This is a day I naively pretended would never come.
A day where we’d be force to watch an NBA without Kobe Bryant playing in it.
Being from Chicago, I had similar feelings when MJ neared closer to the end of his playing days.
To think that the NBA would continue to exist as a company after Jordan’s last game seemed foul.
How could you even have an NBA without Michael Jordan playing in it?
Who would dare sell us a product without it’s greatest asset?
The thought was literally nauseating. The act itself seemed almost criminal.
Even now, as Kobe Bryant, in my opinion the 2nd greatest player of all time, prepares for a historic final game, the NBA will resume the following day with the playoffs.
Business as usual. It doesn’t seem right. Shouldn’t there be a month-long basketball moratorium with Kobe jerseys flown at half mast?
But as we’ve learned with Magic, with Jordan,with Shaq and now with Kobe, life and the league does indeed go on.
But I digress. This time is better spent reflecting on the legacy of a great player, second in my mind only to Michael Jeffery Jordan.
“Legacy. What is a legacy?”
From The Musical “Hamilton” by Lin Manuel Miranda
What will I miss?
Of course there was Kobe’s brilliant artistry.
Much like his doppelgänger from North Carolina, Kobe seemed to be in such control, so ahead of the moment, it was if everything slowed down for him. He calculated his next shot, his footwork, his defensive angle against a competitor with such laser focus that he never once looked rattled or worried.
After the play was over; after he sank the last second shot or made the clutch steal leading to a perfect fast-break, that infamous, sinister, Kobe grin would adorn his face. The joke was on us and his opponents.
He knew that while he was busy doing work in The Matrix, we were all 100 steps behind, watching in real time.
That confidence was not simply the evidence of self-absorbed hubris.
His confidence and calm were the product of an incredible commitment to his craft.
Dozens of years, thousands of days. Millions of seconds focused on the goal to become as great as humanly possible and then once there, find out how to go even further.
All of us have God given gifts.
But it is really something special you’re able to witness the masters of their craft rise to a level where their God Given genius is fully maximized by hard work and opportunity.
Bruce Lee. Stevie Wonder. Prince. Frida Kahlo. Georgia O’keefe. Michael Jackson. Hendrix. Nas. Julie Taymor.
These are the names of artists who expanded their natural brilliance with meticulous practice.
They transcend the discipline of studying and in the process, BECOME
the study itself.
They are devoted students, turned into the lesson plan.
They transform from simply searching for meaning in their purpose to becoming the definition synyonom.
Kobe belongs in this group. And one day, his legendary work ethic will be taught on college campuses.
Kobe’s work ethic taught us another valuable lesson.
That is, what will you do when no one is watching?
How much of yourself will you be committed to excellence in moments where there will be no instant reward for the sacrifices you’ve made?
After the Kobe-Shaq era ended and before the run with Pau Gasol would begin,
Kobe languished in L.A. for several years, in my opinion, having the best basketball years of his life wasted for a team that did not collectively earn his Hall of Fame efforts. But his choice to give his all even though he knew that his team had a 0% chance of winning championships was evidence of his work ethic and his professional integrity. Many players in similar situations would have emotionally withdrew and understandably become disenchanted, giving maybe 80% of their best effort instead of the whole 100.
He could have left the Lakers a couple times. He could have easily done what has become fashionable in today’s league and jumped ship to align with other players of his caliber. He had certainly earned the right to do so. He tore his achilles in 2013, an injury that he sustained due to being overworked and taken advantage of more than any other Hall of Fame player with that much mileage on his body. He not only stayed with the team but committed himself to rehabbing the injury so that he could return to LA and give his teammates the best that he could.
His dedication to the Lakers through thick and thin was not only a testament to his belief in himself but was also an inspiring example of loyalty.
I’ll miss his competitive fire. As many have said, Russell Westbrook is the closest thing to that competitive intensity and fearless ambition that we have in the league today but none will ever match #24.
Kobe has earned his place on basketball’s Mount Rushmore.
Although it is surreal and sad to see his playing legend sputter to an end on an atrocious Laker team in which he is STILL the best player, I am grateful for the years of excellence and for the privilege it has been to appreciate this legend “do work”.