Kobe Bryant is known for all the extra hours he puts in – both on and off the court – and his obsession with watching film to gain an extra edge over his opponents has been well documented over the years.
However, just like the rest of us, Bryant sometimes needs a helping hand.
That’s where Mike Procopio comes into play.
So, who is this mystery man who helped Bryant earn two more championship rings in 2009 and 2010?
In short, Procopio is a guy who simply loves basketball, and with a lot of unpaid hours and hard work, his knowledge for the game has landed him a job as a player development coach for the Dallas Mavericks.
However, Procopio’s first big break came in 2009.
While playing for the Houston Rockets, Shane Battier was heralded as a “Kobe Stopper” in an article by the New York Times. Looking for a better way to attack Battier and the Rockets’ defense, Bryant asked his personal trainer, Tim Grover, to reach out to a guy who he once worked out with for a couple of hours back in the summer of 2008.
That guy was Procopio, who also goes by the nickname of “Sweetchuck,” because as a teenager he looked like a character from the Police Academy movies.
After studying the film, Procopio discovered that Battier was funneling Bryant toward the 7’6″ Yao Ming, which then led to the Black Mamba taking bad shots over the Chinese center.
Sweetchuck was blunt with Bryant: He flat out told him that he was taking bad shots – maybe that’s why Bryant liked him.
Later that night, Kobe went 14-of-23 from the field for 37 points and lead the Lakers to a 102-96 victory over the Rockets.
Then, after the game, Procopio received a text message from Bryant.
“We got San Antonio tomorrow. I want the same thing.”
From then until 2012, Sweetchuck would send Bryant scouting reports and video clips every day.
Bryant lead the Lakers to a championship in 2009, his first since parting ways with Shaquille O’Neal, and also won the Finals MVP that year. All the while, Procopio was sending information across the country to Kobe so he could gain that extra edge on his opponents every night.
After the Lakers lost Game 2 of the 2010 NBA Finals, Bryant flew Grover and Procopio into Boston, and then later onto Los Angeles, so he could take a hands-on approach with the guy who was feeding him all that invaluable information.
It appears the extra work paid off, too, as the Lakers went on to beat the Celtics in seven games and Bryant was named MVP of the Finals once again.
Surprisingly, Bryant never once paid Procopio for his services. Why? Sweetchuck didn’t want a penny of Kobe’s millions.
“This guy’s the best player on the planet,” Procopio said. “and he’s asking me for help.”
However, aside from gaining invaluable experience and contacts from aiding Bryant over the years, Sweetchuck had a sweet surprise after the Lakers defeated the Celtics in that epic seven-game series.
One day, a random package arrived at Sweetchuck’s local UPS office. What did he find inside the box? None other than a solid-gold, diamond-filled Lakers championship ring with “Procopio” inscribed on the side.
Evidently, Bryant knew just how valuable Sweetchuck was to his success out there on the court.
“He’s my Jack Bauer,” Bryant said after winning his fifth NBA championship. “He gave me all the edits and scouting reports and wrote defensive rotations of the Celtics. He was my eyes and ears, so when I played the game, I’d use all the scouting reports and all the information. And it was huge for me.”
And it was huge for Procopio, too, who now has a job within the NBA and a championship ring that he’ll cherish for the rest of his life.
All quotes and information are via Suffolk.edu’s article on Procopio. If you want to learn more about Sweetchuck, I recommend you check out their lengthy piece on his strange, yet inspiring route to the NBA.