

When I was out there, I remember one game we were playing against the Houston Rockets, and Phil kept running the same play, and it was for me to set a screen on Kobe’s man. And Kobe just kept on going around. I would set the screen and he would just go in there and dunk, dunk, dunk. It was so much fun. It was so much fun to be running pick-and-roll with Kobe Bryant, and he’s going in there and dunking on [7-foot-6] Yao Ming. And we won the game. We won the game.


RELATED: Kobe: The Life of a Legend


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