When I think of Kobe Bryant, I don’t think about his 81-point game or shooting those two free throws on a torn Achilles’ tendon. The first image that pops into my head comes from a game he played in around 2010. Kobe’s Los Angeles Lakers were playing the Huston Rockets. This game wasn’t particularly notable for any reason except that it featured one of the game’s best defenders, Shane Battier, versus Kobe, who was in the middle of a run during which he cemented himself as one of the league’s all-time players.
Throughout his career, Battier had developed a reputation as one of the league’s most intelligent and dogged defenders. Battier was the type of defender who would study an opponent’s entire set of moves so he could be in their favorite spots on the floor before they could even get there. He also had about 2 inches and 12 pounds on Kobe. Basically, if there was one person in the league, in the mid-2000s, who had a shot at stopping Kobe, it was Shane Battier.
And during this game, I remember so vividly, Battier played some of the best defense I have ever seen played on Kobe Bryant. But none of it mattered. As the end of the game neared, Kobe, of course, had the ball in his hands. He took a few dribbles, faked a spin to his right, spun back to his left, and shot a fadeaway jumper. It was a move we had seen Kobe do a thousand times, and one he’d do a thousand more during his career. It was a move he’d perfected after, like the rest of us, watching Michael Jordan use it to dominate the NBA for a decade.
The Lesson of Kobe Bryant’s Life
Except this time, Shane Battier knew exactly what was coming. Battier didn’t fall for the first feint and jumped with Kobe at almost the same time. Battier’s mitt of a hand shot up and seemed to envelop Kobe’s entire face. There was seemingly no way Kobe could see the basketball hoop. Unfortunately for Battier and the Huston Rockets, it didn’t matter that Kobe couldn’t see. Despite the best efforts from one of the league’s best defenders, despite his vision being completely obscured, Kobe hit the shot.
Growing up in Nebraska, I never had a hometown NBA franchise to root for. So, every year I rooted for a team based on which team had both players I liked and was winning games. There was never much consistency in my NBA fandom with one exception. I always loved to root against Kobe Bryant. It was fun for me to root against Kobe because it seemed like his team would win no matter what. It didn’t matter how good the defense was, or how bad his teammates were. Betting against Kobe never felt safe.
That’s because Kobe, like Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlin before him, made extremely difficult basketball feats look, pedestrian. He made the impossible a reality. I disliked Kobe not because of his personality or actions, but because of how scarily good he was. He was so skilled he would appear almost supernatural during games, like hitting a jump shot with his entire faced covered.
Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn’t Work
When we look back on not just his playing career, but his life, we must remember that this skill wasn’t the product of good genes or a wealthy family. Kobe Bryant became the Kobe Bryant we know and love through his unparalleled work ethic. Kobe became a mythical figure, not because of the traits he was born with, but those he developed through his tireless work.
As we mourn the tragic loss of Kobe and all those aboard his flight, we would do well to remember this work ethic. It’s easy to lionize and mythologize Kobe because of his historical feats in basketball. But any hagiographies do a disservice to the actual man. We honor Kobe when we recognize the amount of work it took him to become the player, and man, we had the pleasure of watching grow up before our eyes.
We honor Kobe Bryant when we give 110 percent effort to whatever it is we do. No matter what industry or venture you go into, honor the memory of Kobe and everything he left behind, by giving it your full effort, full stop. I’ll let the Black Mamba tell you himself, “Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses.”
Rest in Power, Kobe.