When Knicks All-Star Julius Randle was in his first full season in the NBA, playing for the Lakers at the time, he was looking forward to an early-season road game against the Mavericks, and a chance to visit family and friends in his hometown of Dallas.
Instead, he received a valuable lesson, and a memorable story, from his legendary teammate Kobe Bryant.
Bryant, who was in the midst of the final season of his Hall of Fame career, asked Randle what his plans were in Dallas after the team landed the night before their game against the Mavericks, and when the 21-year-old Randle said he would be seeing family and friends, Bryant gave him a different assignment.
“Kobe, he just cuts me off,” Randle said in a piece for The Player’s Tribune. “He’s like, ‘Nah. We’re going to the gym.’”
Randle, still trying to find his footing in the NBA, wasn’t about to turn down one of the greatest to ever play the game.
“I mean, that right there, it’s just the power of Kobe,” Randle said. “If anyone else in the world had said that to me, in that moment, I might have hit ’em with an eye roll and went on with my business. But when Mamba is telling you that it’s a change of plans, and you’re coming with him to the gym tonight? You don’t ask questions. You just do as you’re told.”
Bryant’s wisdom stuck with Randle, who now hits a local gym to get some extra work in as soon as he touches down in a new city before a road game. That extra work has certainly paid off this season, with Randle earning All-Star recognition while leading the resurgent Knicks to an 18-18 record with thoughts of an improbable playoff berth.
Randle labored through his first year in New York, but he stuck to the routine that Bryant helped set for him, stopping in a gym right after getting off the plane. At one point last season, with the Knicks preparing to play the Pistons on the road, Randle arranged to get some shots up at a “simple and old school” in Detroit, where he was once again reminded of Bryant’s lasting impact.
“I get to the building, and the guy who was there to let me in, I think he’s the athletic director of that school, we start talking a little bit,” Randle said. “And he’s like, ‘It’s good to see you. Guys don’t really show up here to work out anymore. Matter of fact, the last guy to come in this late to shoot — man, that must have been years ago. It was Kobe.’ Just hearing him say the name, it gave me chills.”
Randle remembers it being the month after Bryant tragically passed away in a helicopter crash, and he never forgets the opportunity he had to play with and learn from one of the best to ever step on a basketball court.
Now, Randle is trying to do the same with the Knicks’ young core that hopes to become the championship-caliber group that New York has been starving for.
“I think I’ve always known what a blessing it was that I got to be teammates with Kobe for his last two years in the league,” Randle said. “But there’s knowing, and then there’s understanding. And I think this year, for the first time, I’ve really understood why Kobe mentored younger players like me. Not just so we could flourish ourselves, but so we could pass down what we learned to other players as well. I think that’s a huge part of his legacy, especially in those last few years.”
Follow Ryan Chichester on Twitter: @ryanchichester1