The NBA can often be a highlight driven league, as it’s usually a powerful dunk that makes the top 10 list on SportsCenter rather than a fundamental play. This is part of the reason so many are quick to anoint LeBron James as the NBA’s best player, despite the fact that the Black Mamba still holds that honor.
One of the reasons Bryant is the best player to this day, despite not having the hops he once did, is because he has become one of, if not the smartest player in the game. In addition to his work ethic, Bryant has learned a great variety of his repertoire of moves through simply being a student of the game. Bryant has taken elements of players past and present, ranging from all generations and positions into his game, giving him one of the most lethal array of moves the game has ever seen. Bryant’s obsession for the game also gives him the advantage of knowing his opponents tendencies and weaknesses.
The fact that Bryant is a student of the game has given him a tremendous advantage over players of today who just rely on their athletic ability. This is much of the reason why Kobe has been able to sustain his greatness while other players fade away when their athleticism does the same.
Bryant’s basketball smarts have not only translated into individual success, but team success. Perhaps more than any player in the league Bryant is an extension of the coach on the floor. He understands the ins and outs of the very complicated triangle offense, allowing him to direct the Lakers. He also is the key component to the Lakers’ defensive effort.
Bryant also knows exactly what buttons to push in order to get the Lakers to play to their potential. He knows when to look for his shot and when to get his teammates involved at the right moment. This aspect of Bryant’s game has been unfairly questioned in the past, but it has driven the Lakers to back-to-back titles.
Kobe also has the tough mentality needed to be a leader for an 82 game marathon plus the postseason. Despite having numerous injuries that would put the average player under the knife, Bryant continues to have a warrior mentality. Bryant rarely misses games, which sets the tone for the rest of the Lakers.
Perhaps the greatest part of Bryant’s mentality though is his fearlessness. Even as an 18-year-old rookie, Bryant was not afraid to take big shots. Although Bryant shot two infamous air balls in the playoffs against Utah during his rookie season, it proved that he was not afraid of the moment.
This trait is something that has caused Kobe to become undoubtedly the most clutch player in the game today. No matter what the stats say, no player is feared more than the Black Mamba in the closing moments of a game, unlike other players, most notably James, Bryant is not afraid to be the goat and relishes the opportunity to be the hero. Being as cold blooded as Kobe is something that can’t be taught and only the great ones have it instilled in them.
So while other players can wow the arenas with their dunks and athletic plays, the older and wiser Bryant makes basketball an art form. Plus, a buzzer beater to win the game is much more exciting than a dunk, right?