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The Mamba Mentality

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THE MAMBA MENTALITY
HOW I PLAY

Kobe Bryant

Foreword by PAU GASOL
Introduction by PHIL JACKSON
Photographs and Afterword by ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN

Begin Reading
Table of Contents
About the Authors
Copyright Page

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I remember when, as a kid, I got my first real basketball.
I loved the feel of it in my hands. I was so enamored with the ball that I
didn’t actually want to bounce it or use it, because I didn’t want to ruin
the pebbled leather grains or the perfect grooves. I didn’t want to ruin the
feel.
I loved the sound of it, too. The tap, tap, tap of when a ball bounces on the
hardwood. The crispness and clarity. The predictability. The sound of life
and light.
Those are some of the elements that I loved about the ball, about the game.
They were at the core and root of my process and craft. They were the
reasons I went through all that I went through, put in all that I put in, dug
as deep as I dug.
It all came back to that special tap, tap, tap that I first grew infatuated
with as a boy.

This book is dedicated to the next generation of great athletes.
May you find the power in understanding the journey of others to help
create your own.
Just make it better than this one.
—KB
To my family, thanks for your love, support, and patience.
—ADB

here: NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest, February 8, 1997, Cleveland
here: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS, Oc; tober 7, 2001, Away
here: MIAMI HEAT, January 17, 2013
here: Practice, 1996, Hawaii
here: Practice, 1996, Los Angeles

FOREWORD

IN FEBRUARY OF 2008, MY LIFE
CHANGED.
It was a pivotal moment in my career as a basketball player, but also
in my life away from the sport. My path aligned with one of the
greatest players to have ever played the game I love.
Just a few hours after being told that I’d been traded from the
Memphis Grizzlies to the Los Angeles Lakers, I was on a cross-country
flight to L.A., as opposite a city as you can find. The next morning, I
had to go through a mandatory physical in order to finalize my trade.
The Lakers were on the road and I couldn’t wait to join my new
teammates, so as soon as my physical was over I got on another plane
to Washington, D.C. Kobe called me that morning, asking me to meet
up once I arrived at the Ritz Carlton. It was past 1 AM when I finally
got to my room, and shortly after I heard someone knocking at my
door. It was Kobe. To me, that was a tremendous demonstration of a
true leader, and our meeting had a huge impact on me, instantly. The
message was clear: there was no time to waste, the moment was now,
let’s go get ourselves a ring. His mindset was unmistakable—it was all
about winning.
One of the qualities that has made Kobe so successful, and always
will, is his attention to detail. He always used to tell us: if you want to
be a better player, you have to prepare, prepare, and prepare some
more. His dissection of the game was at another level. I’m a player
who watches a lot of tape, I like to watch my opponents’ latest game
to see how they are playing at the point that I’m about to face them,
but Kobe took it a few steps further than that. I remember it like it
was yesterday: we were in Boston during the 2010 Finals and I got a

text from him. He wanted me to come to his room to show me a few
clips of how the Celtics were covering the pick-and-roll and how we
should attack it for the next game. I know for a fact that degree of
detail, both in preparation and study, was a key factor in us winning
those championships and many of the successes that Kobe achieved
individually.
In my entire career, I’ve never seen a player as dedicated to being
the best. His determination is unparalleled. He unquestionably
worked harder than anyone else I have ever played with. Kobe knew
that to be the best you need a different approach from everyone else.
I remember a time when we got together as a team to have our
annual dinner right before the playoffs. I was sitting next to him, and
as we were getting ready to leave, he told me he was going to the
gym to get a workout in. As much as I was very aware of the amount
of extra time he put in outside of our regular work hours, it always
shocked me how disciplined he could be even during a relaxed
situation. When everyone else was thinking it was time for bed, his
mind was telling him it’s time to get ahead of the competition.
Over the years, a lot of people have wondered how difficult it
must’ve been to play with Kobe. It really wasn’t. All you had to do
was understand where he was coming from, what he was about, and
how badly he wanted to win. He would challenge players and coaches
to match his intensity, his desire, to bring their very best every single
day, not just at games, but at practices, too. Kobe wanted to find out
what you were made of, and if he could count on you to help him
win, plain and simple. I will always be thankful to him. He brought
the best out of me as a basketball player, and he made me a stronger
person, too. Our time was truly invaluable.
I’m the oldest sibling in my family and I always try to be an
example for my two younger brothers, challenge them when I think
they need to be and praise them when they deserve it. Kobe is the
closest thing to an older brother for me. He never hesitated to tell me
things as they were, never sugarcoated anything for me, and
challenged me along the way so I could give my best at all times.
Through the best moments, but especially during the harder ones, our

bond only got stronger and we have always had each other’s backs,
just as brothers would.
Enjoy this magnificent book, which reflects some of what I’ve
shared here with you, the qualities of an extraordinary person. I have
no doubt that you will be inspired.
—PAU GASOL, teammate 2008–2014

INTRODUCTION

WARNING: IF YOU ARE GOING
TO INVEST YOUR TIME IN
READING THIS BOOK, BE
PREPARED FOR AN
ADVENTURE IN HIGH-LEVEL
BASKETBALL.
It will certainly offer a deeper understanding of the detailed and
dedicated way Kobe Bryant approached the game. It’s one thing to
have talent, but another to have the drive to learn the nuances. James
Naismith is credited with having said “basketball is an easy game to
play, but a difficult game to master.” This is a window into the mind
of someone who mastered it. The combination of Andy Bernstein’s
exceptional photography and Kobe’s insights might make you a better
player if you’re inclined.
Kobe came into the NBA with a desire and talent to become one of
the greatest players of all time. He achieved that goal through his
dedication and perseverance. The opportunity to play for the Lakers,
a historic franchise, gave him an audience and a forum, but his level
of success came entirely from within.
Kobe and I first met in 1999 at the Beverly Hills Hilton, on the day
I was formally announced as the Lakers’ coach. We were in a suite,
before I went down to meet members of the press assembled in the
ballroom. Kobe wanted to impress upon me how happy he was to

have the opportunity to play in the triangle system—and how much
he already knew about it. He was already a “student of the game,”
and had studied various aspects of the offense. Here he was, 20 years
old, sounding like he’d been a pro for a decade.
By nature, the triangle offense is confining and disciplined. There is
little room for a player to just go rogue. It was a planned,
programmed way to play. Push the ball upcourt and look for an early
shot; if it’s not there, build the triangle; read how the opponent’s
defense is going to react; attack their weakness and apply your
strengths. My twin sons are just one year younger than Kobe, so at
that point I had a pretty good perspective on young men and their
varying ability to focus on tasks. I had also had the privilege of
coaching a number of players who had said the same thing during my
tenure with the Chicago Bulls. Even at that young age, though, Kobe
kept true to his word about being a student of the game.
Kobe actually broke a bone in his wrist the very first game of
preseason that year, and missed the first 14 games. We had gotten off
to a good start without him, and I was concerned he might require
some “break-in” time to fit into the mix. It wasn’t a problem. He kept
the team winning as his first priority and we kept rolling.
A month or so after he returned to active play, I received a call
from Jerry West, who wanted to relay a conversation he’d had with
Kobe. Kobe had called to ask him how he and Elgin Baylor had both
been able to score 30-plus points a game while sharing the ball on the
same team back in the 1960s. After Jerry probed a bit, Kobe admitted
he was worried he wasn’t going to score enough points to become
“one of the greatest players in the NBA.” This concerned me, because
as a coach I didn’t care how many points a player scored—only the
final numbers on the scoreboard. But Kobe knew what he was capable
of doing, and felt limited by our system. That clash had all the
warning signs of becoming a problem. Of course, there was real
substance behind his drive—he went on to total 33,643 points in his
career, ahead of Michael Jordan and just behind Karl Malone and
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
That first year, Kobe played alongside Ron Harper in a two-guard

system at the top of the floor. They were in charge of “setting the
table”—recognizing when the fast break was over, secondary action
was limited, and it was time to set up the triangle system. Naturally,
there was always a temptation to push the envelope, and sometimes
Kobe would go rogue. He’d break from the plan to create an
opportunity for himself, and it would jam up our offensive flow. So
we had our conversations about not trying to take over a game. We
also had our film sessions, centering on what skills made a guard a
good playmaker. In retrospect, Kobe was as patient with me as I was
with him. We tolerated each other, and the result was that he came to
understand how disciplined our team had to become in order to win
that coveted championship. As much as he loved to score, Kobe
usually knew or intuited what the right thing to do for the team was
in the moment.
The Lakers had been a bridesmaid the past two seasons, winning a
ton of games but getting swept out of successive playoffs. Shouldering
the pressure that came with that history, Kobe, of course, made the
plays. The Lakers got over the stigma of coming up short and went on
to win three championships in a row. Each of those years was
dramatic and full of memorable games and moments. Kobe was the
driving force, while Shaquille O’Neal, the Diesel, was the focal point
of the offense—“Get the ball to the big fella,” as we’d say. The group
of Lakers went to four finals in five years, in essence creating a
dynasty.
The next segment of Kobe’s career was when his maturation took
place. After the Shaq-Kobe era came to a close, he became the senior
statesman for a team that had lost all of its other starters via
retirement or trade. He was the major thrust of the team and its
nominal leader, perhaps by default. And leadership is a tough thing to
master, especially when you know a championship is beyond the
reach of your personnel.
At one point in our early years with the Lakers, Kobe and I stood
together before practice and watched five of the other players hold a
shooting contest. It was similar to the game “Cat,” where a player had
to mirror and match the shooter before him, or he was eliminated.

