The Kobe Bryant stories just keep on coming. As the Los Angeles Lakers legend readies for the nineteenth season of his career, tales of Bryant’s unmatched and relentless drive to improve have been added to his historical lore on a seemingly daily basis. Former Laker and current Detroit Piston Jodie Meeks is the latest to extol Kobe’s work ethic, telling the Detroit Free Press that he’s been supremely influenced by his former teammate.
As told by Perry A. Farrell of the Free Press, Meeks distinctively remembers his first day of training camp with Los Angeles in 2012.
“Practice was at 11, we had to be there at 10. Well, I wanted to get there at 10,” Meeks said. “He was already there fully dressed and sweating. I got to the locker room at 9:30, got on the court at 10, and he had been there an hour and a half working on stuff.
“I was like, ‘Man, it is true.’ This guy is working like this and at the time he was 34 years old. He felt like he still had a lot to prove, and he was still trying to prove people wrong. I was like, ‘Man, great player.’ ”
This isn’t surprising. Bryant is a notorious gym-rat, and has spoken of the need to adjust his game as Father Time saps him of elite athletic ability. It only makes sense that Kobe would spend even more time honing and adding to his craft in the twilight of his career, and his awesome performance in 2012-2013 is further evidence that his extreme dedication pays off.
Meeks clearly benefited from his time spent around Bryant. The 26 year-old enjoyed a banner season with the Lakers in 2013-2014, establishing career-highs in points per game (15.7), player efficiency rating (14.7), and true shooting percentage (60.1) as an injured Kobe watched from the bench. And as Meeks confirms, his wholesale improvement was no coincidence.
“I feel like I learned a lot from him as far as the mental aspect of the game,” Meeks said of Bryant. “It’s encouraging to me because here’s probably the second greatest shooting guard ever (Michael Jordan No. 1) putting in this type of work, then I should be putting in work like that. I’m still trying to get to my peak and still trying to get to my prime, so I need to work just as hard or even harder to get there. He’s outworking everybody.
The Pistons were widely mocked for awarding Meeks a three-year, $19 million contract on the opening day of free agency. Detroit lacked shooting around Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond last season, and Meeks’ prolific marksmanship goes a long way towards plugging that gaping hole. But a $6 million salary for a player of his caliber is still a steep price.
To justify his outsized contract, Meeks’ impact for the Pistons needs to extend beyond the court – serving as a mentor to Drummond and sophomore wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would be a good start. One of the greenest teams in the league, Detroit’s present and future success is dependent on the growth of its young stars.