During the week of “The Decision,” Kobe was working out with kids in SoCal.
by Jeremy Treatman
How competitive is Kobe Bryant? More than we ever thought. In a fun three-on-three scrimmage at his Kobe Bryant Basketball Skills Academy in Santa Barbara, CA, which was attended by nearly 700 awe-inspired kids from around the world last month, Bryant blew the whistle as his team trailed, 3-2, in a game to 5, by ones. The opposing team was coached by his father Joe, and the entire camp was watching on the University of Santa Barbara’s main court.
“Sub,” Kobe yelled. “Who wants to come in?” After pretending to pick one of dozens of excited campers (ages ranged from 7 to 18) who had their hands raised, he made his decision. “I think I am going to sub myself.”
A few moments later, Bryant took an errant outlet pass from a hustling and thrilled 15-year-old teammate, and buried a three-pointer from 40-feet to win the game. Nothing but net. “That’s the first shot I attempted since game 7 [of the NBA finals],” he laughed as the crowd went crazy.
Bryant’s camp this year was held, July 7-11, and featured scholarships for 10 Filipino boys that Bryant personally arranged to come. Those kids and their coaches were wired for sound, too, as a TV outlet from the Phillipines followed the kids around. Overall, campers came from many countries and Kobe rewarded them with five consecutive morning and evening full-camp lessons, talks, greetings, and at various points even jumped in to show the nuances of the drop step, and the triangle offense to an older group. He also supervised individual practice sessions that stressed three or less dribbles over half-court, running a Princeton-style or Triangle offense, and man-to-man defenses.
“He is extremely hands-on,” said Gregg Downer, Kobe’s high school coach from Lower Merion (PA) High, who served as one of the camp’s commissioners. “He really has an interest in seeing these kids play basketball a certain way. It’s great to see him so involved with these kids.”
Downer chided his group of 13-14 year olds not to try and play like Kobe, however. “The shot you saw him make over Grant Hill (in game 6 of the Western Conference finals), that is a ridiculous shot. Only Kobe can elevate like that and make a jump shot like that. Let’s pass the ball around and take open, good shots.”
Downer joined several former and current Lower Merion coaches and players on staff for the one-week camp. Many top Los Angeles area coaches also participated, such as 6-time California AAAA state champion Ed Azzam from Westchester LA. Bryant has been a regular visitor to Westchester’s games in his 14 years living in Los Angeles.
“We’ve seen him in our gym from time to time watching us play,” said Azzam. “I am personally thrilled to be here at his camp.”
Kobe’s timing for the camp could not have been better. He remains on top of the basketball universe after leading the Lakers to the NBA championship—his fifth. Upon his first appearance to the campers, he held up five fingers to the campers and drew huge applause. Bryant said he would not he did watch a Thursday night showing of Lebron James’ “The Decision,” which was aired live on ESPN. Bryant said prior to the one hour special that he claimed he wished Lebron ” the best and hoped he would make the best decision for him and be happy.”
Bryant said at the time he was only concerned with Derek Fisher re-signing with the Lakers, which of course he did. By Friday, the camp was buzzing with the news of James’ announcement and the awkward and ostentatious TV episode and pre-and post show build-up. All of a sudden, Bryant was looking better to some of his critics and of course the campers who embrace him.
“Kobe would never have done that,” one 16-year old repeatedly said. “He wouldn’t have made that spectacle, and he wouldn’t have sold out to win a championship.” One young camper mused that Kobe is more popular in Philadelphia than James now. But it didn’t seem like the James’ show had any effect on the Lakers star on a personal level.
“On the court, having Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and [Lebron] of course, that would make for a formidable team,” Bryant said. “Look what the Celtics did when they got the Big Three.”
More importantly, Bryant seemed at ease taking pictures with every camper and then signing autographs and memorabilia on the camp’s last day. He was joined by his dad, close friends, wife Vanessa, and two girls, Natalia and Gianna. Parents, coaches, and kids were thrilled to see him spend so much time at the camp. “This is a lot of fun for me,” said Bryant. “It’s important for me that these kids have a good time, and that I am here to share the experience with them.”
Jeremy Treatman is based in Philadelphia and runs the Sports Broadcasting Camps and Scholastic Play by Play Classics. He also was a one-time assistant coach at Lower Merion when Kobe Bryant was a high school senior. His video ode to Kobe’s championship season can be found on YouTube.