How Kobe Bryant Pushed Kyrie Irving to Become a Champion

Getty Images Kobe Bryant of the Lakers guards Kyrie Irving of the Cavaliers

After an illustrious playing career that was decorated with 18 All-Star selections, 11 All-NBA First Teams, 9 All-Defensive First Teams, and 5 championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, the late, great Kobe Bryant adapted to life after basketball by carving out a new role himself.

He became an effective mentor for active NBA players. For some, he was a counselor — a guide that players leaned on when the daily grind of a long 82-game season called for some encouragement, and for others, during the offseason; Kobe was a trainer.

He would invite a select group of players to his facility in California, including Brooklyn Nets All-Star Kyrie Irving, who reveled in his newfound friendship with the NBA’s fourth all-time leading scorer. And for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were days away from facing the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Bryant’s constant words of encouragement ultimately altered history.

Kobe Bryant Spoke to Kyrie Irving Before Game 7 of 2016 NBA Finals

In a new book entitled, “Can’t Knock The Hustle: Inside The Season of Protest, Pandemic, and Progress with The Brooklyn Nets’ Superstars of Tomorrow,” author Matt Sullivan reveals how Kobe’s advice for Kyrie played a part and made for a special moment following Cleveland’s 93-89 Game 7 victory.

“In Game Seven of the 2016 NBA Finals against Golden State, the score was tied, there were sixty-eight seconds on the clock, and Kyrie knew the play had been designed for him,” Sullivan wrote. “He’d been listening all week over the phone to Kobe encouraging him to stay aggressive, to shoot ’till his arms fell off, to remember the legacy of Muhammad Ali, who’d just passed away.”

Kobe Bryant to Kyrie Irving: ‘You Have it in You’

With less than one minute left, Irving drained a 3-pointer — the go-ahead bucket — over Warriors point guard Steph Curry and capped off one of the most improbable comebacks in NBA Finals history.

The Cavs emerged from a 3-1 hole in their best-of-7 series, thus delivering Cleveland its first NBA title.

“In the locker room, a ski-goggle’d affair that burned his eyes with bubbly, Kyrie and a coach dialed up Kobe on FaceTime,” Sullivan wrote. “Kobe hated FaceTime calls, but he and his daughter Gigi picked up right away from their couch in Newport Beach. In between laughter and congratulations, the teacher told the student to enjoy the moment, for having stepped right into it — for rope-a-doping the Warriors and his haters at once.”

What stood out most was what was said next.

“You have it in you, bro,” Kobe said, per Sullivan’s new book. “I told you all along: It was in you.”

The two — both student and mentor — grew close over the years, including Irving’s first season in Brooklyn. Bryant, two seasons removed from his final year with the Lakers, even took in a game at Barclays Center in late 2019.

The Day Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie Met Kobe Bryant

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie will never forget that night. It was the first time he’d ever been face-to-face with the Black Mamba.

“Fifteen minutes before tip-off, Spencer spotted Kobe courtside,” Sullivan wrote. “They’d talked and texted a few times, but hadn’t been able to schedule a workout together. All of a sudden, Spencer thought, this was The Mamba in person, man! Finally! Spencer had a damn poster of Kobe on his wall growing up, and to that day he had an autographed No. 24 jersey in his room.”

That night Dinwiddie’s team-high 39 points led the Nets to a 122-112 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

“You’re playing like an All-Star,” Kobe told him, per Sullivan — which led to the following exchange between the two:

“S***, man, I’m tryin’,” Spencer said.

“Nah, you ain’t tryin’ it. You doing it,” Bryant replied.