On Thursday night in Miami the Los Angeles Lakers found themselves losers for the first time since the All-Star break. They lost to a reeling Miami Heat team that had lost five consecutive games for the first time all season. Heading into the game the Lakers looked almost unbeatable, especially after convincing wins in San Antonio and Atlanta earlier in the week.
However, it wasn’t the game itself that ended up drawing the most headlines on Friday morning. As I’m sure many of you have heard by now, Kobe Bryant stayed behind at the American Airlines Arena after the game in order to work on his shot following the loss. Bryant was one of the main reasons for the Lakers loss, as he forced several bad shots at the end of the game, including multiple three-point attempts that were heavily contested. Most of those shots didn’t fall and for once it was the Heat that managed to close out a close game.
Once news of Bryant’s post-game practice had circled around the internet there were very mixed reactions. Some felt that he was merely looking for attention, while others believed this was just another chapter in the ongoing legacy of Kobe Bryant. I didn’t give it a lot of thought until I began to read the opinions of others on Friday, and one article in particular was brought to my attention.
My friend Shane Baker put together an interesting piece on Kobe’s quest to build his legacy. His argument was that Bryant isn’t only trying to fight the rest of the players currently in the NBA, but that he’s attempting to build a legendary aura around himself similar to that of Michael Jordan. Bryant is trying to immortalize himself through instances like this.
When I first thought about this I wasn’t quite sure what to believe. Anybody who knows Kobe Bryant knows that he is wired a little differently than most people. He has an undying will to win that consumes him on a daily basis. He’s the most competitive guy in the NBA, and it’s not even close. While all players love to win, Kobe Bryant’s passion is fueled by how much he hates to lose. And that is what sparks the motivation for Bryant to go out and practice his shot an hour after a frustrating loss to their newest rivals.
At first it seemed to me that Bryant was doing what he always does – trying to get better. Trying to fix whatever flaw it was that allowed him to come up short that night. On Thursday it was his long-range jump shot, so that’s what he was attempting to fix. I’m not going to debate Bryant’s shot selection in the game against Miami, because it was poor at best. I believe that Bryant shot them out of the game down the stretch, and because of his stubborn determination to do things his way the Lakers left Miami with a loss instead of a win. But still, I felt as if Bryant wasn’t out there to add another urban legend to his repertoire. Perhaps I’m biased being a Bryant fan, but I genuinely believed he was just trying to fix the problems that he thought cost them in that game.
But the more I thought about it the more I began to agree with Baker and many of the other pundits. Kobe knows that he’s not just trying to win games with the Lakers, he’s trying to cement a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten. Bryant knows what it takes to become more than just a great player, and he plays that game perfectly. Why else would he play his heart out in the All-Star game while the rest of the players take it easy and jog up and down the court? Why else would he demand playing in the Olympics after a deep NBA Finals run that left him battered and bruised? Because opportunities like that are chances for Bryant to improve his trophy count, and are more notches on his bling-studded belt. Bryant knows that in twenty years most of his day-to-day actions aren’t going to be remembered, but his accomplishments will live on.
Bryant is a very polarizing figure in today’s world. He is quite possibly the most famous athlete on the planet, and almost everybody has an opinion on him. Many people love Bryant for his competitive drive and his personality, but others despise him for the very same reasons. In today’s world we are completely connected with everything going on around us. No matter how hard they may try, people as famous as Bryant can’t escape the public spotlight and the scrutiny it brings with it. Some athletes try and fight it, but ultimately it catches up to them. Tiger Woods was a prime example of that, but in the end everything came out in the open and he was forced to accept the limelight. Bryant is a similar being to Woods, as he clearly prefers his privacy. However, Bryant knows how to take his fame and manipulate it to his advantage. Bryant knows that a quick shoot-around following a tough loss isn’t just for him, but for his fans that see him as more of a myth than a man.
It’s impossible to say what Bryant’s true intentions were as he practiced on that court last Thursday night. In all honesty I think it had a little to do with both sides of the spectrum. There is no denying that Bryant’s never-ending quest to be the best motivates him to do such things. But on the other hand he knows that by doing one thing he can take the spotlight off the Heat and the loss and turn it into another remarkable page in the saga that his life has become.
To wrap this up I’ll quote one of my favorite movies as a kid, and honestly it still is today, The Sandlot. Towards the climax of the film the ghost of Babe Ruth appears and gives advice that will always ring true no matter the sport: “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” Kobe Bryant is trying to make the transition from hero to legend, and whether you like it or not he is succeeding.