They had asked me to hold off the start of practice because the game
went around the entire arc, using both corners, both wings, and the
top. I asked Kobe, competitive as he was, why he didn’t play against
his teammates, and he said it was because he wasn’t a three-point
shooter. But in the year that followed, he was determined to fix that:
During the off-season Kobe worked diligently on his three-point shot.
It was always about the details. And in the 2005–06 season, Kobe
went off and averaged more than 35 points a game, leading the NBA
in scoring. He had become a scoring machine.
I could go on listing records and accounts of his scoring prowess,
but that was really a side note to Kobe’s evolution as a player. My
staff would meet at 8:30 AM at our facility before a practice or game
to prepare for the coming day. More often than not, by the time I
pulled in, Kobe would already be parked in the car next to my
designated spot, taking a nap. He would be in the gym well before
that, maybe by 6 AM to get his pre-practice workout done before
anyone else showed up. That was the trademark of the final 10 years
of his career. Kobe led by example for his teammates. They couldn’t
keep up— but they were always challenged by the example he set.
In 2007, I met with Kobe to discuss the Olympics in China. That
team was packed with stars and had practiced together that summer
in preparation for the next year, when they would go on to win gold.
My message to Kobe was this: If you are going to do the extra offseason things, you must recognize you only have a certain amount of
time left on your legs. Practice is not a big concern of mine, you know
the system. I will give you as much time as you need between games
to recover if you will keep your leadership intact by being present. He
would do his physical therapy while the team went through their
skills and drills and come onto the court when competitive action
commenced. He encouraged his team and sometimes played the
coaching role for the second unit. I was watching Kobe go through
extreme routines to get himself ready to play games and thought
there might be a window of five or six years left in his career. Again
he changed the landscape, and his determination to extend his
physical prime blew out the norm. He played almost 10 more years of

NBA high-intensity basketball, which stands as a measure of his
character.
The photographs in this book are a testament to the manner in
which Kobe has thought about the game. In fact, the way Kobe
approaches basketball has prepared him for the “next” phase of his
life, one that already looks as interesting and intense as his long
career with the Lakers.
—PHIL JACKSON, coach 1999–2004, 2005–2011

PROCESS

WHEN IT CAME TO BASKETBALL, I
HAD NO FEAR.
What I mean by that is: if I wanted to implement something new into
my game, I’d see it and try incorporating it immediately. I wasn’t
scared of missing, looking bad, or being embarrassed. That’s because I

always kept the end result, the long game, in my mind. I always
focused on the fact that I had to try something to get it, and once I
got it, I’d have another tool in my arsenal. If the price was a lot of
work and a few missed shots, I was OK with that.
As a kid, I would work tirelessly on adding elements to my game. I
would see something I liked in person or on film, go practice it
immediately, practice it more the next day, and then go out and use
it. By the time I reached the league, I had a short learning curve. I
could see something, download it, and have it down pat.
From the beginning, I wanted to be the best.
I had a constant craving, a yearning, to improve and be the best. I
never needed any external forces to motivate me.
During my rookie year, at first, some scouting reports said I wasn’t
tough. The first time I went to the basket in games, I’d get hit and the
defense would think they had me. I’d come back the very next play
and pick up an offensive foul just to send them a message.
I didn’t need that extra push to be great, though. From day one, I
wanted to dominate. My mindset was: I’m going to figure you out.
Whether it was AI, Tracy, Vince—or, if I were coming up today,
LeBron, Russ, Steph—my goal was to figure you out. And to do that,
to figure those puzzles out, I was willing to do way more than anyone
else.
That was the fun part for me.

I DID BIBLICAL WORKOUTS.
I started lifting weights at 17, when I got to the NBA. Nothing fancy,
just basic, time-tested lifting methods that focused on strengthening
one group of muscles at a time. Over the meat of my career, whether
we were in season or it was summer, I would lift for 90 minutes on
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. When I say lift, I mean
heavy, hard, can’t-feel-your-arms type of lift. After that, I would go
into the gym and shoot.
Over the years, my routine might have changed some but my

philosophy never did. If something has worked for other greats before
you, and if something is working for you, why change it up and
embrace some new fad? Stick with what works, even if it’s unpopular.

MY MIDNIGHT WORKOUTS HAVE
BECOME A THING OF LEGEND.
They were always purposeful. They were born from a mix of
obsession and real-world responsibilities.
I always felt like if I started my day early, I could train more each
day. If I started at 11, I’d get in a few hours, rest for four hours, and
then get back to the gym around 5 to 7. But if I started at 5 AM and
went until 7, I could go again from 11 until 2 and 6 until 8. By
starting earlier, I set myself up for an extra workout each day. Over
the course of a summer, that’s a lot of extra hours in the gym.
At the same time, starting early helped me balance basketball and
life. When my kids woke up in the morning I was there, and they
wouldn’t even know I had just finished at the gym. At night, I’d be
able to put them to bed, then go work out again during my own time,
not theirs.
I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my game, but I also wasn’t willing to

sacrifice my family time. So I decided to sacrifice sleep, and that was
that.

FILM STUDY IS ALL ABOUT
DETAIL.
From a young age—a very young age—I devoured film and watched
everything I could get my hands on. It was always fun to me. Some
people, after all, enjoy looking at a watch; others are happier figuring
out how the watch works.
It was always fun to watch, study, and ask the most important
question: Why?

The biggest element that changed over time, however, was I went
from watching what was there to watching for what was missing and
should have been there. I went from watching what happened to
what could have and should have happened. Film study eventually
became imagining alternatives, counters, options, in addition to the
finite details of why some actions work and others don’t work.

I DIDN’T TRAIN ONLY MY BODY- I
TRAINED MY MIND, TOO.
The only way I was able to pick up details on the court, to be aware
of the minutiae on the hardwood, was by training my mind to do that
off the court and focusing on every detail in my daily life. By reading,
by paying attention in class and in practice, by working, I
strengthened my focus. By doing all of that, I strengthened my ability

to be present and not have a wandering mind.
Just as important as reading was cultivating relationships with the
greats who’d come before me. As evidence of this, look at my
retirement ceremony and who was there. That will tell you how I
managed to get my jerseys up there. You had Bill Russell, Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Jerry West, James Worthy. Those guys
taught me the lessons that gave me an edge over my competition.
That’s why I think it’s so important to have those mentors, those
north stars, who you learn from and look up to.

MY MENTAL PREPARATION
VARIED BASED ON MY
HEADSPACE.

It varied based on where I thought my head needed to be for that
specific game. If I needed to get keyed up, for example, I listened to
hard music. If I needed to soothe myself, I might play the same
soundtrack I listened to on the bus in high school to put me back in
that place.
It’s all about putting me in the place I need to be in for that game.
Some games required more intensity, so I would need to get my
character and mind in an animated zone. Other games, I needed calm.
In that situation, I wouldn’t listen to music. Sometimes, even, I would
sit in total silence.
The key, though, is being aware of how you’re feeling and how you
need to be feeling. It all starts with awareness.

If you really want to be great at something, you have to truly care
about it. If you want to be great in a particular area, you have to
obsess over it. A lot of people say they want to be great, but they’re
not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve greatness.
They have other concerns, whether important or not, and they spread
themselves out. That’s totally fine. After all, greatness is not for
everybody.

What I’m saying is greatness isn’t easy to achieve. It requires a lot of
time, a lot of sacrifices. It requires a lot of tough choices. It requires
your loved ones to sacrifice, too, so you have to have an
understanding circle of family and friends. People don’t always
understand just how much effort from how many people goes into
one person chasing a dream to be great.
There’s a fine balance between obsessing about your craft and being
there for your family. It’s akin to walking a tightrope. Your legs are
shaky and you’re trying to find your center. Whenever you lean too
far in one direction, you correct your course and end up overleaning
in the other direction. So, you correct by leaning the other way again.
That’s the dance.
You can’t achieve greatness by walking a straight line.
Respect to those who do achieve greatness, and respect to those who
are chasing that elusive feeling.

I ALWAYS STARTED OFF MY
ROUTINE CLOSE TO THE BASKET.
I would start off short and work on my touch. Always. Always.
Always. Get my muscle memory firing. Then, I’d move back, work for

a bit, move back again, and repeat the same process. After that, I’d
start working on situational looks that I was going to get that night.
I’d walk my body through the scouting report, and remind it of things
it had done thousands and thousands of times before.
I never had a set routine, an ironclad formula that I practiced night
after night. I listened to my body and let it inform my warmup,
because there are always variables. If I felt the need to shoot extra
jumpers, I’d shoot more. If I felt the need to meditate, I’d meditate. If
I felt the need to stretch for a longer duration, I’d stretch. And if I felt
the need to rest, I’d sleep. I always listened to my body. That’s the
best advice I can give: listen to your body, and warm up with
purpose.

It’s just me and the basket, the court and my imagination, dreams.
There’s something about being in a big arena when no one else is
there. It gives me a sense of nirvana and also prepares me for the
game. When I jogged out of the tunnel and the fans were screaming
and it’s loud, the noise didn’t impact me. Mentally, I was able to

remember the stillness of the earlier moment and carry that with me.

I COULD RUN ALL DAY LONG.
If you want to be a great basketball player, you have to be in great
shape. Everyone talks about the fancy workouts and training sessions,
but I also worked relentlessly to make sure that my legs and lungs
were always at peak performance.
My cardio workouts centered around recovery—that is, the time it
takes to recover in between sprints. The reason I placed an acute
focus on that element is because basketball dictates short bursts
where you run as fast as you can, then have a moment to recover,
then burst again. I wanted to make sure that I would always be ready
for the next burst of action.
Specifically, I did a lot of timed work on the track where I would
incrementally decrease the amount of time between each set until,
after a full off-season, my recovery time would be almost nil.

I ASKED A TON OF QUESTIONS.
I was curious. I wanted to improve, learn, and fill my head with the
history of the game. No matter who I was with—a coach, hall of
famer, teammate—and no matter the situation—game, practice,
vacation—I would fire away with question after question.
A lot of people appreciated my curiosity and passion. They
appreciated that I wasn’t just asking to ask, I was genuinely thirsty to
hear their answers and glean new info. Some people, meanwhile,
were less understanding and gracious. That was fine with me. My
approach always was that I’d rather risk embarrassment now than be
embarrassed later, when I’ve won zero titles.

JUST DO IT.
I never thought about my daily preparation. It wasn’t a matter of
whether it was an option or not. It was, if I want to play, this is what
I have to do, so I’d just show up and do it.
My routine was grueling. It involved early mornings and late nights.
It involved stretching, lifting, training, hooping, recovery, and film
study. It involved putting in a lot of work and hours. It’s—no lie—
tiring. For that reason, a lot of players pare down their lifting and
training during the season. They try conserving their energy. Not me,
though. I found that, yes, this work might be strenuous on the day-today, but it left me stronger and more prepared during the dog days of
the season and the playoffs.
Sometimes, as part of that, I’d be so tired I’d need a quick nap at
some point during the day. Whether before practice or a Finals game,

on the bus or trainer’s table, five hours before tip or 60 minutes, if I
was tired I would doze off. I always found that short 15-minute
catnaps gave me all the energy I’d need for peak performance.

BREAKDOWN IS AS IMPORTANT
AS SETUP.

While you’re playing the game, there are no distractions. Right after
the buzzer sounds, a lot of people shower and change as quickly as
they can. For me, though, there was more work to be done.
Ice, the old reliable, was the status quo for me after every game,
every practice. I’d always ice with two bags on the front and back of
my knees and on my shoulder, and both feet in an ice bucket for 20
minutes. This would help bring down the inflammation and kick off
my wind-down of this session and jumpstart my gear-up for the next.

