When the feud between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal came to a head after the 2004 season, it became obvious that one of the two would have to leave. The Lakers sided with Bryant, and now have two more championships to show for it.
That trade marked a turning point in the career of the young superstar as he was now the unquestioned leader of the team for the first time in his career. In a profile in the latest edition of Sports Illustrated, Bryant spoke about the difficulties he faced after the trade:
This is great […] Then everything sinks in, and it’s like Oh no, now you better win or your whole career is basically bulls*** […] I was no longer a 20-year-old with 30-year-olds. My teammates were suddenly my peers. I couldn’t be the kid who was trying to demolish everything in his path anymore […] My reputation was as this drill sergeant and I had to make this conversion from on-court assassin to manager […] Getting other people to believe in themselves, that’s always been the hardest part.
Bryant has grown more and more as a leader throughout the years. He has garnered a lot of criticism for how hard he is on teammates, but recent years has seen Kobe grow into more of a coach on the floor, consistently helping out the younger players on the team.
The transition between just having to play, and having to lead others is a difficult one that very few are able to navigate, and while there were bumps along the way, Bryant handled it as well as anyone we’ve ever seen.
Bryant was very open about his insecurities and doubts about himself in this profile, even conceding that he isn’t sure how he’ll come back from the torn Achilles. But Bryant’s mindset would never allow him to not put everything he has into something, and in the end, Kobe tends to succeed when that happens.
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