An Icon Forever
Join Date: Jun 2006
Re: Article Kobe Bryant wrote in Dime Magazine
What helps me understand and deal with this is the fact that I was once in their shoes. I once played a supporting role on this team. Back then I knew how much pressure Shaquille had on him to win a ring and I also knew I could help. So I studied the game offensively and especially defensively because I knew that if I could harass on the perimeter with him clogging the lane, it would demoralize our opponents more than anything we could do offensively. I also knew that the teams he played on in the past did not have a closer. No one could take the game over down the stretch or hit the game winner or make the key free throws. Those were Shaq's weaknesses, so I had to step up and make them my strengths. I knew how much more I could bring to the battle, but that wasn't my role. I was a scorer who became a facilitator in order to win. But now I worry because I know how hard that was for me to learn, how many sleepless nights I had and how much criticism and trade rumors I had to endure before I mastered my role. This is probably what my current teammates are going through. All I can do is pray that one day we will reach the same level of chemistry and understanding that existed between me, Shaq, Rick Fox, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry and all the other players I once went to war with.
The fears I have are soothed a little by the presence of Phil Jackson. Simply put, he is the best coach I have ever played for. Everything I have learned about the game can be traced to him and Tex Winter. They teach the game at such a deeper level than X's and O's. The game is a rhythm, a dance. Phil and Tex have taught me to feel the game. To think the game without thinking, to see without seeing. They taught me how to prepare. How to conceptualize the spirit of my opponents and attack them where they are weak. I've seen how prepared PJ gets before games, and as the on-court leader he is trusting me to do the same. So I do all the things he has taught me to do before tip-off and once the ball is in the air my mind is at ease and my body is ready to play. I take it to the other team on both ends of the floor. I take pride in being able to do that. I HATE being scored on, even by players who some say are "un-guardable". I don't believe it when they say "Oh, that player is just hot today." F--- that! Cool his[..] off then.
When we play on the road and the entire crowd is booing me it doesn't bother me at all. What I think about is simple: "When these fans leave this game I want them to remember how hard I fought and the passion and drive with which I played." I have always played this game with passion. And I always worked hard. When I saw the movie Rudy I remember thinking, "What if I worked that hard?" God has blessed me both physically and intellectually to play this game, so what would happen if I push as hard as the character in this film? I would love for people to think of me as a talented overachiever. Even though those fans may chant "Kobe sucks", when they leave that arena I want them to walk out with a different feeling than they came in with. When they leave they'll leave with the understanding that they have just witnessed a player give himself completely to his passion; they have just watched an athlete pour every ounce of his heart and soul out on that floor. And hopefully, when the next volume of my life is all said and done, they will respect and appreciate the years that I spent giving all of me to the game that means everything to me.
Recently I have come to visualize my place as a black athlete within our society. I've always been aware of our history, from Jackie Robinson to Sweetwater Clifton. But I never felt like I deserved to be a part of our tradition because I grew up overseas, in Italy. In that way I am very much different than many of my peers. I never truly believed that my own people wanted to identify with me. But that's the thing about adversity: while you're going through it, you look around yourself and see exactly who it is that's rallying behind you. During my time of struggle I saw the truth. My people held me down. Their love and support became an experience for me and that experience will be with me for the rest of my life. It gave me a completely different understanding of my role. I had been wrong about my impact. Now I see that I can be a force in the lives of our youth. They look up to me for guidance and support. They have shown me that even though I grew up in Italy, I am a part of black America. The color of my skin ain't paint! It is, in fact, more than a color: it's the signifier of my culture.
When I went to visit the victims of Hurricane Katrina and saw how their faces lit up when they saw me, how they embraced me, and how my presence lifted their spirits; I realized how wrong I'd been about everything. I've wasted all these years wanting to do things for our people but thinking I wasn't the one to do them, that I wouldn't be welcomed. But now I see that isn't true. The experience of Katrina and my own personal struggles brought me closer to our people. And through that closeness my motivation has become stronger and my purpose has become even clearer.
Being called a role model has become code for being "able to sell product." But the true essence of a role model lies in influencing our youth to be better, not perfect, not to buy sodas or fast food or whatever; but to be better, no matter the odds or the circumstances. As an athlete I am someone who is in a perfect position to inspire our youth. They look at us as heroes not just because we win, but also because we fail. They witness us overcome obstacles right in front of their eyes. There's no editing, no CGI; everything about it is real. They watch us fall, get back up, fall, get back up, and fall again. In the course of a 48-minute game or an 82-game season they see us climb an entire mountain. It's my duty to help them understand that falling is a part of life and getting up is a way of life. The will to overcome is crucial. And because basketball is a metaphor of life this is a lesson I can give them as I struggle to accomplish my goals. As I help to rebuild my team on the court, I can do the same off of it, helping to rebuild and restore the lives of the people I see in trouble by inspiring them to do what the "experts" say can't be done.
I have been an outcast my entire life. From being the only black kid in my town in Italy all the way to when I was 17 and playing in the NBA. What separated me from others, even more consistently than skin color or age, was my hunger. My mission. I've always been made to feel like there was something wrong with wanting to win so badly and wanting to become the best at what you do. But I have found a place to fit in amongst people with a similar vision, specifically my family at Nike. My[..]ociation with them means much more to me than just an endorsement deal. At Nike I am surrounded by people and athletes who share my will and my commitment to be number one at all costs.
Last summer I had the honor of being invited to the Nike campus in Beaverton, Oregon for a ceremony honoring the company's co-founder, Phil Knight. We athletes had to wait in the green room before the show began. I found myself sitting amongst athletes that I had never met before but whom I felt right at home with.
Let me explain:
There are certain kinds of people that are purely driven. I can tell who they are simply by looking at them. I have faced so much criticism for my drive that at times it has alienated me from the majority: the people who are comfortable with second place, the people who hate against me because I am not. You know these kinds of people; they are the ones who fear winning, the jealous ones who envy and try to sabotage. They are the people who have been telling me I couldn't win all my life. Many times my drive to succeed has put me on an island all by myself because no one understood me, or they chose to misunderstand me. They chose to portray me as being something that I was not.
So on that day, sitting in the Nike green room with those other athletes, I saw the purity of drive in their eyes and it reassured me that it was OK to be different than others. It's OK to want to be the best. It's OK to feel like a loser if you don't win it all, and it's OK to bounce back with a stronger will, a deeper sense of determination, and a desire to destroy your opposition.
I have learned that it is OK for me to be me, and what being me entails. It means that I will not rest; I will not sleep, relax, relent or be satisfied until my goals have been met, the challenge answered and all my doubters silenced. I will not give in to my foes; I won't let down my teammates. I won't stop inspiring those who look up to me or stop giving motivation to those who motivate me. I will not back off until I'm back on top, back in the place where they said I could never be again. Mountains don't scare me. The LACK of mountains scares me. The climb up, the struggle for every inch of ground and every level of ascension is what feeds me. I welcome that challenge. I welcome that chance to be fed because no matter what — no matter how hard, how far, or how many stand in my way, I remain determined.