Kobe Bryant left a lasting impact on his former teammates, unlike very few others.
The stories of his drive, competitiveness and toughness have been told before, but hearing new Kobe tales never gets old.
Ahead of the Bryant’s statue unveiling on Thursday, his former teammate Metta Sandiford-Artest (the artist formerly known as Ron Artest and Metta World Peace) opened up about some of his favourite Mamba memories in an interview with Mark Medina for Sportskeeda.
For Artest, one thing that really stood out was Kobe’s determination to play and practice through pain.
“He was always in the training room. I know sometimes he was hurt, but it was hard to tell,” he said. “You could see him in pain and the trainer would tell us how much he was in pain sometimes. We didn’t always know. He was just a tough guy. He was playing through a broken finger [in 2010], and that was wild. I had that, too. I understand playing with pain and coming back from ligament surgery. I remember he would wear a splint. That finger was broken.
“Then during his last years, he was tired. I don’t know how he was running. He had no legs. He was beat. That was tough. But when he got hurt with his Achilles tear [in 2013], that was pretty wild. Just walking off the floor. I thought he just hurt his ankle. I didn’t know he tore his Achilles. He’s walking off the floor? You’re not just trying to sit there and wait for somebody to take you off? That was wild. The broken finger and Achilles tear were pretty impressive.”
Former Lakers athletic trainer Gary Vitti also had some incredible memories to share, especially from the night Bryant tore his Achilles.
“He walked all the way back to the locker room,” Vitti told Medina. “I asked him if he wanted a chair. He looked down at me and said, ‘F— Paul Pierce!’”
Vitti then confirmed Kobe was referring to Pierce leaving the court in a wheelchair during the 2008 Finals, only to return soon afterwards and help the Celtics close out the series against Bryant and the Lakers.
Incredibly, even when Kobe was in a huge amount of pain and processing the implications of a potentially career-threatening injury, he still had that same competitive fire and distaste for the Celtics.