BATH TIME
Certain days, my whole lower body felt stiff. On those occasions,
when my body was seemingly locked up from the waist down, I
would use the full body tub to mimic the contrast therapy I always
underwent on my ankles (see opposite). Again, it’s important to listen
to your body and let it dictate your daily prep. Bath time had a bonus
benefit: I’d use the quiet break to catch up on reading, always
studying to improve my game.

A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE

Contrast therapy has been around forever, but I was put on to it back
in high school. After that, I was religious about partaking in it before
every game to either help loosen up my joints, or numb certain body
parts. Over time, I developed a very particular routine. I would start
with four minutes of cold—I mean cold—water and switch to three
minutes of hot. Then, I would go with three minutes of cold, two
minutes of hot. The sequence would continue, two cold, one hot,
before ending with one minute in the cold water. This was only one
small part of my process to prepare for battle.

CAUSE AND EFFECT
Pain in one area of your body often stems from an imbalance
somewhere else. With that in mind, it’s important to treat the root
cause and not the effect.
I always made sure my ankles were activated and moving. If your
ankles are stiff, that can create problems in the knees, hips, back, and
all the way up. So, I’d spend a lot of time before games working on
my ankles—the core of the problem—so that I wouldn’t exacerbate
the symptoms.

CALIBRATING THE CANNON

I would begin stretching a couple of hours before games. Then, as the
game got closer and closer, I would start doing more active, more
range-of-motion things to get ready. This, in particular, was a big part
of getting prepared and activated during my last year. We would
make sure my shoulder was sitting back correctly and it wasn’t
rotating forward.

I WASN’T ALWAYS OLD.
As a kid, I didn’t have to do all of the stretching and warming up. I
would go out, get my shots up, put in work, and then I’d have some
time to myself. Sometimes, I would even just chill and watch some
TV. I could have gotten up, right there and then, and windmilled. As I
aged, I was meticulous about listening to my body and adjusting
accordingly.

MY HANDS STILL HURT.
My broken finger would get tight. A torn tendon in my pinky finger
never recovered. Due to all that, I would try to warm my hands up
and do hand-strengthening exercises. Before games I would get an
oversized ball and stretch my hands around and squeeze it, just to
wake up the tendons and muscles in my hand. My finger, in
particular, is still inflexible to this day. But I never let these
impediments stop me.

MY ROUTINE CHANGED OVER
TIME; MY APPROACH DIDN’T.
I always tried to train and prepare intelligently, but as I got older my
pre- and post-game routine evolved. When you’re younger, you work
on explosive things and as you get older your focus shifts to
preventive measures. That’s all par for the course. The only aspect
that can’t change, though, is that obsession. You have to enter every
activity, every single time, with a want and need to do it to the best
of your ability.

WE ALL GOT READY FOR GAMES
DIFFERENTLY.
When Shaq and I played together, generally, we’d get taped at the
same time. That would give us an opportunity to joke and goof
around or to talk crap. For Shaq and me, as anchors of the team, this
would help get us up and ready for the game.
More than that, this would set the tone for the team. The energy of
the club is all sitting right there. This was our moment to smile and
laugh. As the game drew closer, we got serious. That dichotomy, that
changing of airs, was important for our teammates to see and
understand.

JUDY SETO HAS BEEN WITH ME
FOREVER.
When I was a rookie, Judy Seto was a young up-and-comer. One time,
after I tweaked an ankle, she was assigned to me. It immediately
became apparent to me that she was as obsessive about training as I
was about basketball, and we formed an immediate and unbreakable
bond. Over the years, we both continued to learn and grow in our
individual crafts. In doing so, we were able to push each other to be
our best.
It’s safe to say I would not have been able to play as well or as long
without her as my physical therapist. She helped me recover from
every single surgery I ever had, and she was always there for me.
Literally. Whether it was a family vacation to Italy or a Nike trip to

China, Judy came with me. She was that indispensable.
In my later years, her table would always be full and players would
be waiting. When I came in the room, though, I’d jokingly question
what they were doing there and claim my spot at her table. Sorry,
guys.

GARY VITTI WAS CRUCIAL TO MY
CARRIER.
First of all, Gary was an Italian craftsman with tape. He just made art
out of tape jobs. You can tell when people love what they do, and he
loved his craft. No matter where the tape was going—finger, ankle—
he made it look beautiful. If the tape had bubbles or bumps, Gary
would unwrap it and start again. Everything had to be smooth, had to

be perfect. He was a master, and I gave him a lot of opportunities to
practice.
He’s not the only trainer who was vital to my well-being. Judy Seto
(see previous page) was critical, as was my neuromuscular therapist,
Barrence Baytos. I had a great team of people around me.
They were obsessive about their own crafts, which made it easy for
me to trust them. Once I trusted them, I listened to my body, and it
told me they were doing good work. I felt better, stronger, and more
prepared when I worked with them.

MASTER OF THE MIS-TAPE
Over the course of my career, Gary and I alternated the tape jobs on
my ankles. The decision was dependent on where, physically, my
ankles were that year. Some years, the focus was on stability, so I’d
use all white tape. Other times, when my ankles felt stable and solid
on their own, I’d use a more elastic tape, which allowed for more
spring and movement. One of the most important aspects of the game
is listening to your body, and preparing it accordingly. I always kept
that in mind.

I HURT MY ANKLE. BADLY.
This was Game 2 of the 2000 NBA Finals—the worst sprained ankle
of my career. From there, it was on me to figure out a way to play
and be tactical. I knew what I could and couldn’t do, which directions
I could push off and how much force I could apply. After establishing
that, it was just a matter of altering my game within those constraints
to continue dominating.
To do that, despite the injury, I had to maintain control and dictate
where I was going to go with the ball and how I was going to play. I
had to, even on one ankle, keep the advantage in my court and never
let the defense force me to do something I didn’t want to do. That was
the key here, and that’s the key always.

NBA 2K
After that injury (see opposite), I missed Game 3 but managed, thanks
to stimulation therapy, to play the rest of the series. This treatment
involves wires that deliver low-level electrical current directly
through your skin. It actually helps bring the pain down. But the
ankle was so bad that, to be honest, I couldn’t hoop much that
summer. What I did do, though, was take up tap dancing.
That’s right: tap dancing.
That was my worst sprain, but it certainly wasn’t my first. I realized
at that point I needed to be proactive about strengthening my ankles.
After researching the matter, it became apparent that tap dancing was
going to be the best way to build up my ankle strength while
simultaneously improving my foot speed and rhythm. So I hired an
instructor and started going to the studio. I worked on it all of that
summer and benefited for the rest of my career.

JERRY WEST

He was there for a lot of the early, big moments in my career. I
specifically remember riding with Jerry in a Lexus to my first
workout. At the time, I was thinking, “Wow, I’m sitting next to the
Jerry West.” I asked him a ton of questions about moments and games
in his career. Honestly, I don’t know whether he was intrigued or
annoyed, but he answered them all.
I learned shortly thereafter that Jerry is one of those guys who shoots
it straight with people he respects. If he really cares about you, he’s
going to tell you things that you don’t want to hear. And he always
shot it straight with me.
It’s been a beautiful relationship.

MAGIC JOHNSON

We met at UCLA during a day of pickup runs. I was there stretching,
getting ready to play, and he walked in. That was my first time—and
I think last time—playing with Magic. That was pretty sweet. More
than that, it was good to talk with him. I revere the players who
made the game what it is, and cherish the chances I had to pick their
brains. Anything that I was seeing or going to see, any type of defense
or offense or player or team—they had already encountered years
before. I talked with them to learn how to deal with those challenges.
After all, why reinvent the wheel when you can just talk to the wheels
that were created before? Magic Johnson was a special player, and I
learned a lot of especially important lessons from his game.
Namely, I studied his ability to use his body off the dribble— the spin
move off the dribble—and the best way to throw a bounce pass. I
always admired Magicʼs cross-court bounce passes. I wondered how
he was able to throw them and eventually learned. The secret was the
backspin he put on the ball, which allowed him to zip the ball
through the defense and have it bounce up softly into a striding
teammateʼs hands. The other key to his passing game was
anticipation. Magic would throw passes before people would even
realize that they were open. He could do that because he could read
defenses and see plays as they were unfolding. He left teammates in

perfect positions to score—and defenses dumbfounded.

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR

He and my dad were friendly, and one time, when my dad, who was
playing for the San Diego Clippers, finished a game, he passed me
over to Kareem. And, for whatever reason, Kareem says he
remembers holding me high up over his head and playing with me. I
don’t remember that, but I do remember writing a book report on him
in seventh grade. In researching that paper, I learned everything
about him, from his days at Power Memorial to UCLA, Milwaukee,
and L.A. He had a really interesting story.
At another point in time, I watched a tape he had put out, about
playing in the post, and used some of the drills that I learned from it.
So when he joined our staff, I talked to him a lot about historical
happenings. We talked about playing with Oscar, fighting against
those Celtics teams, plays that they ran in L.A. under Pat Riley. We

talked a lot.

MUHAMMAD ALI

I learned a lot from studying and watching Muhammad. One of the
main takeaways was that you have to work hard in the dark to shine
in the light. Meaning: It takes a lot of work to be successful, and
people will celebrate that success, will celebrate that flash and hype.
Behind that hype, though, is dedication, focus, and seriousness—all of
which outsiders will never see. If you stop being dedicated to the
craft, the commercials and contracts will all fade away.
Muhammad was also great at game planning. One of his strategies
that I emulated was the rope-a-dope. A lot of people know that as a
catchphrase, but I appreciate the psychology behind it, the idea that
you can manipulate an opponent’s strength and use it against them.
That’s really a brilliant concept, and one that I used often.

BILL RUSSELL

I knew there was a reason Bill Russell had more rings than fingers.
Years ago, then, I picked up an autobiography of his and devoured it.
There were a lot of valuable lessons in there. There’s one anecdote
Bill shared that stuck with me. He recounts how people always said
he wasn’t a good ball handler, just didn’t know how to handle and
shoot the ball. He said sure, he could do all of those things, but why
would he lead the fastbreak when Bob Cousy was playing with him?
Why would he shoot jumpers when Sam Jones was on his wing? The
message was that if you want to win championships, you have to let
people focus on what they do best while you focus on what you do
best. For him, that was rebounding, running the floor, and blocking
shots.
I thought that teaching was simple, yet profound. It was an insight I
had never heard from anyone before. Pretty much as soon as I read
that, I reached out to Bill and started a relationship and mentorship
that opened up my world.

BYRON SCOTT

During my rookie season, Byron and I would talk. A lot. He would
share veteran stories with me, tell me about Magic, Kareem, and
series they played together. He shared a lot of historical knowledge
with me. He also gave me the low-down on how to cover certain
shooting guards. Specifically, he worked with me on how to chase
players around screens and other tactical elements of NBA defense.
Outside of that, Byron schooled me on time management—how to
make the most of each and every day.

