If anyone knows Kobe Bryant well, it's the guy who helped keep him in shape for two decades.
Throughout his NBA career, which spanned 20 years and garnered five championship rings before he retired in 2016, Bryant worked alongside long-time Lakers head trainer Gary Vitti.
Vitti, who has also retired, joined podcast host and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame photographer Andrew D. Bernstein this week on an episode of Legends of Sport to discuss his upcoming book, "32 Years of Titles and Tears from the Best Seat in the House: What I Learned about Happiness, Greatness, Leadership and the Evolution of Sports Science."
He writes quite a bit about Bryant in the book, specifically about where his success came from.
"He was talented, but what if I told you he wasn't the most talented guy out there?" Vitti says on the podcast. "I'm telling you, and I've had them all, there's nothing really special about Kobe. I mean he's a big guy, but he's not that big. He was quick, but he's not that quick. He's fast, he wasn't that fast. He was powerful, but he wasn't that powerful. I mean, there were other players that had more talent than he did, so what was there about him that more talented players had zero rings and he ended up with five?"
Bryant not only worked harder than anyone else, he worked smarter than everyone else, and he was intellectually brilliant at his job, Vitti says. During halftime, when other players looked at messages, emails, and tweets on their phones, Bryant watched film from the first half of the game on a laptop in the training room to see how he could do better in the second half. The superstar athlete himself has attributed his past progress on the court to an intense work ethic and obsessively studying other players.
"He was tough in the sense that he took 'can't' and 'won't' out of his lexicon and he just believed that he could do it," Vitti says. "Kobe taught me that talent is the most overrated thing in life; it's what you do with your talent."
Vitti tells the story of when Bryant was hanging out with a bunch of Navy SEALS; he even asked them to waterboard him in order to understand what it was about (and says the player went through with it). Vitti and the player formed a friendship over their years together – the basketball star had penned a special autographed photo of the two of them when they both retired and credited Vitti with helping make his career.
"There's certain things about him that make him very, very special," Vitti says. "The hard work, the smart work, yes, the talent – but what he did with the talent, the toughness, the mental toughness."
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