TORONTO — Alex McKechnie remembers the way Kobe Bryant would constantly look for ways to improve his own game.
Sometimes that meant borrowing from other sports.
McKechnie, the Raptors’ vice president of player health and performance, recalled the regular conversations he would have with Bryant about soccer while McKechnie was on the Lakers coaching staff, and the way Bryant was inspired by the versatility of those other athletes.
“He was always amazed that soccer players would hit the ball with the left side and right side,” McKechnie said Tuesday night before Toronto’s home game against the Atlanta Hawks. “He’d get out there and work his left hand because it had to be as good as his right.
“That was the pursuit of excellence. … it was quite interesting to see and that in itself really personifies Kobe. It was just a drive for excellence every single day and it was pretty special to be around that on a daily basis.”
Bryant, an 18-time NBA All-Star, died Sunday with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, Calif.
The Raptors played in San Antonio about an hour after news broke of the crash that day. Tuesday’s game was Toronto’s first at home since Bryant’s death.
McKechnie began his media scrum Tuesday by expressing his condolences for Bryant’s family.
“It’s really with a heavy heart that I sit here today,” McKechnie said. “And when we talk about in the NBA losing one of the family it truly is. As a group we travel together … we have dinner at the same time, we have meals, and it truly is a family and when that whistle blows in September you live and breathe each other.”
McKechnie spent 11 seasons on the Lakers’ coaching staff from 2000 to 2011, watching Bryant transform into a full-fledged superstar — and a five-time NBA Champion — over that time.
The Scottish-Canadian physiotherapist remembers how Bryant prided himself on his durability, playing all 82 games of the season four times and reaching 80 games twice more over his 20-year career.
And when injuries forced Bryant to miss time, McKechnie said Bryant “worked harder than anyone to get back.”
“His drive to play was always there, he strived to play 82 games every year, that was a thing we had,” McKechnie said. “It was a challenge to play 82 games and not everyone can do it. There’s a lot of times that so many things have to fall in place.”
McKechnie said he can see the legacy of Bryant’s work ethic on players around the league today, including the ones in the Raptors locker-room.
“Kyle Lowry reminds me a lot of Kobe Bryant,” McKechnie said. “He comes in in the morning, works hard, works at so many different things.
“(Lowry is) very similar, very similar.”