Before he was that Kobe Bryant — the one that won five NBA titles, two Finals MVPs, one regular-season MVP and countless other accolades. Before kids around the world would yell, “Kobe!” before letting loose a desperate turnaround heave or fadeaway jumper, Bryant was just a kid himself, hoping to pique the interest of scouts as the top high-school talent ahead of the 1996 NBA Draft.
It’s this Bryant — raw but brimming with potential — that Sacramento Kings assistant coach Rex Kalamian, who previously held the same position with the Toronto Raptors, has been reflecting on of late.
Ahead of the one-year anniversary of Bryant’s tragic death, Kalamian shared draft workout footage with The Los Angeles Times of the superstar that he recorded while part of Los Angeles Clippers coach Bill Fitch’s staff.
Former Clippers assistant Rex Kalamian handled many video duties with the team in 1996 when Kobe Bryant worked out before the NBA draft. Here’s exclusive footage.
Story by @AndrewGreif: https://t.co/WTorc1RXxV pic.twitter.com/tRmm1Q3AUt
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) January 25, 2021
It had been standard procedure for the Clippers to reuse their VHS tapes, recording over old games and outdated scouting videos, but on June 22, 1996, Kalamian knew he needed to make an exception.
“This one, I knew was going to be something that I would want to look back at someday,” Kalamian told The Times’ Andrew Greif. “I kind of put it aside and kept it in a box for a very long time.
In the footage, Bryant, then 17, performs a series of layups with both hands before capping it off with a thunderous dunk for the Clippers brass in attendance. The team held the seventh pick. Bryant was selected 13th by Charlotte before he was traded to the Lakers.
“(It was) probably the most athletic Mikan drill you’re ever going to see,” recalled Kalamian.
“At one point Jim Brewer, one of the assistant coaches, walked by,” Kalamian said. “And he said to me, ‘Are you looking at what I’m looking at right now?'”
Former Clippers assistant Barry Hecker was also left stunned.
“It was like seeing a beautiful woman, it’s like, ‘Holy mackerel, this guy,’” Hecker told The Times in 2020. “He had the size and had the confidence, even then.”
Kalamian recently shared the video with Kings head coach Luke Walton, a former Lakers teammate of Bryant, and he and other staff in Sacramento were amazed.
“I walked by the video room about an hour later and there must have been about eight people surrounding the monitor,” he said. “They were all astonished. They’d just watched an hour of Kobe Bryant at (17) years old doing a workout.”
Prior to Bryant’s death, along with daughter Gianna and seven others, in a helicopter accident last year, Kalamian had the honour of passing along the video to Bryant himself, who sent back the coach an autographed pair of game-worn sneakers for his son as a thank you.
“My son still has the shoes,” Kalamian said.
Always in search of basketball perfection, Kalamian believes Bryant probably didn’t watch the workout just for kicks or a sense of nostalgia.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he popped that thing in and watched,” he said. “And he probably critiqued himself over it, ‘I can’t believe I missed those shots.’”