Love him AND hate him. Hate his game, his swagger BUT love his drive, his killer mentality and his willingness to put in the hours.
Choose basketball. Choose a playground, a rim, a ball. Choose a position on the court, a shot, a jumper, a fadeaway, a lay-up, a dunk. Choose to work on your game day in and day out, choose to dream. Choose a companion and choose to beat him one on one. Choose a team, a strategy, an opponent and choose to be a teammate. Choose to pass, choose to hit the last shot, choose to win…
Kobe Bryant didn’t just choose basketball, he also chose greatness.
The Shooting Guard
20 years ago, the Black Mamba alter-ego was in the process of revealing himself. 20 years ago or so, Kobe started working at his routine…he still does. Almost every day, he would jog to Wynnewood Park, Philadelphia and shoot jumper after jumper, lay-up after lay-up.
That’s where I would dream of hitting game-winning shots and winning NBA championships.
Today, Kobe has done it all, hit dozens of game-winning shots and won five rings. In that process, he missed and failed time and time again. And that’s why he is who he is. He even set an NBA record for missed shots earlier this season and became the player with most misses in league’s history. Today, he has 13,579 missed field-goals, 162 more than second-place John Havlicek and 1,234 more than Michael Jordan.
“Well, I’m a shooting guard that’s played 19 years. Like I said, SHOOTING guard, 19th year,” the Mamba stated last month for ESPN. “You’ve got to step up and play, man. You can’t worry about criticism. You can’t worry about failure. You really can’t worry about that stuff.”
And he hasn’t worried all his illustrious career about failure. He was (and still is) mostly concerned about the other side of the coin, succeeding and being the best he can be. And legend Gary Payton knows it.
‘The Glove’ played with Kobe during the 2003 – 2004 season. In that particular season, the Lakers had Hall of Famers Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone and other NBA greats like Horace Grant and Byron Russell. Of course there was also a young 25-year-old shooting guard with already three rings and five All-Star appearances, a legitimate superstar ready to take the world by storm. Payton recalled:
Everything Kobe is doing now, he told me all the way back then he was going to do it. We were sitting on the bus once and he told me, ‘I’m going to be the number one scorer for the Lakers, I’m going to win five or six championships, and I’m going to be the best player in the game.’ I was like ‘Okay, whatever.’ Then he looked me right in the eye and said, ‘I’m going to be the Will Smith of the NBA.’
You wake up at 6:00 AM, hurry to the gym and see the Black Mamba doing his routine. He’s there since 5:30. You wake up on your day off, decide to go the gym with your mate and when you get there, you see Bryant practicing. You wake up to be the first person to practice just as you has always been during your career only to see that a young guy with a broken wrist beat you to it. You wake up in Las Vegas ready to show up at the Team USA’s training camp and you see a veteran already working out. You hear that he actually went on some 40-mile bike ride at night through the desert with trainer Tim Grover and his security guard, finished up around 2 AM and practicing till 7:30 AM. To you, me and everybody else, these are just stories. To Kobe Bryant, that’s just another day at the office.
And to Kobe, nights like November 18, 2014 are nothing special. On that particular night, the shooting guard reached the 32,000-point mark and beat Atlanta Hawks on their own court in the process. He became only the fourth player in NBA history to reach that plateau: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Malone and MJ are the other three. On the last day of autumn, against the Raptors, he reached another high-mark: 6,000 career assists. He became the ONLY player with at least 30,000 points and 6,000 assists…EVER and the fourth player to have 20,000 points, 6,000 assists and 6,000 rebounds. The other three are Clyde Drexler, Havlicek and Oscar Robertson. Another day at the office?
“It means I pass more than people say,” the Laker joked after he heard about the milestone. And what’s his take on all these scoring and assists accolades? “One is more in your control than the other. I prefer things to be under my control.”
Don’t get him wrong. While he may like to score than pass, he is an underrated dimer. During his early championship year, he was the team’s leading assist-man. In the 2009 NBA Finals, Mamba averaged 32.4 points and 7.4 assists, earning the MVP and becoming the first player since Jerry West to do so.
But most importantly, besides being a legend, a scorer and a passer, Kobe is also a human being…
After the 2010 – 2011 season named by Bryant `a wasted year of my life’ mainly because the Lakers didn’t three-peat, the guard had post-season knee surgery. During that time, physical therapist Judy Seto had the unique opportunity to see the other face of Kobe. During his usual workout at home, his two daughters Natalia and Gianna found a miniature cowboy hat and tried to put on his father’s head. The hat didn’t fit and the girls were having fun because of the situation…so did the father. He was not the cold-blooded Mamba anymore just another happy family guy. Seto said about Bryant:
It was him being just like any other parent. And it’s so great to see how much he loves his family, how engaged he is, how he makes them a priority. I don’t think people realize that about him. He can switch gears. The side of him that people always see is unapproachable or really, really fierce. There is a time and a place for that part. There’s also a time and a place for him to be a parent and to be just as goofy as anybody else.
Kobe, the man, the myth, the legend…and the story goes on.