Whether you love Kobe or you hate him, it’s impossible to argue against his position as a future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and one of the greatest players of all-time. His never-ending list of achievements and records prevent anyone from doing so. I could bullet-point every award and record Kobe has accomplished during his career to make my point, but you can do that on Wikipedia or Basketball-Reference. Instead, I’m going to provide you with something you can’t find in his game logs or on his awards – the elements of Kobe Bryant.
It’s obvious Kobe is a superior offensive talent, as seen his career average of just over 25 points-per-game, as well as his obscene single-game scoring outputs (see: 81-point game). While his scoring numbers are definitely great, they are not what separates him from every other player who has averaged 30 points a game during a season.
What puts Kobe in a different category than the Adrian Dantley’s, the Allen Iverson’s and the Tracy McGrady’s, is the infinite number of ways he is capable of getting the ball in the hoop. Whether he chooses his “undefendable” turnaround, fade away jumper, a 30-foot three pointer or a spin move in the post that would make even Hakeem Olajuwon blush, his repertoire of offensive moves clearly make him one of the most unstoppable offensive forces to ever set foot on the hardwood.
Ask yourself this: how often does Bryant get locked up (no jokes people, I’m referring to on the court)? At the hands of another player, I could probably count the number of times on one hand since he entered his prime. Kobe has proven season after season, game after game, that the only person that can stop Kobe, is Kobe. He has displayed an uncanny ability to completely alter his game, so to be able to play through injuries and remain an effective asset to his team; this was shown last year, when he changed his shot, mid-season, to accommodate the mangled fingers on his shooting hand.
Finally, there are few players who have played in the league, who have accomplished more in the final minutes of an NBA game than Kobe Bryant. Over the last 10 years, he has become the routine answer to the question: “with the game on the line, who would you want taking the last shot?” It must be encoded in his DNA, but if there is any concern that the Lakers may lose the game, he automatically becomes dialed in.
He may not start hitting on all cylinders every time this happens, but I have frequently seen him flip a switch somewhere in his body, that causes him to catch fire, despite shooting terribly for three and a half quarters.
Whether it comes down to the fact that they don’t have the confidence to elevate their game or they just aren’t talented enough to do so, the ability to come through in the clutch as often as Kobe does is a very rare characteristic among NBA players. Only truly great players possess this quality, and Kobe is definitely one of them.
Work ethic separates boys from men, good players from great players and stars from superstars. It’s the one aspect of a player’s mindset that takes no talent or skill, it only requires effort–solely the desire to improve and become the best. Any player can say he strives to be number one, but how many are actually willing to put in the work to do so? My guess would be not that many. Of that small percentage of players who have paired extreme talent with a great work ethic, once again, Kobe’s name comes to mind.
Kobe has spent every offseason since entering the league with his main focus on being better than he was the previous season. Whether that means adding ten pounds of muscle to his frame, extending his shooting range, becoming the team’s best post player or getting completely healthy, he continually makes a conscious effort to become the best, and remain the best. He’s willing to do whatever it takes, because his love and passion for the game is so strong, he wants to play at the highest level possible for as long as he physically can.
Don’t let me fool you; there have been plenty of successful players to engrave their name in the NBA history books. Plenty of which have been just as skilled and/or athletically gifted as Kobe is. That goes without saying, as we have recently seen athletic freaks of nature such as LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Vince Carter; as well as unbelievably skilled players in Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony.
While all of those players have been leaders on very good teams, none of them have proven to have “it”. “It” is the killer instinct in a player’s heart and soul. It’s a million dollar bill, and if you have it, you have what it takes to be the best. This is a characteristic that I have only seen in two, maybe three or four players, but primarily in Jordan and Kobe (with Larry Bird and Kevin Garnett being the other two).
Possessing the killer instinct means you fear no one and the only thing that matters in the world is having more points than your opponent every single night until you are crowned the champions of the world. And you will do so by any means necessary. This is what separates Kobe from everyone in the league today. It is what separated Jordan from everyone in the 1990’s. To be able to look the opponent in the eye and stick a knife through his chest and pull it out, without blinking. Even if Kobe is not at the top of his game on a given night, carrying this gem of a trait gives him the advantage. It is what makes people say, if Kobe’s on the floor, you can’t count his team out.