it means that, in my heart, I never played the game for "spotlight" reasons. I played because I loved it. I played because it meant more to me than even I knew. When I needed someone to lean on, a place to vent, a place to celebrate or a place to cry, the game became all of these things for me. And because the game has given me so much I know that I must give it the respect it deserves. I must work hard to master it, to show it my appreciation for all it has done for me as a person, as a man. That's the reason I'm able to play under severe pressure or stress. The game has actually helped me cope with it. It has helped me win. Not in terms of the points scored, but in terms of the struggles that I have overcome. More and more I feel like this is the reason I train so hard, why I push myself past every limit. The more obstacles that are placed between me and my goals, the hungrier I become.
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.
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.
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 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.
And that's why Lbj shrinks. Not the same drive, not the same conception of basketball. And it's not LBJ fault. But that's besides the point.
Re: Why Kobe is one of the GOAT (long introspection)
As a kid, when things were bad for me at school or at home, I would go to the park and envision the dream. You've probably had that same one: I'd be playing for the Lakers, winning championships and hitting the game winning shots. I'd listen to the crowd roar when I put the dagger in the other team's heart, and on the road I'd hear the silence of other teams' arenas. I've actually done these things in my career. But I had done them before, because in my mind and in my heart it felt so real to me. So when I was there I had been there before.