Powerful Friendship Between Kobe And Mid-Major Assistant Coach Has Community Still Grieving

Kobe Bryant lost his life in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. Fans, players, coaches, friends and family members pay tribute to the great legend. We got to know almost every detail of Kobe’s life, but one particular story melted our hearts. It involves the great Kobe and an assistant coach from the community.

In 2007, Kobe was already a star. It was a long way for the legend, but he did it. He had to go through UC Irvine without much hope for a bright career. None of this touched Bryant, and he became a star. He has a great connection with college sports. Irvine’s campus was a 10-minute drive from his home in Newport Coast, California. In 2007, Bryant was almost out of the game. he almost lost faith in the Lakers’ ability to win.

“It’s been stunning for everybody to experience this,” UC Irvine men’s basketball coach Russell Turner said. “You feel like you’ve lost somebody who’s a neighbor. Kobe’s an icon, a superstar and an incredible presence. He’s that everywhere, but he’s especially that when people see him as a neighbor, father, a guy in the community. We’d see him at Chipotle near campus, and he come on campus some, because he was incredibly private and we all knew that. The best thing about the way it was for him and us: we allowed him to be that guy. There are very few places in the world where he could be that. I never felt like he was overwhelmed here.”

Help from an unexpected assistant coach

Ryan Badrtalei was 26 at the time. He was a director of basketball operations who was making $17,000 in his second year at the school. Robert Lara called UCI in an effort to get workouts in on campus. What did Bryant think at that point?

“Kobe shows up with who I thought was Rob Lara, but the person that was with him that night was who he planned on keeping with him and training him,” Badrtalei said. “Kobe was planning to go to Chicago. He communicated with Michael Jordan, who was helping him figure out, ‘Who are you and what do you want to do in the second stage of your career?'” 

The friendship between Kobe and this assistant coach impressed the community

Bryant worked with Jordan’s trainer Tim Grover and Tom Evans.

“I was there the first night he shows up and I’m like, jeez, he’s actually here,” Badrtalei said. “I didn’t think he’d come.”

Bryant asked Badrtalei for his number. Badrtalei didn’t think that Kobe would call or do something. A few hours later, he got a message.

“Hey, Ryan, this is Kobe. Let’s do it. I’ll be at the gym tomorrow morning at 6 o’clock.”

“Tom Evans was running his workouts, he was from Chicago, didn’t really know anybody, and over the course of the first few days, Kobe eventually learned I was on the coaching staff,” Badrtalei said. “So he’s going through a shooting routine on the floor and looks over at me and goes, ‘You’re just going to sit over there and not help us? I thought you coached basketball.’ Three days in, that was my introduction. From then on I was with him.” 

Badrtaley was Bryant’s strength and conditioning coach. It’s hard to imagine that Bryant would work best with a Big West assistant coach who never played college basketball. He never talked about this out of respect for the Black Mamba and his family.

Byant spent many years with Badrtaley. Starting in late April and ending in October, Bryant used to arrive at UC Irvine’s gym between 5 and 5.30 a.m. He was training early in the morning or late at night.

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