A GOOD COACH IS OF THE
UTMOST IMPORTANCE.
When Byron came back to coach the Lakers in the last years of my
career, we were like brothers. We picked up our conversations and
relationship right where we had left off. Suffice to say, it was great to
have him back on the same sideline.
Coaches are teachers. Some coaches—lesser coaches—try telling you
things. Good coaches, however, teach you how to think and arm you
with the fundamental tools necessary to execute properly. Simply put,
good coaches make sure you know how to use both hands, how to
make proper reads, how to understand the game. Good coaches tell
you where the fish are, great coaches teach you how to find them.

That’s the same at every level.
In certain situations, like in the midst of a game, good coaches relay
executional information. They point out what specifically is and isn’t
working. Based on that and your own feel for the game, you utilize
some of that information immediately and you save some of it in your
back pocket for crucial moments during the game. Then, when the
time is right … boom!

PHIL JACKSON WAS MORE
THAN JUST A COACH-HE WAS A
VISIONARY.
Whereas his assistant coach Tex Winter was all about the minutiae
(see the following page), Phil was about the scale. He taught concepts
within basketball, but more so the macro concept of basketball. He
was able to teach—without lecturing—the importance of being a
team and how to get from Point A to Point B to Point Championship.
He was also able to get guys to understand energy, flow, and
meditation.
We had a great relationship and, obviously, won a lot of games and
made Purple and Gold history together. One of the reasons our
relationship worked is because, in a lot of ways, we were polar
opposites. Every team needs either a confrontational star player or
coach. In San Antonio, Gregg Popovich was that guy and Tim Duncan
was not. In Golden State, Draymond Green is the confrontational one;
Steve Kerr is not. For us, Phil was not that type of person, so I
provided that force. You always have to have that balance and
counterbalance, and Phil and I were perfectly suited for each other in

that way.
However, it took us until our second stint together to realize how we
were perfectly suited for one another. During our first go together,
Phil thought I was uncoachable. He thought I questioned his
authority and questioned his plans. He thought I didn’t listen. When
he came back, he realized that was just me being me. He realized that
I was just very inquisitive and unafraid to ask questions. He realized
that that’s how I process information and learn. Once he put his pulse
on that, he was more patient with me. He was more willing to sit and
answer my many questions and talk everything through.
Now, I coach my daughter’s team, and we run the triangle offense.
Recently, I called Phil and filled him in on what I was teaching the
girls. He was surprised by how much I learned from him. More than
that, he was surprised how much detail I had retained and was now
passing down.

TEX WINTER WAS A BASKETBALL
GENUIS.
I learned an incalculable amount from him. Tex, specifically, taught
the process of the game. He taught the pure craft of it. He focused on
the details, flow, and nuances of the game. He was able to bring the
littlest details to life and show their ultimate importance.
He was also exceedingly patient. In our first year together in L.A., he
and I would re-watch every single game together—preseason, regular
season, playoffs. That’s a lot of basketball. That’s also detail, teaching,
and patience. That’s Tex. He had a great mind, and a great mind for
basketball. Coaches like him are rare, and I’m blessed I got the chance
to study with him.

I ALWAYS SAID LUKE WALTON
WAS DESTINED TO BE A COACH.
Luke was a very smart player. He also had certain coaching traits: a
bad back, like Phil used to have, and hippie lineage. I used to tell him
that all the time. He didn’t find it as funny as I did.
For real though, Luke had a great feel for the game. He understood
how to look at it in sequences, versus looking at one play at a time,
and he was able to communicate very clearly. When I looked at the
amalgamation of those things, I could see he was going to be a really
good coach.

T’D UP

I used to get my fair share of technical fouls. Still, I had a great
relationship with the majority of referees. That’s due in large part to
the mutual respect we had for one another. I always made sure to talk
with them, build a dialogue and rapport. That way if I talked back or
pointed something out, it often held weight with them. At the least, it
was better than if I only spoke to them when I was complaining.
During my last season, it was awesome going around the league and
seeing each official for the last time. We would talk, laugh about old
times, and share memories. I have a lot of admiration for those men
and women.

REFS HAVE A DIFFICULT JOB.
They’re not just responsible for observing and moderating the action
in front of them at a fast pace. They’re also responsible for bearing

the brunt of the emotions of a game that tend to boil over. On top of
that, they’re not robots, so they also have to be aware of their own
emotions and try to remain objective.
It’s a tough job. If refs make a mistake, they’ll get lambasted. If they
do a great job, no one mentions them. I always tried to keep that in
mind and treat them like the real underappreciated and emotional
humans that they are. I think that always worked to my benefit.

READING IS A FUNDAMENTAL.
I made a point of reading the referee’s handbook. One of the rules I
gleaned from it was that each referee has a designated slot where he
is supposed to be on the floor. If the ball, for instance, is in place W,
referees X, Y, and Z each have an area on the court assigned to them.
When they do that, it creates dead zones, areas on the floor where
they can’t see certain things. I learned where those zones were, and I
took advantage of them. I would get away with holds, travels, and all
sorts of minor violations simply because I took the time to understand
the officials’ limitations.

PLAYING THROUGH THE PAIN
This was right after I hurt my finger on December 11, 2009. Gary was
assessing, trying to gauge how bad it was. Pretty much right away,
we went back into the bowels of the arena, had it X-rayed, and Gary
told me it was fractured. I said, “Alright, cool, now get me back out
there.”
Gary looked at me like I was crazy.
I asked him, “Is it going to get better?” He said no. I said, “Exactly,
there’s nothing we can do about it now and it can’t get worse, so tape
it up and let’s go.”

From that point forward, we would apply a splint, which was like a
hard cast at the bottom and top portion of my finger. Then we would
wrap it over and over again with a spongy elastic tape. The ball

would, physically, still hurt when it hit my finger. But mentally, I
knew I had protection absorbing some of the pain and I could play
through the rest.
We did that, literally, every time out on the court. Shootaround,
practice, game. I mean, every time out.

I HAD TO CHANGE MY SHOOTING
FORM.
After I injured my right index finger in the 2009–2010 season (see
previous page), I knew my usual method would no longer work. Up
until then, I’d always shot off of my first two fingers. After I hurt it, I
had to start focusing on using my middle finger. The middle became
my point of release, and I had to sort of let my index finger drift.

Making that change took a couple of practices. Not average practices,
though. Days flooded with mental and physical work. I had to
mentally download the software that was the new form, and then drill
it in. I definitely got my one thousand makes in on each of those days.
People ask me if the change impacted my shot, if it made me a better
or worse shooter. I can’t answer that. I can say that there are times
when my index finger just went numb, when it had no feeling in it at
all. I can also say that was still good enough to win another
championship—and that’s the only thing that matters.

I TORE MY ACHILLES.
This was April 12, 2013. We had just three minutes to go in a game
with the Warriors. I realized right away that it was torn. First, I felt it,
and then I looked down and saw it curling up the back of my leg.

Still, I tried to walk on it, tried to figure out how to play around it. It
became evident fast, though, that I should take the free throws and
get the hell out of there.

THE ACHILLES INJURY WAS MY
PERSONAL MOUNT EVEREST.
Right after I sustained the injury in 2013, as I was walking off the
court, I just looked at my wife and shook my head. She could
immediately tell it was very serious.
I went straight to the training table in the locker room. Gary Vitti was
there, so was Patrick Soon-Shiong, a surgeon and minority owner of
the team (and who today owns the Los Angeles Times). We started
speaking and Patrick said, “There’s a new procedure and it looks very
promising, but it operates on the premise that you can’t let scar tissue
settle in. It means you would need to go and have the operation
tomorrow.”

I said, “Let’s do it.” It was as simple as that. We started game
planning for surgery the next morning right there and then. Shortly
thereafter, my family came in and I talked with them. We cried about
it, and I answered all my kids’ questions. I assured them that Daddy
was going to be fine. I remember, sometime after that, showering
with crutches and being careful not to slip. I talked to the media, and
I had surgery the very next day.
Before the Achilles injury, I was thinking about my career arc. I could
feel my body wearing out and I knew I was on the clock. When the
Achilles injury happened, I treated it as a new challenge. People were
saying I might not be able to come back, but I knew I was not going
to let it beat me. I was not going to let an injury dictate my
retirement; I was going to dictate my retirement. That’s when I
decided I had to climb that mountain.

I TOOK THE DESIGN OF MY NIKES
VERY SERIOUSLY.
Again, it goes back to craft and detail. For some players, sneakers
were all about looks and shine. For me, it was always about peak
performance. It was about the fact that I was on my feet for 48
minutes a night and relied on them to do my job.
I was an absolute perfectionist about the technology that went into
my signature sneakers. I cared about every little detail. I cared about
the weight, the weight distribution, the materials, the cut, the
traction, the durability. I was meticulous about every curve, contour,
and stitch. I didn’t want any loose ends. I didn’t want my foot sliding
in the shoe. I didn’t want anything that could take my focus, even for

an instant, off the game. My sneakers didn’t just have to be
comfortable, they had to help me perform better.
Nike, fortunately, loved that kind of challenge. Each signature shoe
improved on the one before it. We were always getting better, always
striving for innovation and greatness. Always looking ahead.

AN EVOLUTIONARY REVOLUTION
In 2008, I decided I wanted my next signature sneaker to be a low
top. When I told Nike that, at first they said no. I responded, “You
can’t say no. Phil Knight’s mantra was ‘Listen to the voice of the
athlete.’ I’m the athlete, and I want a low-cut shoe.”
I got the idea from watching futbol. Those guys put even more torque
on their ankles and lower legs than basketball players, and they were
wearing boots cut even lower than our sneakers. I realized if they
could do it, we for sure could. And we did.
The Kobe IV changed the game. I remember having to go in front of

Foot Locker and pitch them on the Kobe IV, because they weren’t sure
how to sell it. It was past time for the change, though. The fallacy of a
high top was that players believed it protected your ankles. In
actuality, it weakens them and saps mobility.

KEEP IT REAL.
When I was young, my mindset was image, image, image. I took that
approach with the media. As I became more experienced I realized:
No matter what, people are going to like you or not like you. So be
authentic, and let them like you or not for who you actually are. At

that point, I started keeping all of my answers blunt and
straightforward. I would mix in some humor and sarcasm, too. I think
fans and reporters came to appreciate that, came to appreciate the
real me.

