Kobe Bryant remembers Tom Thibodeau from back in the day, and from the sound of it the Bulls head coach hasn’t changed much.
Bryant, currently out while recovering from a fracture in his left knee, spoke prior to Monday’s tilt between the Bulls and Lakers at the United Center about his relationship with Thibodeau, which goes as far back to when Bryant was a preps star at Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia.
Bryant was invited by former 76ers coach John Lucas, who was friends with Kobe’s father, Joe, to practice and work out with the 76ers. Thibodeau was an assistant on that staff, and said it was apparent that Bryant, who entered the 1996 NBA draft out of high school, was a special talent.
“You could see the talent. He was a high school player who played with the college guys and then with the pros, he was in the gym all day,” Thibodeau said. “His will and his determination to be great and never satisfied, he had that in him from the beginning.”
Bryant was an exceptional offensive threat, but he remembers well that Thibodeau wasn’t the run-of-the-mill coach who let him shoot whenever he wanted.
“I had a good time, it was fun,” Bryant said of his time with Thibodeau. “He put me through way more offensive drills than he did defensive drills. And it was fun, though.”
Thibodeau, now an assistant with the U.S. Olympic team, said he’ll certainly have talks with Bryant about returning for Team USA. Bryant said this offseason that he doesn’t foresee himself playing in 2016, but Thibodeau joked that he’s certainly open to asking the future Hall-of-Famer one last time.
“I’ll always try to talk him into it,” he said laughing.
Added Kobe: “He can try all he wants. I love Thibs, we go way back, so the conversation would be more than welcome.”
If Bryant doesn’t play in the 2016 Games, he joked that he may attend anyway and watch his teammates compete.
“I’ll go watch (Lakers forward) Pau (Gasol) win another silver,” he said laughing.