LOS ANGELES – A handful of NBA stars stared at the whiteboard. Not only did they become engaged with the X’s and O’s. They became intrigued with who drew up the plays.
It was none other than former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who held a mini-camp last summer at his Mamba Sports Academy training facility in Thousand Oaks. There, Bryant hosted a workout and a tutorial for a handful of NBA players, including Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Jamal Murray, De’Aaron Fox, Tobias Harris, Isaiah Thomas and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
“Kobe is drawing things out. Kyrie is talking about how people need to go, ‘This way and that way,’ ” recalled Chad Faulkner, the chief executive officer of Mamba Sports Academy. “These guys are the masters themselves. Then to have the other room full of guys commenting on it and asking, ‘What about this’ and ‘what about that?’ There was an amazing amount of learning going on.”
Expect that learning process to continue. Bryant held a similar summit two weeks ago for some WNBA players. And for the past two years, he has coached his 13-year-old daughter Gianna’s AAU team there.
“From a mental level, it was kind of how to mentally get into a space where you’re performing at a high level day in and day out,” Bryant told USA TODAY Sports. “Then, from a tactical level, it was always about how to handle zones and how to handle certain defensive packages where you put guys on the floor.”
Bryant, Lakers assistant coach Phil Handy and a handful of other NBA assistants oversaw two detailed practice sessions. The group spent the first day completing on-court drills before scrimmaging. After completing on-court drills during the second day, Bryant drew up plays on a whiteboard before implementing those concepts on the court. As Faulkner observed, “he’s teaching them how to fish instead of just throwing them fish.”
“He broke down a couple of plays and explained the way he thinks it through,” Caldwell-Pope said. “That was amazing. He tried to see every position and every option that he has. Just being there and getting that knowledge was great. It was about staying in the moment, and always being ready.”
Just as he did during the tail end of his NBA career, Bryant has often offered feedback to any NBA star or young player who wants it.
Through ESPN+’s “Detail,” Bryant has analyzed player performances in an honest and constructive manner. And when he attended Lakers games this season against Atlanta and Dallas, Bryant interacted with players in various ways. He embraced LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He encouraged Dwight Howard on his revitalized career. He talked trash with Dallas guard Luka Doncic. He encouraged Atlanta guard Trae Young. Bryant has done the same thing for Gianna’s AAU team, with a lighter touch.
“When you start out, they may travel and they may do all these other things. But you don’t point those out,” Bryant said. “If you start overly criticizing them, then it affects their self-esteem. It’s just doing it piece by piece. It’s been beautiful watching them grow.”
Two years after Faulkner opened the Sports Academy, Bryant partnered with him to have what he called “a 360-degree training facility.”
The facilities, based in Thousand Oaks and Redondo Beach, offer more than just a handful of basketball courts, volleyball courts and a track to professional athletes and youth sports programs. They also offer more than the handful of classes and personal training that most gyms provide.
They have trainers’ rooms, a doctor’s office and a cognition lab, which analyzes an athlete’s reaction time, decision making and ability to read coverages. Those labs have game simulations for baseball, football and soccer, and will feature basketball soon.
It appears Bryant is just getting started.
“The way Kobe and I approached it so far is we are going to grow on quality. We won’t sacrifice quality for anything we’re doing,” Faulkner said.