Kobe Bryant is one of the best players in basketball history. A five-time NBA champion, 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player, 18-time NBA All Star, and two-time Olympic gold medalist with team U.S.A., among other accomplishments, Bryant retired at the end of the 2015–2016 NBA season after playing for 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Bryant was not only one of the most gifted, fierce, and competitive basketball players this planet has ever witnessed, but also an extremely cerebral, smart, and insightful player, a “student of the game”, as we basketball fans like to call these type of characters. Bryant is still (and will continue to be)a true savant, an expert that digs below the surface of the numbers and the superficial aspects of the game to gain invaluable insights into opponents, plays, and tiny details that go unnoticed for everyone else.
At the 2016 ESPYS Awards, when asked about his next steps after retiring, Bryant made clear his intentions to devote himself to the youth in different ways.
“The biggest key, I think, is inspiring the next generation of athletes, and how to do that, and I think content is an extremely powerful tool of inspiring the next generation of athletes, and that´s what I´m looking forward to doing.”
After retiring, Bryant didn´t waste any time in venturing into his passion for inspiring the next generation. He kicked off his “retirement” life with the production and publication of Dear Basketball, a love letter to the game of basketball in the format of an animated short. In this production, with the help of brilliant minds like animator Glen Keane and composer John Williams, Bryant expresses his love for the sport, picturing himself as a kid with dreams of becoming one of the greatest ever to play. The tone of the film, which is spectacularly animated, is highly inspirational and narrates Kobe´s path to becoming one of the most dominant players in history. Dear Basketball was an instant success and won the 2018 Academy Award for Best Animated short film.
Believe Entertainment Group, the company that produced the short film, provided a perfect summary of its essence:
“Directed by Academy-Award winning Disney animator, Glen Keane, and scored by OSCAR® winning composer, John Williams, the hand-drawn film speaks directly to the game of basketball, and conveys Kobe’s gratitude, love, and passion for the sport before leaving it behind.”
Far from feeling content with winning an Oscar short after retiring, Kobe continued to cultivate his passion to teach kids lessons from his observations and mindset throughout his incredible journey as a professional NBA player. Recently, he released The Wizenard Series, a five-book series written by author Wesley King, and featuring a story by Kobe Bryamt, geared towards young adults in which “five basketball teammates offer accounts of a 10-day training camp in this inspirational yet uneven fantasy.
When asked by Jimmy Fallon about his intentions with this book series, Bryant provided a perfect picture of his philosophy and what he thinks is essential to teach these younger generations:
“The important thing in this story is (that) it´s a story of self-acceptance. We all have fears, we all have anxieties, things of that nature, but we can´t ignore them. When you ignore them, they fester and have control over you, and what these young men have to learn through magic is how to have the courage to face those fears and use those fears to help themselves be better basketball players and better people through it.”
Kobe is not doing any of this because there is a pressing need for new talent in the NBA. The game of basketball has never been in better shape. Despite the relatively recent retirements of iconic players from the 2000s, like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginóbili, among others, the void left by these legends is already being filled thanks to the irruption and explosion of young stars in their mid-20s like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, or Nikola Jokic, and projected to continue with rising stars in their early 20s like Devin Booker, Luka Doncic, or Trae Young. The talent pipeline is full of young players that are making an impact at the NBA, collegiate, and international levels. In other words, the NBA´s success and abundance of talent is not going away any time soon.
Despite saying he wants to inspire “the next generation of athletes,” Kobe is not directing his efforts just toward teaching what it takes to get to the highest level. The odds of making it to the NBA are extremely slim, and Bryant´s mission is much broader than that. With his message, he is also showcasing the values of basketball as a larger-than-life element, and encouraging the younger generations to embrace the values of a team sport that features teamwork, sacrifice, and personal and collective effort as its main characteristics.
Regardless of the actual quality and content of The Wizenard Series, it is great news that a figure of Bryant´s stature and relevance is releasing a book series, and emphasizing the benefits and the importance of reading along the process.
In a brilliant article detailing Kobe´s new endeavors, SLAM Magazine´s Tzvi Twersky perfectly sums up Kobe´s intention with his newest book series:
“The father of four girls — and hero/villain to thousands of other people — wants his tomes to expand the YA genre and to make reading more accessible to young athletes. He wants it to be taught in schools nationally and to affect change worldwide:
`To me´, says Bryant, `Wizenard is successful already. It’s different than sports. In sports, the objective is to win a championship. With this stuff, if one person touches that book and is impacted deeply, then that’s success.´
Another way in which Bryant is impacting theyounger generations is coaching. Bryant is devoting himself to coaching his daughter and her team with the main goal of allowing some of them to play college basketball, striving to instill in them the same work ethic that got him to be one of the best. He recently told Jimmy Fallon:
We practice every day (…) Three days a week is not going to get you there. You got to really work. We run the triangle offense (…) (a highly advanced system that Bryant used to play in when legendary coach Phil Jackson coached him).
Basketball, and many other areas of life, need people like Kobe Bryant, who not only work extremely hard to excel in what they do, but that also want to pass down the torch to the next generation, to contribute to kids´ education, and do everything possible to do so. For the girls Kobe now coaches, it is certainly a treat to have Kobe Bryant as their coach, but it is also a privilege for the larger public to pick the brain of a legend, both on and off the basketball court.