Monday Lunch: A ‘Venomenal’ Week–Kobe Basketball Academy 2011

Posted: July 11, 2011 in basketball, nba, sports
Tags: , , , ,


By Brent Pella



750 kids age 7-17 surround the basketball court at UCSB’s Thunderdome Event Center.




Nearly 300 parents, onlookers and observers sit in the upper deck bleachers, patiently waiting with cameras ready.



Coaches, interns and other staff mingle around on the sidelines, sporadically looking over their shoulders toward the private locker room in the far corner.


A voice can be heard through the speakers.


“Alright here he is…Kobeeeeee Bryant!!!”




A herd of about 50 ten-year olds rush toward their idol. It takes twenty staff members to hold back the surge of mini-fans, but it’s nothing Kobe hasn’t seen before. He grabs the mic:


“How’s everybody doing this morning?”


More screams sound out from every part of the crowd, and the show begins.


It’s the 2011 Kobe Basketball Academy, a five-day camp held annually at the campus of UC Santa Barbara, and I was fortunate enough to work those five days in close proximity of some of the most basketball-intelligent people around, as well as the Black Mamba himself.


The 15-hour workdays were long and seemed endless. The bags under my eyes looked like they had carry-ons after the lack of sleep I was getting, but the energy that hit me when I got to the gym felt like an adrenaline shot had been plunged into my chest.





Did you ever go to a sports camp when you were young? If so, you may have forgotten the magic you felt when someone like Kobe Bryant walked in the room. Just a look from Kobe in a kid’s direction is a moment that the child will remember for the rest of their life.


One of the campers got a bit more than just ‘a moment’ when she was chosen by The Mamba to perform a drill in front of the entire crowd.


The conditioning drill is called ‘17’s,’ and consists of sprinting across the width of the court 17 full times before stopping. The two other kids in the drill seemed to be doing just fine, but the young girl began to have trouble around sprint number eight.


That’s when Kobe stepped in.


The Mamba began running the last nine sprints right next to the girl. When she began to slow down, he would take her hand, shouting out words of confidence while he seemingly dragged her along behind him.


“C’mon! We almost done…keep going don’t stop.”


I asked Kobe later how long he timed himself on those drills, as I have always been timed at one-minute and three seconds.


“One minute…anything less is pretty pointless, you’re never going to make that.”


Kobe and the girl finished the drill in over two minutes, with two big smiles and the deafening sound of high-pitched cheering coming from every pre-pubescent voice in the audience.




Day three of the camp provided more opportunities to see KB24 in his element when he singled out one of the kids during a midday speech.


“One of the kids today said to me ‘You’re the black mamba but I’m the white mamba.’ Well get your self out here ‘White Mamba!’”


The one-on-one game that ensued was one of the most entertaining I have seen: The most competitive man on the face of the earth NOT named Michael Jordan, versus one of the skinniest, whitest kids on the earth NOT named Michael Cera.


After two dunks, a blocked shot and much more trash talk than necessary, Kobe had proven that no challenger is safe. The kid was on the verge of crying…and who wouldn’t be after being embarrassed in front of 800 people?


That’s when Kobe again proved he knows how to handle his fanfare. He teamed up with the White Mamba for the next game, and brought the day’s guest Matt Barnes on to the squad as well for a three-on-three game against a trio of campers.


Needless to say, the combination of two Mambas and Barnes was no easy competition.




A guest speaker on the third night was introduced as David, a Vice-President at Madison Square Garden. David is paralyzed from the waist down, and uses a wheelchair for mobility due to sustaining five gunshot wounds during a drive-by shooting more than twenty years ago.


His advice to the campers was some of the best they got all week: Finish school, get a college degree and you will be successful in life.


David then challenged some of the kids to sit in his wheel chair and make a shot. Five kids drastically aired their shots before David rolled behind the three-point line.


First shot: Swish. The kids swarmed him. Kids who were sleeping for the speech immediately wanted his autograph. He was the biggest celebrity in the house for the rest of the night.


I even jumped out of my seat with a scream, which was immediately silenced by one of the older coaches who looked at me as if to say ‘How old are you?’


During bed-checks I heard kids still talking about it. “He was in a wheel chair…and everyone else airballed it!”





The fourth night of camp concluded with a dunk contest featuring multiple talents, including a 5’9” leaper nicknamed ‘Redbull.’


Timberwolves guard and Syracuse product Wesley Johnson was in attendance as a guest judge.


The dunk contest was great. Redbull won with a nearly free-throw line takeoff over a bicycle, and the kids didn’t leave him alone for the rest of camp, chanting his name whenever he approached…”REEEED-BUUULLLL…REEEEEDDDD-BUUUULLLL…”




Autographs and pictures were each kid’s chance to have their individual moment with the smiling, energetic Bryant. He slapped every hand, smiled for every picture and answered every question with the professionalism and class that a superstar should always have.


Then after everyone had cleared the gym, he smashed on Lil Bow Wow in a private one-on-one game.



“C’mon mo’fucker! Where you at? Push me….Push me! PUSH ME!!!”


In a game to 11, Bow Wow was given 10 points at the start. Kobe went on to score 11 straight, and was surrounded by photographers after dunking the game winner.


“Yea take a picture! Take a picture next year, when I come back with my mo’fuckin MVP, my ring, all that shit!”


The trash talk coming from Kobe was expected. The $1,000 cash that he handed out to us afterward (winnings from the game) was not.


The forty dollars cash courtesy of Bow Wow, hundreds of dollars worth of Kobe merchandise, an autograph and a few conversations with the Mamba himself was nothing compared to the experience that I got helping those kids have the time of their lives.


From giving advice to 7 and 8-year old brothers named ‘Tookey’ and ‘Snookey’ from North Carolina, to teaching shooting drills to a kid nicknamed ‘Skittles,’ it was definitely a ‘venomenal’ week.


If you ever get the chance to work a camp, be it sports-oriented or otherwise, I highly suggest taking advantage of the opportunity. It’s a great way to make a positive impact in a child’s life, plus gives you the time to network with others in a field of your interest.


Just be ready to lose a few nights worth of sleep, which is well worth it.


And hey, at least the baggage didn’t cost me an extra $25 this time.


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