Kobe Bryant : Greatness on His Own Terms

Well, I finally started start up the blog, and I wanted this to be the opening go. There was an amazing Super Bowl, the Astro’s cheating scandal, and GarPax somehow still being employed by the Bulls, but I figure this is going to be the starter. Everyone has said their piece in the sports and non-sports universe alike, and are ready to move on to whatever is in the social media wheelhouse. I felt after the All-Star festivities from last weekend, and letting the sports world and society process it, it would be good to share some thoughts. Seeing as though Michael Jordan’s birthday on Monday, it is a fitting week as well. MJ was Kobe’s ultimate goal and he came about as close to it as Icarus was to the sun.  

Your peers know you the best

Kobe was such a highly venerated player among his peers, that seeing the outpouring of support from his contemporaries, and the younger up and coming players now just starting to blossom is phenomenal. One my favorite things I saw was in 2017 on the YouTube, when Kobe came to speak to the San Diego Chargers. These grown ass men, some of whom are top tier NFL players, were in awe that he came to speak to them. You can’t hear them on the mic, but their was a definite vibe of, “Oh Shit, that’s Kobe!” That’s high praise indeed.

His insistence on reaching out to mentor much younger players, to pass down the skill, craft, and art of the game, is something Jordan didn’t put a lot of time into. This is one aspect where I have been so surprised because even though he was charming guy, he didn’t let a lot of people in, at least until after he retired. Maybe it was to get that mindset, and have that level of intimidation every night. Regardless, almost all the players he played with speak so highly of him and his ability, and as a history teacher, that is the ultimate primary source. By that I mean a quote or report of someone who was there and experienced something. (Hell this decade, we are walking primary sources with pictures and posts every goddamn waking second, but before 2010, any quote and especially who the hell said that particular quote, carried a lot of weight.

To make an awkward phrase that makes sense, what does the guy who did the same thing Kobe did, say that Kobe did so much better than him?  Only those guys have that perspective, a unique little fraternity barely anyone has entered, and therefore I will take their word over anyone else. It shouldn’t surprise us that a lot of retired players and contemporaries that he played with, regularly hobnob with one another, because it’s such a unique fraternity, both past and present.  Where else would you have these oddly shaped humans with off the charts outlier coordination being the faces of franchises and defining decades. There’s only so few people to share notes with, and in that case, it’s each other.

Delving into that, Kobe was part of a small triumvirate of future Hall of Fame players that jumped from the high school to the pros in the mid-90s. Kevin Garnett in 95, Kobe 13th in 96, and T-Mac 9th in 97. (Jermaine O’Neal was 17th in ’96 and nabbed a few All-Star games himself). Unfortunately this sent a wave of under qualified guys into the draft ranks a few years later, with such immaculate stalwarts (#massivebusts) of their generation like Jonathan Bender, Dasgana Diop, and Eddy Curry.

After Kobe had passed, McGrady went on ESPN and told a story from his rookie year. He was not enjoying his first year stuck in his Toronto apartment, light years from Florida, and would he would call Kobe (like an actual telephone conversation with voice inflection and tones. You know!? To convey emotion and communicate! The thought of it!?) who himself had a solid rookie year going in SoCal, and may have been more socially cut out for the L.A. limelight. Kobe talked T Mac off the figurative ledge, and once Vince Carter joined t-Mac a year later, (who as well know, decides when he is going to play and when he wasn’t bless his heart), did T-Mac rise up. (#early 2000’s Magic with Grant Hill, what would have been!?)

Some NBA History before the YouTube’s

The NBA made a steep transition at the turn of the millennium, as the old luminaries of every millennial’s youth, slowly gasped at their last breaths of stardom. Into that desolate void stepped Kobe and an older Shaq in his prime, ready to match up with the in the early 2000’s Finals with the likes of….the freaking 76ers, and Nets? Are you literally kidding me? Man, that 98-03 half decade was a massive talent void sans Iverson, a healthy Grant Hill, an up and coming Garnett/Webber/Duncan….and…..yeah, exactly. So Yeahhhh, being an early 2000’s three peat Laker has its advantages.

