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Monday, November 18, 2013

THE GROWTH OF KOBE BRYANT

To follow are excerpts of an outstanding article written on Kobe Bryant for Sports Illustrated by Lee Jenkins.  It is a very lengthy article and you can read it in its entirety here.  But here are some of the parts I've pulled out to share with our team:
 
"I have self-doubt," Bryant says. "I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I'm like, 'My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don't have it. I just want to chill.' We all have self-doubt. You don't deny it, but you also don't capitulate to it. You embrace it. You rise above it. ... I don't know how I'm going to come back from this injury. I don't know. Maybe I'll be horses---." He pauses, as if envisioning himself as an eighth man. "Then again, maybe I won't, because no matter what, my belief is that I'm going to figure it out. Maybe not this year or even next year, but I'm going to stay with it until I figure it out."

 *****

Summer of 1994 and Bryant struggles to sleep in a dorm room at Fairleigh Dickinson in Hackensack, N.J. He has earned one of the precious spots at the Adidas-sponsored ABCD camp, but he's not sure if he belongs. "I was lucky to grow up in Italy at a time when basketball in America was getting f----- up with AAU shuffling players through on strength and athleticism," Bryant says. "I missed all that, and instead I was taught extreme fundamentals: footwork, footwork, footwork, how to create space, how to handle the ball, how to protect the ball, how to shoot the ball. I wasn't the strongest kid at that camp. I wasn't the fastest. I wasn't the most athletic. I was probably the most skillful, but that didn't matter. It was all about the 360 windmill dunks."

 *****

He returns to Lower Merion High in suburban Philadelphia and works out daily at 5 a.m., often alongside coach Gregg Downer, with the intention of becoming the top high school player in the U.S. "My coach used to yell, 'We're steak and potatoes! We're the real thing!' " Bryant recalls. "When I went back to ABCD the next summer, I was ranked third, behind Tim Thomas and Lester Earl. I told myself, I'm not leaving this camp until I'm No. 1. I'm not leaving! Back then, if you were a highly rated player, you could stay in a nice hotel. I shacked up in the dorms. I could tell that the game meant more to me than everybody else. Other guys could leave it afterward and detach from it. I couldn't. It stuck with me. I thought about it all night. ... They let players vote on who was best, and one day this kid was eating breakfast across from me. He said, 'Hey, have you seen number 143? Have you seen that kid play? He's unreal. I'm voting for him.' He didn't know it because I was so skinny, but that was me. I was 143."

 *****

Winter of 1996 and Lower Merion has a chance to win its first state championship in 53 years. Vaunted Chester High is waiting in the semifinals. "They'd already beaten us a couple of times with Kobe," Downer says. "The week of the game, our starters were competing pretty hard with the subs, and there was a collision diving for a loose ball. I look over and see Kobe lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood. All your worst fears are realized in that moment. He's got a broken nose heading into one of the most electric games in a long time. We spent a couple days frantically trying to find a mask that would fit him. The day of the game, at the Palestra, he warmed up with the mask on. But in the locker room, right before we went out on the court, he ripped it off in front of everybody. He threw it against the wall and yelled, 'I'm not wearing this thing! Let's go to war!' He scored 39 points. We won."
 
Three days later Lower Merion takes state.

 *****

Winter of 1999 and Bryant is bracing for his third straight season coming off the bench. "I was looking at Ray Allen and Allen Iverson, guys I came into the league with, who were already starting and kicking ass," Bryant says. "I'm sitting here on the bench thinking, I'm just as good. Why aren't I playing?" Jellybean puts similar questions to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, who explains the benefits of patience, but Jellybean's son is still years away from comprehending that concept. Bryant takes out his rage on the starters, punishing them in practice to prove a point. "I had to kick their ass every day," he says.

 *****

“Once your culture becomes such that your leader communicates, then everybody does the same. We still didn't hang out together off the court, but on the road we'd all go out for dinner. I learned that a lot gets accomplished over dinner and a drink."

 *****

Summer of 2007 and O.J. Mayo, the No. 1 high school player in the country, attends the Kobe Basketball Academy at Loyola Marymount. Mayo asks Bryant if they can work out together. "Yeah," Bryant responds, "I'll pick you up at three." The next evening Mayo sees Bryant and asks, "Where were you?" Bryant looks confused. "Three in the morning," he says. "Not three in the afternoon." Mayo slinks away. The back-patting era, however long it lasted, is over. "I can't relate to lazy people," Bryant says, speaking generally, not about Mayo. "We don't speak the same language. I don't understand you. I don't want to understand you. Go over there. If I drive somebody too hard, and he feels like he's over-committing to the game and cracks because of it, I don't want to go to battle with him in the seventh game anyway. ... Some guys don't want this. It's too much. It's too uncomfortable. If that's the case, then we can't play together. It won't work. I believe you need a confrontational crew. If I have to resort to this [shaking his head] instead of telling you that you're being lazy and f------ up, then we'll never resolve anything."

 *****

"Maybe I won't have as much explosion," Bryant says. "Maybe I'll be slower. Maybe I'll lose quickness. But I have other options. It's like Floyd Mayweather in the ring. There's a reason he's still at the top after all these years. He's the most fundamentally sound boxer of all time. He can fight myriad styles at myriad tempos. He can throw fast punches or off-speed punches, and he can throw them from odd angles."