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Kobe Bryant, What It Takes To Be Successful (In The NBA)
Part 1: The NBA

Posted by Charlie Recksieck on 2020-02-06
Like everybody, I was shocked last Sunday to hear of Kobe Bryant's death - and that of his daughter and 7 others in a helicopter crash in Calabasas. The initial news about Kobe himself was tragic enough but hearing about Gigi and the others was worse. (Of course, this article is going to focus on Kobe and not the others which is itself a little troublesome how we focus on fame even though every human life has the same value.)

I happened to be in Los Angeles that weekend and the night before just happened to be discussing Kobe Bryant with a close friend of mine. We were talking about how Lakers fans are, in large part, a Kobe-centric fan base, sometimes to the exclusion of even Lebron James who's currently on the roster.

I mentioned that I think Kobe in the prime of his career seemed like he would be a tough person to be a teammate with. Though in his last few years in the league he definitely mellowed and post-retirement took his role as a mentor to younger players throughout the NBA very seriously.

Why I'm writing about Kobe Bryant in a business-related blog is that his passion in life was winning & he was incredibly thoughtful and reflective about how one puts oneself in a position to win.

A Moment About Kobe's Work Ethic

Here while we discuss what it takes to win and Kobe Bryant, the area of interest (and what interested Kobe) was how he motivates his teammates. As for his personal preparation and work ethic, Kobe was unrivaled.

Even the greatest baskeball players fall short in comparison to Michael Jordan when it comes to being the best ever - and thought Kobe gave it a great run (perhaps the best of all of the "next Jordan"s), his body of work doesn't quite get to MJ's level; which leaves Kobe somewhere around the 5th to 12th best basketball player of all time. He got there with what's often described as an "insane" drive and work ethic in how Bryant worked on his game. Jordan himself said "Kobe's the only one to have done the work" just as he had.

Bryant's work ethic is described here, appropriately with 24 (his jersey number) points.

Kobe's (Unfair?) Ball Hog Reputation

We all understand that hard work pays off in any field. But the more philosophically interesting aspect of Kobe Bryant's obsession with winning was has approach towards how to get his teammates to help him win.

Throughout a lot of his career, Kobe did have a widespread reputation for being a "ball-stopper" (meaning the ball stopped getting passed when it got to him) and a proponent of "hero ball" (going 1-on-1 instead of running through a team offense). The 2008 Celtics beat Kobe's Lakers in the NBA Finals largely by counting on Kobe's tendency to force it, even against 2 or 3 defenders.

Upon Kobe's retirement announcement in 2016, Seth Meyers had this joke in his monologue: "Tomorrow night will be Kobe Bryant’s last NBA game. He says he’s looking forward to retirement and his teammates are looking forward to finding out what the ball feels like."

Trying To Motivate Teammates

Some teammates thrived with Kobe in the Lakers' early 2000s heyday. Shaquille O'Neal had a complicated relationship with Kobe and certainly wasn't going to be pushed around. But O'Neal and Bryant were never as good separately as they were with each other. Players like Robert Horry, Rick Fox and Derek Fisher earned Kobe's trust and respect.

But some players didn't love Kobe's 2000's leadership style. All-Star center Dwight Howard's perennial underachiever reputation didn't sit well with the Mamba and eventually blew up what could have been the last relevant championship-worthy Lakers seasons. Calling out a teammate publicly was a tool in Kobe's motivational toolbox, as exemplified here towards All-Star Laker Pau Gasol.

Deeper Look Into Kobe's Motivational Philosophy

But if you really want to understand Kobe's explanations of what he was doing with teammates, read this great 2012 article from Bill Simmons on the subject and listen to this terrific podcast from Simmons just a few days ago.

Kobe definitely cared more about winning than being liked. He could be charming and fun when he wanted to. But he deliberately just wanted to do whatever he could to win; if that meant being tough on teammates, fine - or if he had to wear a funny hat and speak French to get his teammates to win, then I'm sure he would have done that.

Click here to read Part 2