THE BIG UNKNOWNS
My routine with Team USA, compared to my NBA routine, was
inconsistent. I tried to stick to my regular road workouts, but the big
unknown was always the environment. During the NBA season, I
knew how every city and stadium operated, which made it easier for
me to visualize everything from the bus ride to the final buzzer.
When you go to China, Spain, the UK, Turkey, you don’t know what
the bus to the game is going to look like, you don’t know what the
training room is going to look like, and you don’t know the layout of
the arenas. Those details tend to vary, so I had to adjust accordingly.
Mentally, though, I approached national team games with the utmost
intensity. I knew I was playing against guys I had never faced before,
and I knew I was going to defend the other country’s best player, so I
locked in. I studied a lot of film and tried to figure out who my
opponents were. The last thing I wanted to do was risk stepping out
blindly against an unknown-but-great player. Preparation was critical.

COACH K AND I BECAME CLOSE
WHEN I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL.
I gained a lot of respect for him as he recruited me, and I would have
attended Duke had I gone to college. Getting to play for him over a
decade later with Team USA was fulfilling.
A few things about him stood out. For one, he was really intense,
which I could appreciate. Outside of that, he really cares about and
loves his players. Most of all, his competitive spirit resonated with
me. He and I approach winning and losing the same way, in that
winning is the goal, and losing is, well, losing isn’t even on the table.
Our nation means so much to Coach Mike Krzyzewski. He really
hammered home the significance of getting to represent our country.
Everything he did—from having generals come to speak with us,
having soldiers be a part of our preparation process, having us take
tours of national monuments—was aimed at increasing our
admiration and love for America. You could sense that in the way he
had us playing, in the intensity we showed.

I ALWAYS AIMED TO KILL THE
OPPOSITION.
The main thing LeBron and I discussed was what constitutes a killer
mentality. He watched how I approached every single practice, and I
constantly challenged him and the rest of the guys.
I remember there was one half when we were messing around. I came
into the locker room at half-time and asked the guys—in a less PG
manner—what in the hell we were doing. In the second half, LeBron
responded in a big way—he came out with a truly dominant mindset.
And I’ve seen him lead that way ever since.

WHEN I WAS ON THE NATIONAL
TEAM, I COULD FOCUS ON WHAT I
WANTED TO.
With the talent we had, I knew I didn’t have to worry about offense. I
knew I didn’t have to stress over scoring. I was able to singlemindedly focus, like I’d always yearned to, on playing defense. It let
me focus on putting opponents in straitjackets and erasing them from
the game.
Playing with other great players, in that sense, was fun. D Wade and I
would always talk about the technique of stealing the ball. He was
great at reading passing lanes, and I was great at locking down on the

ball, so I would force my man into the corner while D Wade would
look to pick off the pass.
I had never played with a player like that before. I played with a lot
of length and guys who suited my game, but I never played with a
guard that explosive. Man, it was fun to hunt with D Wade.

I WAS ONE OF THE ELDER
STATESMEN ON OUR NATIONAL
TEAMS.
I already had three rings, had just gotten to the Finals, and was
poised to go back again. From that perspective, I was the alpha in the
locker room. I didn’t really pick anyone else’s brain. If anything,

because I was so much more experienced, other guys would approach
me about incorporating aspects of my game into theirs.
For the most part, we discussed executional elements of basketball,
because the international game is played differently. I had an edge
because I grew up playing in Italy, so I would help guys adjust how
they were processing the action and our schemes.

MY PROCESS WITH TEAM USA
WAS DIFFERENT FROM MOST OF
THE OTHER GUYS’.
Most players listen to music every game. They have their headphones
on religiously and use music to get them in the right state of mind.

They’d even sing and dance. I rarely ever did that. Sometimes, even
when I had headphones on, there wasn’t any music playing. It was a
feint to keep people away, and to get in my zone. For the most part,
before games I just liked being there, hearing the sounds of the
environment and observing everything.

I made every second of the national anthem count. During those
precious moments, I’m hearing all the little sounds and imbibing the
energy of the arena. I’m taking the opportunity to be aware of what’s
going on, to be aware of the teammates around me, the basket in
front of me, the basket behind me, all the other sounds and objects.
It’s a full concentration and understanding of the arena.
In essence, I’m trying to feel the energy of the environment and allow
it to move through me. That then propels me and fuels me to have a
great performance.
I’ve done that since I was a kid sort of naturally. I never put too much
thought into it. When Phil Jackson came, though, I started to

understand the importance of my personalized meditative process.
From then on, I placed an increased emphasis on it.

I WOULDN’T SAY MY LEADERSHIP
STYLE CHANGED OVER THE
YEARS.
I liked challenging people and making them uncomfortable. That’s
what leads to introspection and that’s what leads to improvement.
You could say I dared people to be their best selves.
That approach never wavered. What I did adjust, though, was how I
varied my approach from player to player. I still challenged everyone
and made them uncomfortable, I just did it in a way that was tailored

to them. To learn what would work and for who, I started doing
homework and watched how they behaved. I learned their histories
and listened to what their goals were. I learned what made them feel
secure and where their greatest doubts lay. Once I understood them, I
could help bring the best out of them by touching the right nerve at
the right time.

At the beginning of our first championship run, Tex Winter put me in
charge of the triangle offense.
He made me—young me—the de facto leader on the court. Some guys
chafed when they heard me calling the shots, and I couldn’t have
cared less. My philosophy was, Tex Winter—the Tex Winter—put me
in control, and if you don’t like it, if you don’t like me calling you out
for not being in the correct spot, tough.
Once guys understood my motivation, they started to fall in line. As I
got older, they didn’t even need to understand why—they

instinctively followed. They knew what my goals for the team were,
and they knew what I was trying to do.
In my final years, I was really hard on D’Angelo Russell, Jordan
Clarkson, Larry Nance, Jr., my younger teammates. I was trying to
use my 20 years of experience to expedite their growth. Now, a few
years later, it’s gratifying to see that Jordan is wearing my number in
Cleveland. That shows me they really internalized and understood my
motivations and hopes for them.

THE LAKERS ARE A FAMILY.
I looked up to a lot of Laker greats, a lot of the players who came
before me and created the franchise’s mystique and lore. James
Worthy, Byron Scott, Elgin Baylor, to name a few. It’s like an
exclusive fraternity. There are a lot of historical jewels in the family,
and those jewels get passed down from generation to generation.

The OG greats, though, won’t hang around you if you don’t display
the same passion as they do. They won’t share their time and
memories with you if you don’t display the same effort and drive for
excellence that they did.
Even though I was only 17 when I became a Laker, I felt like a
member of the family from day one. I think I was accepted so quickly
because everyone saw how hard I worked, saw how badly I wanted to
fulfill my destiny and return L.A. to its championship ways.

THE MAMBA MENTALITY
Initially, I thought the phrase “Mamba Mentality” was just a catchy
hashtag that I’d start on Twitter. Something witty and memorable.
But it took off from there and came to symbolize much more.
The mindset isn’t about seeking a result—it’s more about the process
of getting to that result. It’s about the journey and the approach. It’s a
way of life. I do think that it’s important, in all endeavors, to have
that mentality.
Whether I hear an elite college or NBA player or a Fortune 500 CEO
reference the #MambaMentality, I find it very meaningful. When I
see people talk about finding inspiration in it, it makes all of my hard
work, all of the sweat, all of the 3 AM wakeups feel worth it. That’s
why I put together this book. All these pages incorporate lessons—not
just lessons on basketball, but also on the Mamba Mentality.

CRAFT

A TEACHING MOMENT
My balance, as a young player, is off.
Just look at the dichotomy between us, starting with posture. Michael
is standing straight from the waist up. He’s not leaning in either
direction, and because of that he is balanced and centered. He is in
control of his body, and the play.
Compare all that to my defense. Now, I’m using my forearm to thrust
weight into his back, just like they teach it. Unfortunately, that’s
about all I’m doing right. I’m leaning forward, which is a major no-

no, and putting too much pressure on him. That alone, by dint of
gravity, causes me to be off-balance. As a result, one move by
Michael, one decisive spin right or feint left, would throw me off and
give him room to either shoot or spin off of me. This defense is
definitely no bueno.
Thankfully, I actually saw this photo back in 1998. After studying it, I
corrected my posture and balance. After that, it was a lot harder to
operate against me in the post.

PRESSURE
I never felt outside pressure. I knew what I wanted to accomplish, and
I knew how much work it took to achieve those goals. I then put in
the work and trusted in it. Besides, the expectations I placed on
myself were higher than what anyone expected from me.

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO PUT
THE TEAM ON YOUR BACK.
Shaq was Out, and we were going through a rough patch. We had lost
two games in a row going into this one, so we had to get out of that

funk. For us to do that, I knew i’d have to carry the load from both a
scoring and emotional perspective.
This dunk, which happened in the third quarter, was a statement.
Each of my 52 points was important—the game went into double
overtime—but this is the bucket that set the tone. It was me throwing
down the gauntlet and telling my teammates we were going to win,
we were going to right the ship. And we won. In fact, we won nine of
the next 10 games.
That’s not to say it was easy. This was my sixth straight night of
scoring 40 points, and my body was feeling it. After this game, my
knee swelled up to the size of a melon. I was having a lot of trouble
moving, and we had a game in utah the next night. Still, i suited up,
put on a brace, and played 40 minutes on it. I scored 40, and more
important, we won. You have to give everything to the game, to your
team. That’s what it takes to win. That’s what it takes to be great.

A BIG SHOT IS JUST ANOTHER
SHOT.
People make a huge deal out of clutch shots. Thing is, it’s just one
shot. If you make a thousand shots a day, it’s just one of a thousand.
Once you’re hitting that many, what’s one more? That was my
mentality from day one.
This particular shot was a game-tying three in the NBA Finals. I was
going to get the ball on this play, no matter what. The defense
could’ve tried to deny me, but it would not have mattered. I was
going to do whatever I had to, in this moment, to come get it.
Once you have the rock, you always have to know who is guarding
you. You have to not just know, but know—and I knew Rip
Hamilton’s defensive strategy. Rip was very fundamentally sound and
played you straight up. He didn’t do much out of the ordinary, which
can be fine. Fundamentally sound, though, was not going to stop me.
So, I sized him up, kept all that information in mind, and made him
do what I wanted him to do. I dragged the ball over to the wing,
rocked him back, and rose up, knowing that he would only raise his
arms to contest. At that point, it’s just about whether I make the shot
or not.
As a team, our spacing was really good. Even if they wanted to help
Rip, they would not have been able to. We would spread the floor and
make sure any help defenders were a long way away. By the time
they’d get over, my shot, which came off of a quick rocking motion,
would’ve already been in the air.
The last thing you notice in the photo is the lift that I’m getting. That
didn’t just happen overnight. It was late in the game, and it was the
Finals, but I was able to get up because I was in shape. It’s a small

thing, but it makes a big difference.

