Saturday, December 5, 2015

If You Want To Be Great, Emulate

This week, Kobe Bryant announced his plan to retire at the end of the current NBA season.  For those who are unfamiliar with him (which is hard to fathom but possible I guess), I direct you to his Wikipedia page.  You don't have to read much of it, but you probably will.  His accomplishments are fascinating and even mind boggling for those of us who can relate, but are also distinctive enough to be impactful to the uninitiated.

By all accounts, Kobe was as brilliant a prep student as he was a basketball phenom.  As such, he could have played college basketball anywhere in the country and been a star athlete and scholar.  He knew it, his parents knew it, and all the college coaches in the country knew it.  But instead of going to college, he opted, in 1996, to go directly to the NBA, where he excelled for the next 20 years.  He was often compared to Michael Jordan, and for good reason.  He wanted to be great, so did his best to emulate the greatness that he saw in MJ.  Kobe admits as much, and it's just as well because, 'the camera don't lie', as they say.  See for yourself:

Uncanny huh?

But back to something I said earlier, how does somebody excel in the NBA for 20 years?  How does a man manage to remain at the top of the top basketball league in the world?  The answer is obvious to me because I have followed Kobe with more than a casual interest.  But for anyone who hasn't been that interested, he provided the answer in his poem/love letter/resignation notice, which I've shared below:


Dear Basketball,

From the moment I started rolling my dad’s tube socks
And shooting imaginary
Game-winning shots
In the Great Western Forum
I knew one thing was real:

I fell in love with you.

A love so deep I gave you my all —

From my mind & body To my spirit & soul.
As a six-year-old boy
Deeply in love with you
I never saw the end of the tunnel.
I only saw myself Running out of one.

And so I ran. I ran up and down every court
After every loose ball for you.
You asked for my hustle
I gave you my heart
Because it came with so much more.

I played through the sweat and hurt
Not because challenge called me
But because YOU called me.
I did everything for YOU
Because that’s what you do
When someone makes you feel as
Alive as you’ve made me feel.

You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.

And we both know, no matter what I do next
I’ll always be that kid
With the rolled up socks
Garbage can in the corner
:05 seconds on the clock
Ball in my hands.
5 … 4 … 3 … 2 …

1 Love you always,



Kobe was definitely not without his failures and shortcomings.  None of us are.  But there are certainly literal and figurative lessons to be drawn from his example.  His dreaming and constant striving (even after he "made it"), his diving for life's loose balls, his playing hurt (rather than laying blame), and, in the end, honest self examination, which is always humbling, are all things we can adapt to the circumstances of our own lives.

I pointed out how Kobe emulated MJ, so I should also note that he walked his own path as well. The notorious hard work that he put in to constantly improve himself was something he expected from his teammates.  Some had it in them and some didn't.  A few of those who didn't conspicuously headed for different teams, sometimes to the dismay of Lakers fans and management.  In fact, Mitch Kupchak, the one time player and long time GM of the Lakers said of Kobe recently, "I gave up hoping he would change his approach 15, 18 years ago.  He is what he is and I'm thankful for it."

Amen to that, Mitch.


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