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How Kobe Bryant exemplified being a Hall of Famer, former teammate Mark Madsen recalls

Mark Madsen congratulates Kobe Bryant after Bryant scored in a 2001 LA Lakers game. Madsen and Bryant were teammates for three years.
Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, right, is congratulated by teammate Mark Madsen after scoring against the Phoenix Suns in Los Angeles, Tuesday, April 10, 2001. Bryant and Madsen were teammates in Los Angeles for three years, and Madsen was an assistant coach for the Lakers during Bryant’s final two seasons. Bryant is being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, May 15, 2021.
E.J. Flynn, Associated Press

Mark Madsen and Kobe Bryant were teammates for three seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning a pair of NBA titles together in the early 2000s.

The pair reconnected again in Los Angeles, when Madsen became a Lakers assistant coach in 2013 and was on the sideline when Bryant retired following a storied 20-year NBA career.

It stands to reason, then, that Madsen, now the men’s basketball coach at Utah Valley University, would have some fond recollections about Bryant, the late Lakers legend who will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.

It’s a Hall of Fame class headlined by Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.

Madsen shared several memories on his personal website about Bryant this week, leading up to Bryant’s induction. Madsen touched on several subjects, from Bryant’s work habits to his love for his family. Here’s a sampling:

On practicing with a Hall of Famer

“One time in practice we were playing full court 5 on 5, and somehow I had to switch onto Kobe as he came at our team in a slow-transition situation. As Kobe dribbled the ball at me, I remember getting down low in a stance because I knew I was going to have to really move my feet to have any sort of chance whatsoever with Kobe. Kobe hit me with his inside out crossover dribble. My weight was going one way and my feet were going the other. I remember exactly where I was on that practice court too. Then my feet got crossed up and bam! Down I went. Man, I tried to get up quickly, but it was too late. Phil Jackson blew the whistle and stopped practice after the play so the play could sink in with the whole team. I was glad it was a closed practice that day! I was giving it everything I had, but not even close to being able to do anything with a Hall of Fame player. All I could do was laugh with my teammates and have respect for Kobe’s immense talent. I continue to realize how much of a privilege it was to play on the same team as Kobe.”

On Bryant’s love for his family

“Right at the start of 2003, we beat a strong Sacramento Kings team on the road. Both Kobe and Shaq played extremely well and the mood was great as we boarded the plane to fly back to Los Angeles. As Kobe walked past me in the aisle of the plane going to his seat, he tapped me and showed me a photo of his newborn baby girl Natalia. He was beaming. It was amazing to see Kobe so focused on beating the Kings an hour earlier, and then off the court he was so focused on his family. The main thing on his mind that night was his newborn baby daughter Natalia. Vanessa was and always will be a class act. Even before Kobe and Vanessa married, Kobe spoke with so much respect about Vanessa and the many amazing qualities of who she is as a person. Over the years I always appreciated seeing and speaking with the two as a couple either before or after games. Vanessa was always classy, always kind and always present as Kobe’s partner.”

On Bryant challenging those around him to be better

“Kobe pushed me harder than any other teammate that I’ve ever had. I will be forever grateful for this because by pushing me hard, it showed that he cared. Even though I was a role player, Kobe cared about me being the best role player I could be. He cared about our team being the best it could be. And he cared about the end goal (a World Championship). This is part of what made him great.”

Final words on Bryant

“As the basketball world and basketball fans across the world celebrate Kobe’s basketball prowess and greatness, I also want to celebrate and commemorate him as one who not only excelled in basketball, but cared about his family deeply and was a beacon of community involvement from the first day he set foot in Los Angeles.”