Blind spots

Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers
Photo courtesy of The Athletic

I never thought I would ever write an article about Kobe Bryant, to be honest I was never a fan of his game. On the contrary, I was one of his harshest critics. But after the tragic death of Kobe, his daughter and the seven other passengers on board the helicopter, I felt I needed to. While I knew he was beloved by Lakers’ fans and admired by many NBA players, I truly didn’t understand the impact he had on some many people. I realized that I needed to reassess my view of his career and life.

Understanding Kobe

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I think it is truly difficult to understand people. We are all complicated with conflicting needs and desires. That is why most people don’t even understand themselves. This makes it especially difficult to understand celebrities who’s private personas are usually much different than their public ones.

What we know about Kobe was that he was born to be a basketball player. His father, Joe ‘Jelly Bean’ Bryant was a former NBA player. His mother’s family also loved basketball, his uncle on her side was also a professional player, John ‘Chubby’ Cox. Both are from Philadelphia and that Philly style of basketball was ingrained in Kobe.

As for Kobe the person, he grew up much different than most NBA players. He came from an affluent two parent home and lived abroad for most of his childhood. He lived in Italy from ages 6 -13, learning the language and culture. While that made him more worldly and well rounded, it made it harder for fellow American players to relate to him.

All that, coupled with being there first hand to see how his father’s career unfolded, which his father will tell you did not go as he hoped, fueled Kobe. He would not settle to just make it to the NBA, he had to be an all-time great to feel satisfied. Bearing witness to how the feeling of  regret derived from knowing you could have done much more with your life had on the people around him, Kobe was driven to make sure the same didn’t happen to him. He made sure to never take his talents for granted.

Bryant’s impact on the game

Kobe Mural
Photo courtesy of L.A. Times

While I found Bryant to be an incredibly gifted player, who at times seemed like the closest thing I have seen to Jordan, he was also terribly frustrating to watch at times. I felt he could have been more efficient and done a better job of making the game easier for himself and his teammates. But at the end of day the results are what matters. He may not have gotten them the way many thought he should have, but he did. I remember an interview near the end of his career were he justified his style of play by saying that many people criticized Picasso for using too much paint to create his works of art. I thought it was an incredibly arrogant statement but also brilliant. I think that summarizes who he was as a player.

What has surprised me is how many younger fans and players idolize Kobe. His tragic death has caused me to do some research and understand why. After seeing countless videos and articles I think I know why. My bias as a non-Lakers fan(hater) caused me to focus too much on the negative parts of his game, which is ridiculous because the positives more than out weighed them. The biggest critique is he could have been a little bit more composed.

His approach to the game has left the greatest impact on young players. He was absolutely fearless, that was due to his immense talent and his obsessive preparation. What is sometimes lost on young players is that Kobe earned the right to dominate the ball on offense. He also gave full effort on defense, being a true two-way player. Some of today’s players that idolize Kobe forget that part. They just focus on the hero ball antics he would occasionally gravitate towards. But not the work, preparation and sacrifice that justified the confidence he had to take those chances.

Life after basketball

Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Ironically, as much as I disliked Kobe the player, I came to admire Kobe the man after he retired. I was sure he would be one of those athletes that didn’t know what to do with themselves once they stopped playing. But on the contrary, he actually ended up being the role model for how an athlete should approach life after retirement. I came to respect his ambitious goals for film making and  book writing.

Also, as someone that has a young daughter, I totally admired his connection with Gigi. I know how great that bond between father and daughter can be. That feeling of wanting to be a better person in order to be worthy of the love and admiration that a little girl has for her father is powerful. My respect for him grew last week when I read an article on ESPN about Kobe’s life as an artist and father. How he always picked up his kids from school. How he coached his daughter’s team and had them running the triangle offense. I looked at Kobe the father like a lot of fans looked at Kobe the basketball player. That is when I realized that the Mamba mentality was not just a way to play basketball, it was the way you should approach life, that is passionate and fearless.

Mamba Mentality for the Knicks

As we are approaching a pivotal period in Knicks’ history, the fan base is just hoping that ownership and management won’t find a way to set the team back again. I look to the young players for hope. Part of that hope is that they will learn from Kobe Bryant and own their development. We have seen how the team inadvertently almost ruined Frank Ntilikina. If it wasn’t for Frank’s unwavering commitment to get better and the opportunity to play in the FIBA World Cup this summer, the Knicks might have ruined a promising young player. The fact is that this franchise is trying to serve too many masters and has conflicting priorities. We need all the young players, especially Knox and Smith Jr. to adopt that Mamba mentality and impose their will on this team. Kobe was a force of natural that bent our reality in order to realize his dreams. Who would have thought that when he came into the NBA he would end up being more popular in L.A. than Magic Johnson and become a global icon that is talked about in the same breath as Michael Jordan. I want the young Knicks to be like Kobe and embrace the challenge of putting this team and city on their backs and be relentless in their pursuit of greatness. Below is a tribute to one of Kobe’s greatest games in the Garden. Hope you enjoy it. Mamba out !

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