Guys like Bryant, you know, the one’s that harness a competitive fire 24/7, are unapologetic when it comes to their decisions and want to know everything about the opposition—including what they had for breakfast—are few and far between.
Think of the other guys in the NBA right now. If more carried even a smidgen of Kobe’s killer instinct DNA, you’d have LeBron James going over the game plan with Derrick Rose in Chicago, instead of shutting down the Miami nightlife and Dwight Howard would be in the gym until the wee hours of the morning learning how to effectively control blocked shots.
Every near impossible shot that Bryant puts up on a nightly basis, falling away, face-guarded and the like he makes not because he’s lucky; at least not entirely. He makes them because of the countless hours he’s put into perfecting every jump shot, spin move, post-up move and crossover. His talent honed and perfected on the hardwood, driven by confidence and fearlessness.
His attention to detail is the reason he enlisted the help of Hakeem Olajuwon last summer to help him develop his game in the post as if his already lethal perimeter game wasn’t enough. In Bryant’s eyes, why be good when you can be great?
Last season the Lakers met young Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder squad in round one of the playoffs. After sending the series into a two-all tie in game four, basketball analysts quickly proclaimed the Thunder as potential threats to the Lakers back-to-back title hopes.
Not so fast.
All Bryant needed in order to respond to that assumption, was a trip to get excess fluids removed from his knee and it was ready-set-go to take the wind out of Durant’s sails. Don’t even bother watching the whole series, Kobe goes after the Durantula in the third quarter of game six. Knowing the opponent’s weaknesses, as well as their strengths opens up a variety of attack angles for Bryant. Instead of bogging him down defensively, Bryant showed an impressive display of shots around the perimeter that seemingly lulled Durant to sleep, allowing him to go off for 16 of his 32 points in that quarter alone. Really who could blame the then 21-year-old forward for becoming mesmerized by Bryant?
In the end Bryant launched a last-second game-winning shot that sent Oklahoma City packing after an admirably fought first round series. Well, that’s not quite what happened. Bryant did take the last shot, but it rimmed out right into Pau Gasol’s hands for the put back, putting the Lakers up one point with a fraction of a second left to play.
Yes, there are times when Bryant shows flashes of why his name was once synonymous with the verb that’s defined as manifesting concern or care only for oneself, but for the most he’s come to realize the players surrounding him are there to benefit him. Bryant’s new-found willingness to dish the ball to his teammates is a small component of the killer instinct equation. Deliver and you’re in Bryant’s good graces, fail and face the music.
Next: Tough Love