It has been a long three days without a Laker game; so long that we fans have subjected ourselves to cheering for (gulp) the Boston Celtics. In our defense, there were reasons for this momentary lapse in judgment…
- The Celtics are the only team left in the Eastern Conference over which the Lakers would have home court advantage should they reach the NBA Finals again.
- Kobe Bryant loyalists have wanted to see the demise of the player who receives the utmost reverence and privilege despite accomplishing little, while our 4-time champion has defied age and injury but receives nothing but doubt.
LeBron James — the mere mention of his name can drive a faithful Laker fan insane. We are tired of every call that we feel he does not deserve to get in his favor. We see his images shown more prominently in advertisements than our superstar and we feel robbed. We remember every pass he has been given for disrespectful behavior and know that Kobe’s character would have been shredded if that behavior had been his. We think it’s unfair that people have crowned Kobe’s heir when he’s clearly not ready to abdicate his throne. The new guy has no idea what it takes, we say. He doesn’t know what Kobe has been through to get to where he is today.
This week, however, LeBron has gotten a more potent taste of something that Kobe has had an abundance of in his professional career, not to mention his life: adversity.
There is no use kicking LeBron while he’s down (as much as many would like the opportunity to enjoy doing so). He is, undeniably, a rare talent on the court, and his future is beyond bright even despite his inadequacy of late. Those premature accolades will eventually have the accomplishments to support it, but until then, he could use a lesson or two from someone who has been there, and done that.
“Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.” — Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant’s career did not start with a Larry O’Brien trophy in his hand. It started with the pressure of being chosen at a very young age by the man whose silhouette represents the entire league, to play for one of the greatest franchises in sports history, on the brightest stage that ever existed. His success, and more so his shortcomings, are magnified for the harshest scrutiny, but what has contributed to Kobe’s tenure in the NBA is his fearlessness against the doubters, against the pressure, against the possibility for failure.
In the first round of this season’s playoffs, Kobe didn’t offer to take on the defensive assignment against Oklahoma City Thunder’s most consistent player – HE TOOK IT. He claimed that if the Lakers were going to be eliminated, he wanted to make sure he had done everything he could. In doing so, he, even for just a moment, silenced the critics who called him old and washed up (really, people?) and wouldn’t you know it, helped his team move another round closer to attaining another championship.
“The motivation for me is just the game itself, just playing the game the right way and trying to win, compete every time I step out there on the floor. That’s motivation enough for me to go out there and play well.” — Kobe Bryant
Kobe does not play the game to make Nike or Vitamin Water happy (though I’m sure they are plenty satisfied with his performance). He plays basketball because it is what he loves to do, and his love for this game is what contributes to his respect for it.
After some of the losses they experienced this past season, the Lakers were consistently asked about how badly losing made them feel. Kobe always shrugged the question off, saying that it wasn’t so much the loss they were concerned with, but the fact that they didn’t play the right way.
The Lakers didn’t end the regular season the way they hoped, but they also didn’t dwell in a past they could no longer change. They have regained their focus, locked into their competitive nature, and are playing Laker basketball the right way, especially when it has counted and now have won six games in a row (8-2 in the playoffs) to show for it.
“As far as carrying the torch for the years to come, I don’t know. I just want to be the best basketball player I can be.” — Kobe Bryant
Dwayne Wade once said in an interview, that what makes Kobe Bryant one of the best players in the league is his extreme knowledge and practice of the fundamentals. It is well documented that Kobe, above all else, is a constant student of the game, and he is proud to admit that everything he does on the court, he learned from those who played before him.
He has been called Michael Jordan’s heir, and what a heavy burden that is to carry. He is up for the challenge, but not necessarily to be another Michael Jordan (because even Kobe wouldn’t claim such a title). Kobe is a mere model (though with a perfect likeness) of what his Airness represented — hard work, fearless determination, and an interminable competitive spirit.
With a chance to attain another Championship, Kobe’s fundamentals, both mental and physical, permeate through the rest of the team like a positive virus. And if any torch is being passed around, it’s certainly been at the very least touched by those who wear his same uniform. How else can a team reach the league’s highest honor?
“When I’m finished playing, I want people to say, ‘He handled this well, he kept his cool.” — Kobe Bryant
The Lakers, especially the coaching staff, preach throughout the season about not wanting to get too high or too low after a convincing win or terrible loss. It’s almost the basketball emotional equivalent of “just right,” one could say and the Lakers have maintained this middle-of-the-ground attitude, which has frustrated many fans and sports analysts who expect a specific type of dominance each night.
Despite having the best record in the Western Conference for the third straight season, and the third best record in the league, the Los Angeles Lakers have been viewed as not playing badly, but still not playing their best basketball in many viewers’ eyes. They have been called “lucky” to survive the first two rounds of the playoffs and, according to ESPN analyst Chris Sheridan, their charm and luck are due to run out very soon. But if there is one thing Kobe has greatly influenced on this Laker team, it’s his stern yet calm demeanor, especially when it counts the most, and what better time to maintain their cool and play as only they know how, than in the most important time of their year.
Personally and professionally, Kobe Bryant has seen his life hit the abyss, but he has also witnessed his resurrection, not to mention that of his teammates who are no strangers to their own plights. Adversity and triumph can travel with you through a lifetime if you have the mental fortitude to keep them together, and this Laker team — they have that. They just don’t pay mind to those who tell them otherwise because at the end — of their seasons, their careers, and their lives — what they will be remembered for was how they handled defeat as much as how they handled the glory.