FOOTWORK IS ABOUT
EFFICIENCY.
I needed to be able to get to my attack spots in one or two dribbles. I
also needed to be able to shoot from range. In doing so, I limited the
amount of time I gave the defense to react, conserved my energy, and
forced them to pick me up a great distance from the basket. The key
was knowing how to move the defense with just my feet and my eyes
and the positioning of my body, by knowing how to manipulate them
left or right without having to put the ball on the floor.
During my early years in the NBA, I was surprised to learn that I took
a different, more fundamental and serious, approach to footwork than

a lot of players. A lot of players solely focused on improving off the
dribble, but I also always placed added emphasis on playing off the
catch. I learned that approach when I was young, in Europe. There,
our practices included scrimmages where we weren’t allowed to
dribble. So later, when I moved to the States, I had all of the footwork
down from those days. Only after mastering pivots—reverse pivots,
inside reverse pivots, outside reverse pivots—did I work on the sexier
between-the-legs, behind-the-backs, and crossovers.
Later in my career, players asked me to share the how-tos of some of
my footwork with them. LeBron, Durant, Westbrook—they really
wanted to know the intricacies of it. The timing of their enthusiasm
was perfect for me: I was on the last stretch of my career, and we
weren’t competing for championships, so I was happy to share what I
knew.

GOD GAVE US TWO HANDS.
As a kid, I’m talking six years old, it bothered me when something felt
like a weakness. So I worked really hard on my left hand at that age.
Specifically, I would brush my teeth with my left hand; I would write
my name with my left hand. I hated the feeling of being
uncomfortable.
That’s how I looked at it on the court, too. That’s why I felt it was so
important to be able to use both of them equally. Whether dribbling
or shooting, pivoting or spinning, it was important to me that I felt

comfortable with either hand.

I NEVER SHIED AWAY FROM
CONTACT.
I definitely knew I was stronger than Reggie Miller. I don’t know if it
was a mental thing, but I was more of a bully than him.
I would get to the basket, and try to attack it as much as I could.
When you go to the basket like that, you’re not using your arms as
much as you are your body. You use that to create separation. A lot of
times, with a lot of guys, the defensive player becomes the attacker
and the offensive player capitulates to that. I never approached it that
way. When I went to the basket, I was attacking and I wasn’t the one
at risk of getting hurt: they were. Whether you’re Reggie or Shaq, I’m
going to the basket hard and making you think twice about whether
you want to contest it.

THIS WAS FUN.
Look at Dennis. He’s holding the crap out of me, but he knew how to
get away with that. He had all sorts of little tricks that you couldn’t
decipher on TV. You couldn’t see how he was holding or pushing or
grabbing. Even if you could see it, TV didn’t do it justice. He’s one of
the smartest basketball players I’ve ever played against or with. He
was, truly, a master of the game within the game.
Michael used to do the same thing. He would shove me into screens
and hold my jersey. I learned from those guys, from those Bulls, what
it takes to win a championship.
Understanding the importance of contact and physicality is only half
the battle. You have to love it, and I did. You had to love having your

jersey held and holding their jersey back. You had to love getting hit
once so you could hit them back twice. You had to love every last
push, shove, and elbow. Understand and embrace that mentality.
Once you do, you are ready to win.
In a situation like this, you also have to understand that the screener
is always the threat. When preparing for a team that runs a lot of
screens or pick-and-rolls, you don’t study the ball handler or the
player who runs off of the pick. You have to study the person setting
the screens. That person, the screener, is the real threat.
The easiest way to understand what to expect is by watching film and
learning how individual players like to set screens, because everyone
does it differently. Once you know that—where on the court they like
to set it, the timing, the angle—you can start plotting an offensive
defense to get around them and negate their screen.
So, what would I do differently than in this photo? I would not lay on
the screen. I would not try pushing off of Dennis. By doing that, I
gave him access to my arms, which allowed him to tie my arms up
and hold me. Instead of laying on the screen, I’d keep my distance
from Dennis, and deal with Michael before he got there.

SHAQ WAS DOMINANT. THERE’S
NO QUESTION ABOUT THAT.
Even when you’re playing with a dominant center, the best way to get
them rolling is by creating easy opportunities for them. I did that by
selling the idea that I was going to shoot the ball. That would draw
defenders’ attention to me and away from Shaq. His finish would then
be simple.
So how did I go about that?
I would attack. I would penetrate. I would get all the way to the rim.
I would even leave my feet—which is fundamentally unsound—to
make the defender believe I was going to try to finish. Once they
bought in, I would scoop the ball off to Shaq.
All of this is fairly obvious, but the subtle secret to success is to get
defenders to put their hands in the air in an attempt to block your
shot. If you do that, if you really fool them into thinking they need to
contest, there’s always a nice open pocket to shovel a pass through.
Let’s talk about the pass, too. If you’re going to go through all of that
effort to set the play up, if you’re going to get hacked and pounded on
your way to the hoop, you better make sure you don’t mess up the

last step. You have to know your big man’s preferences. You have to
know where they like to sit in the lane, how they like to catch the
ball, which hand they like to finish with.
On this play, I just had to make sure to put the pass on Shaq’s left
hand. Then he could use his body as a shield against the trailing
defender and complete the play without worrying about getting
fouled.

SETTING A TIGHTROPE.
No matter what was going on between us, everyone on our team
knew that Shaq and I were good for 30-plus points and 10-plus
rebounds/assists every night. That knowledge provided them with a
sense of security, but it could also lull them into complacency.

In an effort to stave that off, Shaq and I would, conscious of the
intermittent tension around us, ratchet that up. By doing so, our
teammates would lock in and raise their own level of
competitiveness.
It’s worth understanding, though, that it was never about us. It was
never about Shaq and Kobe. It was about making sure our teammates
were fully invested and understood the seriousness of what we were
trying to do. It was about making sure they understood they were
walking a tightrope, and Shaq and I were not always going to be their
safety nets.
Shaq was a special player. He understood both how to use his body
and mind. He understood both angles and human nature. He
understood intimidation and domination.
The one thing I specifically picked up from Shaq was his physicality,
his brute force. Despite being a guard, I wanted players to be sore, to
be beat up, after guarding me for 48 minutes. That would give me the
mental advantage the next time we matched up. After Shaq left, in
the spirit of that, I played more in the post and dealt out some serious
punishment to guards around the league.

YOU HAD TO MOVE HIM.
When we went up against Shaq-led teams, the plan of attack was
always to move him around. We wanted to put him in screen-and-roll
actions, and, more important, put him off of the ball and make him
become the guy who needs to make full defensive rotations. We felt
like that would exploit some of his weaknesses.
When it came time to attack Shaq at the rim one-on-one, I would just
build up a head of steam and go right at him. He would see that
coming and foul me every time instead of risk getting dunked on. So I
knew I would shoot two free throws every time I went at him.

WHEN FUNDAMENTALS ARE NO
LONGER FUNDAMENTAL
When Caron Butler and I were on the Lakers together, we clicked
immediately. He would come to my house all the time; he would
work out with me all the time. We would play one-on-one before and
after practice. We would really push each other. In time, he adopted a
lot of my footwork. You could see it, once he was traded, in his pullup jumpers and turnarounds in the post.
It was really hard for me when he got traded. I had invested a lot of
time in him that summer, and we worked together constantly. I
thought he was poised to have a breakout year for us.
I thought that because Caron was a great student of the game, and

someone who, dating back to college, always excelled at the
fundamentals. It’s weird, actually— fundamentals aren’t really
fundamental anymore. A lot of players don’t understand the game or
the importance of footwork, spacing. It’s to the point where if you
know the basics, you have an advantage on the majority of players.

MOVE YOUR PUPPIES.
It was 2000, and I was having problems getting over screens when
guarding the ball. When the All-Star Game came around, and Gary
Payton and I were warming up together, I pulled him aside.
“Gary,” I said, “I’m having trouble getting through screens. What do I
do?”

He was a great competitor, but he took the time to walk me through
his approach. He told me I had to make myself thin and, I’ll never
forget this, move my puppies. He explained I had to slide, not run,
through the screen and to do so I had to make myself as small as I
could and move my feet as quickly as possible. Almost, he explained,
like a sheet of paper going through a door.
After the All-Star break, I worked on it constantly in practice. I just
kept plugging away. Not coincidentally, that was the first year I made
First Team All-Defensive.

KG WAS A WIZARD ON DEFENSE.

I don’t think people give Kevin Garnett enough credit for that. He
captained every defense he was ever part of, and had a really big
voice. He also had long arms and athleticism, so he was able to
command large swatches of the court as a communicator and shotblocker.
His versatility at such a size was also startling, and, ultimately, gamechanging. He could dribble, pass, and shoot. I think, honestly, we’re
all fortunate that Minnesota didn’t surround him with an abundance
of talent during his prime. If they did, it would have been a real
challenge for us and San Antonio to get past them.

I WOULD TRY TO DRIVE
THROUGH HIM.
KG was the leader of his team and I was the leader of mine, so I made
sure to send a message to everyone in the game: I see your top dog
and I am not going to back down. There were some times that I got
the best of him, and there were times when he came out on top.
Whatever the case may be, he and I both never backed down from a
challenge, and that goes back to high school.
When it came to blocking my shots, KG would try to use his arms and
length. He was aware that he didn’t have a strong frame, so he
wouldn’t use his body, but he would definitely use his length and
cover the rim and shield the rim. He would move away from me, to
protect his body from contact, and to block the best angles. A lot like
Bill Russell used to.

KG NEVER JAWED WITH ME.
More than anything, Kevin was a competitor and wanted to win. He
knew that when he talked crap to some guys, it would faze them out
of their game. And he knew that when he talked smack to others,
they would level up. I fit in the latter category, and he knew that, so
he never directed one word of trash talk to me.
In the 2008 Finals, KG and Kendrick Perkins had some success talking
a bunch of trash to Pau. They tried it again in 2010, but I wasn’t
having it. I challenged them back, and Pau, to his credit, did the same
thing. Metta World Peace also took a stand. That was a game-changer
for us.

LAMAR ODOM WAS OUR GLUE.
It’s easy to understate LO’s role, but it’s important not to. He was the
ultimate teammate. He was charismatic, unselfish, and had a great
sense of community. LO was the one who brought the team together,
whether that was encouraging group outings, having one-on-one
dinners with certain guys, or just being available to hang with.
The only thing as big as his heart was his talent. He was a superb
passer, he could handle the ball, and he developed a steady jumper. I
always knew I could count on him on the court. Whenever I got
double-teamed, my initial instinct was always to find him and let him
make the right play.
During our title runs in 2009 and 2010, every player on the team had
a role. Pau, for example, was the intellectual; Derek was the big

brother. Lamar Odom, then, was the cool-ass uncle who took care of
everybody and always came through in the clutch.

