Los Angeles Lakers rookie D’Angelo Russell wanted to make a good first impression on the opening day of training camp, so he planned on getting to practice early and being one of the first players on the floor. Russell compared the feeling of anticipation to the first day of school.
When he arrived, though, he saw he wasn’t the only one with that goal in mind. Kobe Bryant, who’s entering his 20th season in the NBA, was already out there, drenched in sweat, having been getting shots up for an hour.
The two are quickly bonding in training camp, despite the fact that Russell was only 221 days old when Bryant made his preseason debut with the Lakers on Oct. 10, 1996 in Hawaii.
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The most important thing, from Russell’s perspective, is not being in awe of Bryant. Which is easier said than done, of course. He’s one of the greatest players in league history. But Russell will never be respected if he looks at Bryant as a star and not a peer, and he knows that.
"That’s something you have to get past," Russell said after the first day of training camp in Honolulu, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. "If you want to be the best, we have to look at him as a mentor and not look at him as a fan."
Bryant has been impressed with Russell’s maturity and poise on the hardwood, and also complimented Russell’s love of basketball.
"He knows the little details about the game here and there," Bryant said. "He loves the game. When you have player that loves the game, it’s my responsibility to make sure he never loses sight of that through difficult moments and even the great moments and focus on the love of the game. Once you have that, you’ll probably solve everything. So stay focused on that. I have to keep him locked in there."
When informed of Bryant’s assessment, Russell smiled and took it at all in.
"Those are high words,” Russell said. "I feel like a lot of guys have that one inspiration off the court that keeps them going. Mine is being on the court. I have the opportunity to be blessed and play every day. I really take those strong words into consideration. I keep working. You’re getting paid to do something you love. Not a lot of guys get to dream of something when you’re young and make it a reality."