Whicker: Kobe Bryant and the triumph of clarity

first_img“I know how proud he was of Gigi, and how he recognized how competitive she was,” Badrtalei said. “But I also know how close he was to Natalia. That was a very unusual bond. It’s tough to think about what she must be going through.”As he chased perfection like a predator, Bryant did not pander, he did not ingratiate, he did not smile for the camera unless he felt like it. Everything inside Bryant’s circle was geared toward his journey. Everything outside was irrelevant. At the time of his death he was just beginning to crusade for others, for kids, for the game itself. The opponents had all faded away. That’s the shame of all this.“All players think they work hard, and a lot of them do,” Badrtalei said. “None of them do the things Kobe did. He did not leave anything to chance.“Every year he had something new he wanted to bring to his game. One year it was defense. He would work for hours on his defense, his footwork, his angles, his conditioning. Who has ever done that? Who has dedicated all his workouts just to play defense better? But even on family vacations he was texting me, asking me about drills, getting my feedback.“That shot he used to take when he was fading away in the corner and he was basically shooting from behind the backboard….I’ve seen him take that shot thousands of times. He would work on it over and over again. I’ve seen him shoot it against the side of the backboard hundreds of times. He was not going to do it in a game until he had totally mastered it.”Bryant would show up as the freeways were beginning to congeal. He would work on the court, lift weights, stretch, and go home by late morning. He would come back after dinner. He worked everything around his family, and as the daughters kept arriving and learning and playing, Bryant began to see the rest of the world.When Mike Brown became the Lakers’ coach, Bryant brought Brown’s entire playbook to the workouts. He was going to be in the right spots and shoot the right shots. He no longer wrote off teammates who didn’t share his obsessions. His fourth and fifth championship teams were more vulnerable than the first three, but more communal, too.Bryant and Badrtalei were cordial but businesslike for years. On the court they were combustible. “I got my share of elbows in the face, and some trash-talking as well,” Badrtalei said. “We went at it.”As Badrtalei’s family grew, the two young dads compared notes and told stories. In the end, they were in the same circle, where the hours are long, the definition high. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersIf Bryant was in that helicopter, where was Ryan Badrtalei?Turner is the head coach at UC Irvine. Badrtalei is his right-hand man. Bryant and Badrtalei began working out together in 2007. Bryant was angry with the Lakers, tired of early playoff losses, ready to leave. When the offseason came, he didn’t want to work out at Lakers’ headquarters anymore, and he was already living in Orange County.Within basketball’s sanctum, Badrtalei’s expertise was well-known. So the two spent that offseason together, and then the next eight.Badrtalei was at home on the 26th. A relative from Australia called. “I was thinking it was an odd time to hear from her,” he said.He went to his bedroom and stared at the wall, like most of Southern California, asking for the news to repeat itself. One hopes Monday is an uncloudy day. It is Kobe Bryant’s final sellout at Staples Center. No one was more clear.He knew where he was and where he wanted to get, and there was nothing but blue sky in between. Doubt and hesitation and, especially, distraction dared not enter his world. He was blessed with a mother lode of talent and smarts, and yet he refused to trust them. The gift that he left us was clarity.That, more than anything, prompted the massive arboretum that spread throughout L.A. Live, and triggered the tears that flooded the world from Beijing to Bologna. The world loved him because there were no alternate versions of Kobe. He was right out front.And when the world started pinging in the mid-morning of Jan. 26, Russell Turner’s chest filled with the same grief and disbelief that struck everyone. But he also felt dread in the pit of his stomach.center_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img