A CRITICAL PERIOD FOR MY
DEVELOPMENT
At the end of my first season in the NBA, we had made it to the
Semifinals, up against Utah. But in the deciding fifth game, I let fly
four airballs, and we lost our chance at the title. Those shots let me
know what I needed to work on the most: my strength. That’s all the
airballs did for me.
In that game, nerves weren’t the problem. I just wasn’t strong enough
to get the ball there. My legs were spaghetti; they couldn’t handle
that long of a season. How did I respond to that? By getting on an
intense weight-training program. By the start of the next season, my
legs and arms were stronger and I was ready to get it on.
In the immediate aftermath, I was never concerned by how the
franchise or fans would react. I knew I would put in the work, which
is what I did. In fact, as soon as we landed I went to the Pacific
Palisades high school gym and shot all night long. I went back the
next day and worked. And I worked and worked and worked. In my
mind, it was never a matter of, “Oh, no, I’ll never get another shot at

this.” I felt that my destiny was already written. I felt—I knew—that
my future was undeniable and no one, not a person or a play, could
derail it.

IN 2003 IT WAS A WRAP FOR
EVERYBODY.
There was nothing—emotionally, mentally, physically, strategically—
anyone could do that season to stop me.
Once I reached that level, health aside, there was nothing anyone
could do during the ensuing years to slow me down. At that point, it
was about the Lakers surrounding me with enough talent that we
could be in contention and challenge for the championship.
For some people, I guess, it might be hard to stay sharp once you’ve
reached the pinnacle. Not for me, though. It was never enough. I
always wanted to be better, wanted more. I can’t really explain it,
other than that I loved the game but had a very short memory. That

fueled me until the day I hung up my sneakers.

ALLEN IVERSON WAS SMALL, BUT
HE WAS ALSO INCREDIABLE.
My philosophy was to use my height advantage and shoot over the
top of him. I don’t need to try anything, I don’t need to go anywhere,
I don’t need to try to back him down. I’ll just shoot over him, because
I can get a clean look.
What I’m talking about is not the same as settling for a jumper. When
Allen was covering me, I’d receive the ball in favorable locations, in
attacking positions like the mid-post, because he couldn’t stop me
from catching a pass.
But couldn’t I have caught it even closer, maybe in the post? Couldn’t
I have taken him off the dribble from 25 feet out? Maybe, but that
wouldn’t have been smart.

I chose not to catch the ball in the post, because the Sixers would

have just fronted and trapped me. I could have squared up and
dribbled, but they would have helped and trapped in that situation,
too. By catching it on the elbow or mid-wing, I mitigate all of these
schemes, because they couldn’t front me on the pass and I didn’t need
to dribble to get an open look over the top of him.

COVERING ALLEN WAS ALL
ABOUT TIMING.
When I went head-to-head with Allen, I always tried to figure out
when he was going to be aggressive.
Let me backtrack for a second. Within Larry Brown’s system, there
was an ebb and flow to Allen’s attack. The first couple of minutes, the
team would get loose, move the ball, try to spread touches. Then,
from around the 10-minute mark until the eight-minute mark, Allen
would attack. I worked hard to decipher those patterns of attack.
Once I figured that out, I would do everything in my power to throw
Allen off during those stretches. I would bump him and get physical. I
would deny him the ball. I would make him catch it 30 feet from the
basket. If I could do that—if I could frustrate him—it would throw off
his rhythm.
Then, during stretches when Allen would otherwise be passive, I
allowed him to catch the ball. After not scoring or getting anything
easy during the previous few minutes, he would then be uberassertive, and thus more susceptible to falling into traps created by
our team defense. It would frustrate him even more.
The other mechanism I used to cover Allen also involved timing. In
essence, I would pay attention to the amount of time it took him to go
from getting the ball to attacking. If he was catching the ball and his

rate was: read the defense, one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, go
—then I’d know what his clock was. The next time he’d get the ball,
when I knew he was at two-one-thousand I would preemptively back
up and take away his attack.
When I covered great players, they often tried covering me. That
meant, when we had the ball, I would look for offensive rebounds.
But with Allen, as soon as we put a shot up I would look for him, like,
“Where is he?! Where is he?!” because he never matched up with me
due to my size advantage. I was running over to him, jamming him
up, and impeding him from getting out in transition. If you could stop
Allen from gaining momentum, stop him from getting easy buckets,
covering him became a much more reasonable task.

KOBE STOPPER?

Ruben Patterson and I played together for a bit, so I got to know what
he could and couldn’t do, and he could play defense. But I have to
laugh at the whole Kobe Stopper thing he started.
I actually think he tried using it as a ploy to get a bigger contract in
free agency. The idea was solid, the execution was flawed, though.
Not too long ago I told him, “You should have called me before you
went ahead and said it. You should have said, ‘Kob, I need a favor. I
need you to say I’m the best defender you ever faced. I need you to
help me get this money.’”
I would have done that for Ruben. I would have been happy to help
him. After he went ahead and did it on his own, though, I had no
choice but to light him up every time I saw him. No choice.
I prided myself on playing any so-called Kobe Stopper, any specialist
brought in by a team to try to slow me down. When we were a
championship-caliber team, other GMs were constructing their rosters
to dethrone us. One of the methods they attempted was employing a
Kobe Stopper, someone paid strictly to stop me. When teams did that,
it was my job to make them question their ability to spot talent in the
first place.

DUNKING IS ABOUT DOMINATION.

When you dunk the ball, it lets the opposition know your mentality. It
lets them know you’re there to humiliate them. It also sets an
emotional tone with your teammates. It lets them know you’re going
to climb mountains this game and inspires them to want to climb
with you.
Now, you can’t just attack the cup and hope to dunk. You have to
know your own limitations. More than that, you have to know the
defense. To do that, you have to study film and watch how opponents
like to block shots. If you’re prepared with that info—with the hand
they prefer to rise up with, the situations they’ll back down in—you’ll
know how to attack and confront them.
Dikembe Mutombo was, obviously, one of the greatest defensive
players of all time. He was long and lean, and he knew what he could
get away with. One of the things he was great at was using his left
hand to subtly try to pull you down or at least knock you off balance
in the air. That, in particular, was so crafty because it appeared
fundamentally sound, but in reality he was using that hand as a
weapon.
My response in that situation was simple: I had to let Dikembe know
that I was the real threat and not him. So, like him, I’d use my left
arm and elbow. They would create space, but more important, they’d
send a message: if you come any higher, you’re going to run into my
arm and it won’t be fun for you.
Like always, you want to be the one dishing out the punishment. And
the dunks.

LOOK AT HAKEEM’S LEFT HAND.
He was pulling me down, just like Dikembe, with that hand. It gave
him the ability to get to the ball. Pulling and shoving—that’s how he
blocked shots.
At the time I was thinking: I’m going up against Hakeem, this is
pretty cool … but I’m not going to let it impact me. I also wanted to
send him a message that I’m not your typical young guard who is
going to complain to the refs or capitulate. I’m going to go right
through your arm, your body, whatever you throw my way, because

I’m a freight train.
In general, Hakeem Olajuwon was an extremely intelligent defender.
He knew where guys liked to attack from, how they positioned the
ball, what their patterns were. Due to that intelligence and scouting,
Hakeem knew where you were going to go and how you were going
to try to finish. That allowed him to pile up steals and blocks.
As an offensive player, you combat that type of mental edge by
negating it. You have to know him as well or even better than he
knows you. You have to know where he likes to come from, how he
likes to block shots, how quickly he can recover. With that
knowledge, you can be mindful of how and where to attack from.

VINCE CARTER BROUGHT OUT
THE BEST IN ME.
He came into the league a few years after me and set the world on
fire. That sparked the conversation of who was better: Vince or AI. I
played with Shaq, so at that point I wasn’t even in the conversation. I
was an afterthought. Due to those loud whispers, I always had extra
oomph when I played against him.
My mentality was that I was going to play him on both ends of the
floor, and he was going to have help guarding me. By being able to
score on offense and personally shut him down on defense, I wanted
to let people know my place in that conversation wasn’t even up for
debate.

A PROBLEM YOU’RE GOING TO
HAVE TO DEAL WITH
We were about to move on from the first round of the 1999 playoffs.
I remember asking Shaq if he was ready. “For what?” he questioned.
“This boy we’re seeing in the next round,” I replied.
“Robinson?”
“Nah, the other one.”
“He’s soft,” said Shaq.

“I’ve been watching him all year,” I responded, “and he’s a problem
that you’re going to have to deal with.”
Shaq sort of waved it off. By the time the Spurs were finished
sweeping us, Tim Duncan had averaged something like 30 points. He
was already on my radar, but after that series? Wow. I realized San
Antonio would be a threat we’d have to deal with for all of eternity.

TIM DUNCAN WAS A SMART

DEFENDER.
He was angular, and used it to his advantage. He also embodied the
way San Antonio played defense. The Spurs fool you into believing
that there is going to be contact when you drive to the basket, then—
poof—there isn’t. They contest shots by jumping straight up, all the
time. They move away from contact, because they know that in-air
contact gives the offensive player balance, but when you move away,
the offender ends up off-balance. They did that as much as possible.
I realized that around 2001. They would jump with high hands, and
that was now just a runway for me. I was just going to go over or
through them, forget trying to draw a foul, and dunk in their faces.

ONE OF MY SEMINAL NBA
MOMENTS
It was 1997, and we were up against the Rockets. I remember Iʼd had
a really tough first half. I was matched up with Clyde Drexler, and I
don’t think I made a single shot. I came out in the second half, kicked
it into high gear, and scored 27 points off the bench. That was a big
moment for me.
I always admired Clyde. I always looked at how he defended. He

understood how to use his hands and block the vision of the player
with one hand while using the other as a threat to steal the ball, or
shield it. He also had great balance and used that to his advantage.
The way I defend, in fact, can be attributed to Clyde. (And MJ, of
course.)

I WAS GOING TO DOMINATE.
It didn’t matter who I was up against. That was my mentality going
into every game. The only difference, based on who I was up against,
was how would I do it.
Take Cuttino “Cat” Mobley, for example. Cat liked to use his
quickness and hands a lot. At the same time, he hated when I put my
body on him. That was the back-and-forth every time that we’d play.
He would swipe at the ball and try to get it when it was down low,
and I would use my physicality on him. I would put my weight on
him, hit him with elbows, just beat him up and gain the advantage.

