Baxter Holmes, ESPN (http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/15179469/kobe-bryant-famous-pregame-shooting-routine)
The routine begins at every arena about four hours before tipoff, as it has for years.
“It’s the first thing I do when I get there,” Kobe Bryant said.
The stands are empty, save for ushers and others preparing for the game. But largely, Bryant has the building and the court all to himself. For most, a stadium is the place to be in a crowd. For the NBA’s noted lone wolf, it’s a place to be alone.
“It’s the calm before,” the Los Angeles Lakers icon said. “It’s very peaceful. It’s very quiet, and you get a chance to be in your space and in your element and hear the ball bounce, hear the sound of the net or the rim.”
And it’s at this point that Bryant, who has just two games left in his historic 20-season NBA career, starts shooting, beginning an intense, methodical and efficient session that carries a measure of mystique around the NBA.
“When players go to shoot and they get there at the normal time, they never see him,” said Earl Watson, a former NBA player and the Phoenix Suns’ interim head coach. “So when the game starts, [in] some games and in a lot of games, he never misses, so a player is confused like, ‘He just came to the game and he’s on fire.’
“But they don’t know he was there probably [at] 1 p.m. getting up shots. So he’s really unique and he’s really good at how he sets the table and sets it up. Everything he does, he does with purpose.”
Bryant will typically begin beneath the rim, making 15 to 20 shots with each hand just to get loose, to gain a rhythm and a feel for the ball going through the net.
He’ll then move to midrange and shoot from about 15 feet along each baseline, at each wing, at the free-throw line area, making 15-20 shots at each spot.
He’ll then sink some free throws, though there’s no limit there.
“It’s just until he feels good and until he feels like he wants to move,” said Lakers video coordinator/player development coach J.J. Outlaw, who has rebounded for Bryant during each of these sessions at home and on the road since Outlaw joined the team five seasons ago.
Then, Bryant will move beyond the arc, shooting 3-pointers from each corner, each wing and the top of the key, making between 10 and 20 shots at each spot.
Bryant will then move back inside the arc, shoot more free throws and begin working closer to the basket.
“It’s always in, out, back in,” Outlaw said of Bryant’s routine.
From there, Bryant works on a wide array of shots.
“The same moves that we see him do within the game, I can’t tell you how many times he’s practiced that exact same move — pump-fake, jab, pump-fake, jab, cross-over, one-dribble pull-up — in the last five years. It’s been thousands of times.”
Outlaw added, “Everything that he does within the course of the game, when he has the ball, it’s the same thing you see him do within his workouts. And he’s meticulous about it. The shot fake, the jab, bouncing the ball, elongating that foot, putting the ball out in front, bringing the other one with him. He’s over-emphasizing everything that he does so that when he gets in the game, it’s second nature to him.”
They’ll use one ball or sometimes two if Bryant wants to pick up the pace in his workout. In all, Bryant’s pregame shooting routine lasts about 20-30 minutes, during which he’ll make around 250 shots before leaving the court, lathered in sweat. As always, Bryant prefers solitude on the court.
“If he’s coming out to shoot, he’s the only one on the floor,” Outlaw said. “He’s out there early enough where there’s no interference with basketballs. There’s no media issues or anything.”
Throughout, Outlaw doesn’t count Bryant’s makes out loud. Instead, he’ll tell Bryant when he’s two away from his total at a specific spot, saying “eight” or “18” but nothing more.
“There’s no talking,” Outlaw said. “He locks in that way. It’s pretty impressive.”
Bryant keeps the same routine even on off-days, only making it longer.
For instance, instead of making 10 or 20 shots from a spot, he might make as many as 50. In the offseason, Bryant has made anywhere from 500 jumpers per day to as many as 1,000.
For those pregame sessions, though, Bryant said he doesn’t show up that early because he wants to play mind games with the opposition.
“It’s not so much to do with the competition of the players and all this other stuff,” he said, “because I figured out at an early age, even if I showed them what it is that I do, they wouldn’t do it, just because it’s so boring and so much repetition that it takes a long time to do.”
Watson said in his 13th season with the Portland Trail Blazers, he acted as a player/coach and would arrive at every arena early with the team’s young players.
They planned on arriving at Staples Center early to play three-on-three, and when they came into the arena, they could hear a lone ball bouncing on the court.
“I knew,” Watson said, “it was Kobe.”
To Bryant, “the peacefulness of an empty arena that size is beautiful.”
“It’s a very serene experience when you’re in there and there’s no crowd and there’s only ushers,” Bryant said.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.”