3… 2… 1….KOBE!

“Hate me, because I demanded greatness, and greatness demands everything.”

Tomorrow night is the last night Kobe Bryant will ever play professional basketball. Now for those of you out there that aren’t basketball fans, Kobe’s retirement may not mean much. Just another player retiring from professional sports, big whoop? I mean it’s just Kobe right. But for those of you that are basketball fans, and know what Kobe represents, well tomorrow might just be a pretty sad night. Kobe is so much more than basketball, a game, or a sport. Kobe is an icon that everyone should look up to as a symbol for greatness, and what working your ass off can achieve. Kobe changed the way I viewed the game of basketball, sports, and life in general; I’m sure he did for some of you too.

It was July 4th, 2003, the day Kobe Bryant was charged with sexual assault. After achieving 3 rings in the span of just 5 short years in the league, Kobe found himself in some troubling waters. Over the next year and a half, hearings, trials, and press-conferences were held until finally on September 1st, 2004, just 2 months before the start of the NBA season, the charges were dropped. Now, it wasn’t how Kobe reacted to all of this in the media sphere, or even the fact that he was accused in the first place that surprises me the most, but rather his reaction to the situation on the basketball court and how that cemented him as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

Most people have faced some sort of scrutiny in their lives, whether that be in the public or private eye. But imagine, just for a second, you were accused of a crime. Furthermore, imagine you’re a professional athlete that has been accused of not only a crime, but sexually assaulting someone, while having a wife and a daughter. Everyday having people question you as an individual, doubting your integrity, besmirching everything you have achieved. Every. Single. Day. It doesn’t stop. Now, I’m not writing this to say whether Kobe was innocent or wasn’t. He made a mistake, got mixed up with the wrong people. Whatever did end up happening, I think it’s terrible, because it takes away from his greatness and legacy, but maybe that is exactly what Kobe needed.

If you haven’t had the chance to watch Kobe Bryant’s, “The Muse” I would highly recommend you go watch it after reading this. Kobe came from humble beginnings, growing up in Philadelphia and a small town in Italy called Reiti. His father played professional basketball all over Europe and it was from him that Kobe developed a love for the game. He worked his whole life to get to where he was, facing scrutiny in his rookie year as one of only a handful of players in the history of the NBA to be drafted right out of high school. But Kobe worked, until finally he was a starting player and eventually down the line won 3 rings. After having achieved all of that, Kobe was faced with a situation he believed he didn’t have an answer to. How do you think you’d react if you were accused of sexually assaulting someone? Probably lock yourself away for a little while, stay out of the public eye, do whatever you could to avoid the spotlight. Well, Kobe didn’t have any of those options, because he was a professional basketball player. Day in and out, Kobe would go out there face the media, play the game that he loved, and do it at a level that was truly incredible; all in the face of the scrutiny stacked up against him at the time.

Kobe could have taken the year off. He could have given up, said to himself that it’s going to be a sub-par year and move on with his life. But that’s not what he did. He used the situation to fuel himself to the next level. Kobe created the Black Mamba so that he could separate basketball from his personal life. He created two separate identities…are you serious?

Two identities, one Kobe Bryant and the other Black Mamba, both human, but entirely different beasts. What Kobe achieved in the following 3 years is nothing short of historic, averaging 31.5 ppg, 5.3 apg and playing over 40 minutes a night, all while going to the playoffs over that span. Also side note, Kobe went to the playoffs 15 straight years, until 2012 when the Lakers screwed up, but that’s another story.

The reason that Kobe has been so inspiring to me is due to his perseverance in the face of adversity, which is beyond that of any athlete I have ever seen. His pursuit to be great, to achieve success, and be a champion are unparalleled. Read a testimonial from any player that has had a chance to play on a team with Kobe, or train with him, and they’ll let you know that no matter what, Kobe is always the hardest working guy in the room. No matter what, Kobe is always up for 6AM workouts. No matter what, Kobe never gives up. And to me this is admirable. Because after winning 3 rings, having rose to stardom, and being the renounced king of LA, Kobe could have given up once adversity hit him. He could have said alright I’ve been a champion, I don’t have anything left to prove.

Now, a lot of you may be like wait a minute, this is Kobe Bryant one of the world’s richest athletes we’re talking about here, his life isn’t so bad. That’s true, Kobe is a professional basketball player. But in the world of sports today, how many athletes do you see make it to the league, or leave college too early only to fizzle out, and be mediocre, or average bench players. How many professional athletes in general have been able to comeback from a mediocre start to their career, and still achieve greatness. Despite the constant nay-sayers and doubters, Kobe didn’t care. He focused on himself and how great he could be. Perfecting his craft, every single day. Working as hard as he could, every single day. Being better than everyone else, every single day. Although, all Kobe was focused on is basketball, the work ethic and mantra he holds goes so much further and beyond that of a game. Kobe is an icon for the reason that he shows you that anyone can work their ass off in order to achieve results. Work harder than everyone else, and you will see positive outcomes. Kobe is the epitome of hard work and dedication to your craft. Spending every second of everyday, focused on being better at one thing, and devoting your life to something greater than yourself.

Kobe would go on to win 2 more rings in somewhat Cinderella style for those of you that know the story. But, Kobe’s story doesn’t end here. In 2010, Kobe Bryant won his last ring against the Boston Celtics in 7 Games. Fast forward to today, April 12th, 2016. Over the last 5 years, Kobe has torn his achilles, severely sprained his ankle, and had a knee fracture, all while being between the ages of 34–37. Come off those injuries for an athlete of Kobe’s age is no small feat, but of course, Kobe did it. Again, in the face of all adversity, with all the odds stacked against him and everyone courting him out, Kobe came back. What’s most impressive to me is his reason for coming back, wanting to be a champion just one more time. Even though, the Lakers have had subpar teams for the last 3 years, Kobe kept up his will to come back. He fought through the pain because he had made a promise to himself when he entered the league to be one the greatest players to ever play professional basketball.

Take what you may from Kobe’s story, the man is a cold-blooded champion, and there is no denying that. His story has inspired me to develop my own passions and understand that working hard is the only guaranteed road to success. Furthermore, Kobe’s passion and love for one thing say something. Working hard isn’t always fun, everyone knows that. But, when it’s for something that you are truly willing to put your blood, sweat and tears down for, it is. And of course, only Kobe could sum up his career best,

“The challenge wasn’t only to win one, it was to win multiple rings. To be able to sit at the same lunch table with my muses, Michael, Magic. I wanted to be able to sit down at the same table with them and belong there. And I’m very proud to be able to say I can do that”.

Kobe Bryant, you are a champion and an inspiration. The game of basketball will not be the same without you.

-AG