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Tom Thibodeau helped make Kobe Bryant the player he is today

Nov 23, 2010, 9:33 AM EST

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Tonight the Chicago Bulls roll into Los Angeles and Kobe Bryant will try to do to them what he does to every team that rolls through — mercilessly destroy them.

But Kobe likely would not be in this position, not be the player he is today, without Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

In a fascinating story by Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago (via Land O’ Lakers), we learn that when Kobe was a young high school phenom in Philadelphia, Tom Thibodeau was a coach for the 76ers, and he used to get together with Kobe and coach him on his game.

“He was crucial. He was with me when I was 16 or 17 years old,” Bryant said Sunday night at Staples Center, after leading the Lakers to a 117-89 win over the Golden State Warriors. “Just doing drills and just working on ballhandling and just teaching me the game. He was there from Day 1.”

Bryant generated a national buzz while at Lower Merion High School in a Philadelphia suburb. He scrimmaged against NBA players at the invitation of former 76ers coach John Lucas, who was friends with Kobe’s father Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, a former player and coach….

The pair grew close fairly quickly. Thibodeau spent extra time drilling Bryant whenever he could, and he could tell almost from the outset that Bryant had the chance to be special. Bryant had a quality that most players his age don’t exhibit….

“You knew his talent,” Thibodeau continued. “In high school, when he was playing against pros he looked like he belonged with them. You knew he was going to be special. But I think his drive is what really separates him when you combine that drive and intelligence with his talent. It’s the top of the line.”

Thibodeau’s defenses have had as much success stopping, or at least slowing Bryant, as any coach has devised. Of course, he had some defensive-minded players in Houston and Boston that may not yet be assembled in Chicago.

But the NBA, for all its size and diversity, can be a small little club with a lot of interconnection sometimes.

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