After this, Kobe spent the remainder of the mid 2000’s hoisting every conceivable jump shot from every part on the floor ever created, while passing the ball 4 times in 6 years. Luckily help was around the corner, especially as the league began to develop another batch of MVP caliber players, like LeBron Wade, Amare pre knee surgery, (NOT Antoine Walker) T-Mac, Dirk, etc.

The gunslinging for Kobe continued into the latter portion of the decade until they got some decent help with Pau Gasol and temporarily functional Andrew Bynum to help cement Kobe’s legacy pre Miami LeBron James. I remember the 2000’s overall as Duncan vs Kobe, seemingly all the damn time, usually deep into the playoffs. Those two ran that decade. Each them made All-NBA first team seven times, with Duncan holding down the front of the decade, and Bryant the latter half. In layman’s terms, they were the two of the best five players ¾ of the time in that decade.

Cut from a different cloth

Kobe was so culturally conscious of his place and legacy, and growing up in Italy while his dad played overseas I think helped mold an inquiring sharp mind, that wanted to know everything about leadership and embracing the grind. Kobe’s European experience is vastly different and make him socially conscious and always solving problems. Not to say that he is “woke” and “lit with all the fam’s” per se, but history, language, and small size of Europe gave him a vastly different foundation. Think about our culture, especially how much its changed this decade, especially with recruiting rankings on the internet at least are just shade over twenty years old, as an example. Not to mention, with the past two decades seeing AAU teams rise to prominence, and every player being told how great they are, when half of them couldn’t navigate the a pick and roll on either end. Somehow this has become one of the main way players get recruited, besides oh, I don’t know, through their actual goddamn high school. But I digress.  

Why you gotta be ranking guys like that?

Kobe just wanted to be the best leader he could, and even though he had some borderline “sociopathic tendencies” when it came to his drive to win and his teammates on the court, and the time he spent off of it, that still shows greatness, and hard work can get you anywhere. Yes, there was his literal goal to be better than Jordan, and he damn near did it. Now bear in mind, the NBA is 70 years old, and a lot of new players have entered the league since that Top 50 list back in 1996. We need to respect players for their eras, and we can’t have any magical “Well Jordan’s Bulls would totally D up the Warriors bro!” in some mythical matchup in Never Never Land. Again, it was different eras, different style of play and strategy. I’d say he is easily a top 10 player all time no question, because I have trouble naming 9 better, so I’ll roll like top 8, scratching at that top 5. We’re simply saying he is easily one of the best players to grace the earth.

Without beating a dead horse from earlier, his physical traits and athleticism were only enhanced by his work in the gym. Of course this goes beyond maniacal, but how do you think he pulled off those grandiose crazy pull up two pointers? (remember, when the 18 foot two pointer was a thing? Oh wait, it’s low percentage as hell and no one takes them anymore. Thanks Rockets.) You can make a similar analogy to football, where even Aaron Rodgers got so proficient at just throwing darts everywhere, that he began experimenting with what we would now call Mahomes type throws, but damn if that guy didn’t spin off dozens of those every year in his prime earlier in the decade. Rodgers said he practiced those on purpose for muscle memory purposes so he could do it in a game without thinking. Great minds, right?

He wanted to work like crazy, and a lot of times, that’s not the case, at all levels of sports. If you have ever come across a top notch high school athlete, you may or may not here the phrase, “Why do I need to lift, I’m already really good”, once or twice. (Well, one day, if you play any semblance of lower level college ball, you’ll wish ya did.) Case in point: Allen Iverson said their rookie year, (1996) after their first game, Kobe asked what Iverson was doing after the game. Big shocker that would portend his future, Allen said he was going to the club. Kobe, he was going to the gym. 20 plus years later, one guy was near broke, the other, a future entertainment and sports mogul. We’ll never know what an ambassador he would have been.