Like most of his fellow Trail Blazers, Rodney Hood returned to Portland well in advance of the start of training camp for informal workouts at the team's practice facility in Tualatin. But he's also one of the ever increasing number of players who seek out training and advice from those outside of their respective organizations during the offseason, which this year resulted in Hood spending a few days in southern California under the tutelage of one of the most respected competitors in league history.
Hood was one of a select group of players invited to join Kobe Bryant at his Mamba Sports Academy facility in Thousand Oaks, CA for a few days of workouts with the Lakers legend and future Hall of Famer known as the Mamba Sports Pro Invitational.
"It was amazing," said Hood, who lists Bryant as his all-time favorite player. "There was a bunch of top-level guys there, Paul George, Kawhi (Leonard) down to everybody else. About 30 guys, we got in, we learned a lot, a lot of footwork, we did weight training, got a chance to compete against each other a lot and learned a lot from Kobe."
Along with Leonard and George, Hood was joined by the likes of Kyrie Irving, De'Aaron Fox, Aaron Gordon, Jamal Murrary and roughly 10 other current NBA players at the event, which included training sessions with various NBA development coaches, scrimmages and a battery of tests at the facility's cognition lab. And unlike many of the the workouts that draw NBA players during the offseason, photos and videos of the event were restricted.
But for Hood, the highlight was simply an opportunity to talk basketball with a player he grew up idolizing. While incredibly skilled on the court, Bryant is arguably known just as well for his borderline maniacal approach to the game, which has come to be known as the "mamba mentality."
"Kobe is one of the best to ever play -- he's my favorite player ever -- so getting a chance to pick his brain, see how intense he is, seeing what he sees on the court -- a lot of the new game kind of frustrates him -- it's fun to know those things," said Hood. "If you want to be a really good player or a great player, you want to pick the brain of a great player. It was amazing getting the chance to work with him."
Hood took specific interest in Bryant's advice pertaining to the defensive side of the ball. Named either first or second team All-Defense twelve times in his career, Bryant's an expert in the intricacies of defending in the NBA, which was an especially useful lesson for Hood, who will shoulder a larger load on that side of the ball with both Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless moving on.
"Just talking to him, seeing how to read defenses, seeing how to defend, we talked about that as well," said Hood. "It was just about competing, talking about how to compete. Just little tricks of the trade, making it tough for guys in the league. Obviously these are some of the best offensive players we see in the league from top to bottom, but making them work, forcing the help and things like that, just small things, it's great. I know it helped me."
Outside of skills on there court, Hood noted that Bryant's advice regarding mental preparation sparked a realization that perhaps he needed to do more to prepare himself on a night-to-night basis, and to be more mindful in that preparation.
"The greatest players, the greatest role players, the guys who win championships, they think the game ahead of everybody else," said Hood. "They're not out there just playing, they're two steps ahead. That's the biggest thing I learned from Kobe: being two steps ahead. It's not about being the most physical, the most strong, it's about thinking, knowing what you're doing, knowing what you want to take away from the other guy, know what you want to make him do on the other end. I definitely became a smarter player."
After falling out of favor in his two previous stops, Hood played a vital role in the Trail Blazers advancing to the Western Conference Finals after being acquired from Cleveland at the 2019 trade deadline. And coming into this season, he's determined to not only build on his strong play, but to make sure his time in Portland doesn't end the way it did in Utah and Cleveland, with a little help from Kobe.
"You get into this league, there's no such thing as getting stagnant," said Hood. "You're either getting better or you're getting worse, and you can always get better defensively. Everybody misses shots, everybody makes turnovers so you've always got to improve. I definitely improved this summer physically but mentally I took another step as well. I really appreciated that and I'll continue to go back as long as they'll have me."