Before the Lakers left for China, Kobe Bryant was hanging outside a Lakers locker room with Floyd Mayweather Jr., the boxing legend.
Kobe wants to be like him. At age 36 Mayweather is still undefeated and punishing guys years his junior because he works harder and fights smarter. It’s been the model of Kobe’s career and the myth that has grown up around him — Kobe is just and old-school bad-a**.
That myth gets rounded out in an amazing feature by Lee Jenkins in the new issue of Sports Illustrated that you should go read. Right now. This is great journalism and traces Kobe from being 7-years-old in a martial arts class through Italy, high school and the Lakers up to this past summer. It is a must read, here are just a few highlights.
“I have self-doubt,” Bryant says. “I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I’m like, ‘My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don’t have it. I just want to chill.’ We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it. You rise above it. … I don’t know how I’m going to come back from this injury. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll be horses—.” He pauses, as if envisioning himself as an eighth man. “Then again, maybe I won’t, because no matter what, my belief is that I’m going to figure it out. Maybe not this year or even next year, but I’m going to stay with it until I figure it out….”
He adopted a title for the next phase of his career, which will begin when rehab ends and he sticks that gold Lakers jersey back in his teeth, whether on opening night or Christmas Day or sometime in between. “It’s The Last Chapter,” Bryant says. “The book is going to close. I just haven’t determined how many pages are left.” He has no interest in a conversation about legacy. What excites him is evolution achieved through sports, each setback steeling a person for the next. “I’m reflective only in the sense that I learn to move forward,” Bryant says. “I reflect with a purpose.” Gather all his touchstones, look at them together, and they can gird the greatest player of his time for the biggest obstacle yet….
“Maybe I won’t have as much explosion,” Bryant says. “Maybe I’ll be slower. Maybe I’ll lose quickness. But I have other options. It’s like Floyd Mayweather in the ring. There’s a reason he’s still at the top after all these years. He’s the most fundamentally sound boxer of all time. He can fight myriad styles at myriad tempos. He can throw fast punches or off-speed punches, and he can throw them from odd angles.”
I have no doubt Kobe will come back a strong player. Over the years his game has evolved from one where he used his explosive athleticism to get his shots to one where it’s his footwork, his fundamentals that get him the ball in the place he wants (just near the elbows, for example) with just enough space to get off his shot. Even a step slower those fundamentals are there, he can adjust and be very good. Maybe not great anymore, but at least very good.
Whether the Lakers management can put a team around him that can win — and if they do bring in that talent, can Kobe adapt to not being the Alpha Dog anymore? — remains the question.
One that will be answered in the final pages of this last chapter.