There was a time it looked like Tony Gaffney would stick in the NBA. He had come relatively unheralded out of UMass but was sneaky athletic, was a strong defender from the start and had a famously strong work ethic. He stood out at the 2009 Summer League in Las Vegas for the Lakers and looked like he would make their roster for a while, but was the last cut of that Phil Jackson team.
But Gaffney (who now plays in Israel) has stories from that summer and training camp working out at the Lakers facilities. Kobe Bryant stories.
He told some to David Pick of BasketballInsiders.com, including when Kobe called the rookie to the Lakers workout facilities about a week into training camp.
“We’re gonna start playing one-on-one,” Bryant told Gaffney, according to the forward. “I heard you’re a defensive lockdown player. So, lock me down.”
“Obviously easier said than done,” Gaffney said with a laugh. “But for about three weeks in a row, I was forced to show up hours before practice to play one-on-one against Kobe.”
Bryant would invent various sets of rules where he could only dribble and score with his weak hand; some days he could only score inside the paint, others only from outside.
“Oh, and I never got to play offense,” Gaffney said.
Gaffney goes on to tell other Kobe work ethic stories, adding to that legend. Phil Jackson says Kobe worked harder than Michael Jordan did.
While Gaffney didn’t make the team he did earn Bryant’s respect — that season Gaffney hooked up and was on the Boston Celtics, who met the Lakers in the Finals. Kobe found him during the Finals, called him a traitor in words that we couldn’t repeat here, then laughed and gave Gaffney a hug. (The Lakers went on to beat the Celtics in seven hard-fought games.)
It’s vintage Bryant — you may not have his skills, but if you put in the effort you earn his respect.