Kobe Bryant was Jerry West’s special project.
West virtually hoodwinked then Nets coach John Calipari not to draft Kobe back in 1996, allowing the future star to fall to Charlotte, who drafted Kobe then traded him to the Lakers in a deal based around Vlade Divac. West then took Kobe under his wing, worked out with him, and taught him everything he could about the game. That worked out pretty well for Kobe and the Lakers.
Harrison Barnes has now gotten the Kobe treatment from West.
After a few years of begging for the chance, this summer West relented and brought Barnes out to his Los Angeles area home for a week of workouts and lessons, something Sam Amick details in a fantastic story at the USA Today.
For five days, Barnes joined the Hall of Famer whose Bel-Air home is just down the street from one of the more infamous basketball courts you’ll find. By day, they worked on the regulation-sized court that’s inside the home of shoe mogul Steven Jackson – a replica of the Staples Center, “Lakers mausoleum,” as West describes it, that visiting NBA teams will sometimes use for shoot-arounds or practices. By night, they all sat in the West’s family dining room, where his wife, Karen, would take food requests from Barnes and try to replenish all those calories he’d burned learning tricks of the trade from her legendary husband…
“It was crazy,” Barnes said. “To be able to not only spend time with him on the court, but off the court as well, to see how he saw the game, how I need to see the game, the things that he saw in my game. He actually took the court and practiced on certain things…
“We’d work out in the morning. We’d get some work in, and then he’d show up and put me through a workout. He’d show me stuff he would do, and then we’d go out to eat and talk about what the league is like today, stuff he saw back in the day. Who were the toughest players he guarded? Who were the tough players he went against? What was his mentality going into games? And then we just talked about life, about how he enjoyed LA, about my childhood, his childhood, all that type of stuff.”
These workouts, plus changes from Steve Kerr to both start Barnes and get him working off the ball more — always his strength — led to Barnes having the best season of his career. He averaged 10.1 points a game, shot 40 percent from three, and was a key starter on a Warriors team that won 67 games.
Barnes has looked even better in the playoffs.
Golden State wants to keep Barnes but likely doesn’t offer him a contract extension this summer, waiting until next summer (they also have Draymond Green’s contract to deal with, and he is more central to what the Warriors do right now).
Whatever happens, Barnes has been given a chance and an insight into one of the games greatest competitors that few get the chance. And he’s going to be a better player and a better person for it.