TRACY MCGRADY HAD SOME
MAGIC TO HIS GAME.
Tracy might have, in effect, been the hardest matchup. He could do
just about everything on offense. He could go either direction and
shoot or drive, he could post up and shoot over his left and right
shoulders, and he was long and tall. From that standpoint, I would try

to disrupt his flow by pinpointing his aggressive moments and taking
those away from him.
On nights I had to cover Tracy, I tried to figure out what would make
him uncomfortable, which was getting underneath him and being
physical with his legs. I’d get deep into his legs, his back—which I
knew he had particular insecurities about—his hips, and make him
uneasy. The goal was to suffocate him and take away any daylight he
might have to score.

TRACY ALWAYS HAD QUICK
HANDS.
He was especially good at using them to swipe at the ball and knock
it away. My goal, then, was to neutralize his hands as threats by
keeping the ball away from him. As long as I did that, I knew I could
get to the spots I wanted and dictate what kind of night I was going
to have.

WE WERE ON A COLLISION
COURSE.
When Boston acquired multiple All-Stars in 2008, we knew it was
going to come down to the two of us. That happened in 2008, and it
happened again in 2010.
In retrospect, it was awesome to be a part of that historic rivalry. I
knew the history. I knew what Jerry West went through, knew what
the Showtime Lakers went through. That definitely added to the
meaning of it all. At the time, though, my mindset was: They’re in the
way and I have to win; I have to win this title. It didn’t matter that
they had three future Hall-of-Famers and Rasheed Wallace and Rajon
Rondo and others. It didn’t matter because the history books wouldn’t
reflect that. The only thing that gets recorded is titles, and we had to
fight our way through those guys and win one.

PAUL PIERCE WAS ONE OF THE

TOUGHEST PLAYERS I EVER HAD
TO GUARD.
He really understood how to use his body. He would use his heft to
shield you, and he would use his size to shoot over you.
What I tried to do here was turn the tables and gain the positional
advantage. I used my left forearm to put pressure into his back. I put
my left leg behind him to further negate any opportunity he had to
spin off of me. Simultaneously, I used my right leg to cut off his angle
to drive directly. Then, if he made any mistake with the ball, my right
hand was there to flick it away and capitalize on the error.
The best result of this play would have been to take the ball from him
or block his shot. Another good result would have been to make him
uncomfortable enough where he wouldn’t shoot at all. It would have
been OK also if he shot the ball off-balance. Regardless, I wasn’t going
to let him get comfortable and score without putting up a fight.

TONY ALLEN NEVER GOT
INTIMIDATED. EVER.
He was a dog, in a good way. He was really aggressive, physical, and,
most of all, he didn’t quit. He was relentless. He was also old-school,
in that he would foul every time and dare the refs to call it.

And … I loved that. I would hit him back with elbows, shove him,
and reciprocate all the contact he initiated.
He’s why—along with KG and them—the 2010 Finals were such a
battle. They fouled me on every play and were unapologetic about it.
They hit me and let me know that they hit me.
When you’re in a situation like that, playing against a guy like Tony
and a team like those Celtics, you have to be willing to play through
that. More than that, it has to excite you on some level. You have to
take it as a challenge, like, Go ahead and be physical but trust me,
you’re going to back down before I do

RAY ALLEN WENT THROUGH A
FEW DIFFERENT ON-COURT
REINVENTIONS.
When he was young in Milwaukee, he just ran off of screens. Later in
his stay there and in Seattle, they ran more isolations for him and let
him work off of the dribble. Closer to the end, in Boston and Miami,
he was back to playing entirely off of the ball and being a shooter.
Ray was deadly. He understood how to run off of screens; he
understood timing; he understood how to create a tiny gap to
generate the smallest windows of space. He and I had some battles,

especially in his Milwaukee and Seattle days. We were in the same
draft class—him, me, AI—so we were fighting to establish territory
back then.

I TOOK BOXING OUT A BIG MAN
AS A PERSONAL CHALLENGE.

In high school, we used to do these drills where you had to keep your
man from getting the ball or even tapping it. If he got a hand on it,
you lost the drill. So it was instilled in me that boxing out was
crucial.
Outside of dominating by dint of will, there are physical ways to
ensure you gain an advantage while going for a rebound. You want
to, obviously, establish a good base and get your body in front of the
opposition. But you also want to make sure you get lower than their
hips so you can move them and alter their positioning. If you try

doing that at the shoulders, it won’t work because they’re stronger at
the top. So you want to get beneath them and use your body weight
to move them from the waist down.
When most players look at basketball as a competition, they consider
scoring and defending. In truth, even this little aspect—boxing out—is
a competition within the competition. It’s a competition to see who
can get the damn ball. It’s a competition to see who wants it more,
and I’m not going to lose that type of battle.

ANDRE IGUODALA USED TO GIVE

ME A LOT OF PROBLEMS.
He was really angular. More than that, his active left hand gave me
problems. He had a really active left hand. You would go up to shoot,
and he would just swipe the ball away from you. He does that a lot,
and still pulls it off.
I had to figure out how to beat it. That was by playing mind games.
Sometimes, I’d let him get the ball at first. Then have him sit on the
second one, extend the ball out, and have him foul me. He’d then
have to think about it. The third time, I’d hide the ball and change
the angle, so there was nothing for him to swipe at. I’d play games
like that, because I knew he’d never contest up high. I just had to
create enough space and get him thinking about reach-ins and I’d
have clean looks all day long.

HANDS ARE WEAPONS.

Bruce Bowen was very good at using his hands as a weapon. What
he’s doing here is what he would almost always do: use his left hand
to hold my right arm down. Then, as I would attack, Bruce would just
chop, chop, chop away at my arm to keep me from being able to
cleanly dribble or pull up. It was annoying as hell, but I knew I could
break free. All I had to do was ignore his arm and play through it. If I
did that, which I could do because I anticipated his chops on every
single play, I could beat Bruce’s tactic.

ALL ABOUT FOOTWORK

When all things were equal, the best way to beat Bruce was to play
through all of the bumps and chops. But if I had an angle or edge, like
in this instance (in the photo above), I could just dip my shoulder and
drive it right into his chest to throw his arms out of position. From
there, it was all about footwork.
Look closely. My right foot is pointed in the direction I want to go—a
few dribbles to the right, for a midrange jumper. If I would have
wanted to cut the corner and go to the basket, I would’ve rotated my
toes to apply more torque. In that way, footwork on-court is
comparable to the way you use your head while riding a motorcycle.
If you want to turn left or right, you have to start by looking and
leaning your weight, starting with your head, in that direction. It’s
the same thing with your feet on the basketball court.

FIRST THINGS FIRST:SIZE UP THE

DEFENSE.
In the photo at right, Shawn Marion—the help defender—is behind
me. Raja Bell is trying, as you can see by his right leg, to turn me
back and funnel me into Marion. That’s their trap.
In turn, what I would try is using my right arm to create separation.
I’d give him a slight elbow to create space, so now I could get to my
pull-up jumper. Alternatively, I would drive hard at his right leg,
knowing the trap was coming from the other direction, to create
leverage and alter the angles enough for me to pull off a tight spin
before the trap could close.

CARMELO’S A BEAR.

I liked playing against him because he’s old-school. When you hit a
lot of guys repeatedly—pound, pound, pound—they’ll move off the
post. Not him, though. Carmelo Anthony enjoyed the physicality of it,
enjoyed being hit and hitting.
Nothing was more grueling than when we matched up in the playoffs.
At that point, in spite of our size difference— or maybe because of it
—everything boiled down to positioning. In this instance, I’m not
pushing him as much as I’m looking at the angle of the pass. I’m
sizing up where they could potentially throw him the ball, and I’m
using my left arm to discourage that from happening. Meanwhile, I’m
using my right hand, which is out of sight, to clamp down on his arm.
That way, if the pass comes, I can push his arm down, move in front,
and steal the ball. Little tricks of the trade.

CHRIS PAUL IS A SPECIAL PLAYER

WHEN HE’S GOING TO HIS RIGHT
SIDE.
I mean, he’s good going left, too—but he’s tremendous going to his
right. Obviously then, my first line of defense is tying up his right
hand. As you can see, I would put my left hand there to let him know
that if you try going right, I’m going to take the ball from you or, at
least, make it hard for you to pick up the ball.
Also, I would use my height and length advantage to bother him.
When he would go up to shoot, I would contest. When he would go to
drive, I would body him. When he would go to pass, I’d try to read
the angles and cut them off by using my length. Anything, really, to
throw him off his game.
Another method I employed was anticipation. The best way to
anticipate what CP—what anyone—is going to do is by studying their
game. If you do that, you’ll know what they like to do in certain
places, and you can predict that and become the aggressor.

CHRIS DEFENDED WITH CRAFT.

He was quick, strong, and supremely intelligent.
If I had position on him in the post, he’d try to cheat to one side to
play the passing lane. That way, if it was an errant pass, he’d be able
to poke the ball loose or steal it outright. My reaction to that was to
use my size to keep him behind me, so he couldn’t lean in either
direction, and catch the ball up high. Then, when I turned to shoot
the fadeaway over him, I would hold the ball high and never bring it
down to his level. That’s something I worked on a lot in the summer
—catching the ball, turning, and keeping the ball in front of my face.

DWYANE WADE WOULD JUST
VANISH.
There was no one harder to guard off a screen-roll than Dwyane.
That’s a sweeping but true statement, and a lot factored into his skill.
Mainly, he had such a strong base, and could get so low to the
ground, that once he came off of the screen he was gone. He would
just vanish. It was really, really hard for me—and for our big men,
who he would split and leave in the dust—to guard him.
Ultimately, I had to sit down and watch a lot of film with our bigs. I
showed them that I needed them to hold him up for one second, then
I could get back to him. Now, a second might not sound like a lot of
time, but he was blowing by guys in .2 seconds. So, I really had to

drill that into our bigs.
The first year or two, yeah, I could sag off of Dwyane a little bit and
buy that extra time and space. By his third year, nah. Even though his
shot didn’t look good, it went in, so you had to respect it. His shot
only got better and more fluid from there.

A YOUNG KEVIN DURANT WASN’T
THAT DIFFICULT TO HANDLE.
During his first few years in the NBA, KD had certain deficiencies in

his game that I would exploit. At the time, he struggled shooting pullup jumpers while going to his right side and he didn’t know how to
operate in the post. Those holes, despite his immense height, made
him guardable. Fairly quickly though—within a year or two— he
became proficient at pulling up on his right side. A few years after
that, he added a few left-shoulder post moves. Before I knew it, he
was a 7-foot handful on the court.
And that’s Kevin Durant’s story.
For almost a decade, he did nothing but address weaknesses and add
to his game. Now, his skill set is completely fleshed out. His offensive
game has no weaknesses. He’s a nightmare to go up against, and he’s
worked to achieve that status.

THE TALENT HAS ALWAYS BEEN
THERE FOR JAMES HARDEN.
Even though he