Kobe Bryant(notes) has achieved things that most basketball players can only reach in video games: five championships, 12 All-Star appearances, an MVP, an Olympic gold medal, and one hit rap single. He's achieved virtually everything a basketball player can, save alienating most of the country with a nationally broadcast free-agency decision special.
Still, all these years later, Kobe still has more drive than anyone else in the NBA. He works harder than anyone and maintains a will to win even as it seems he has nothing left to prove. So what exactly motivates him.
Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com asked this question to the Lakers and other observers, and the answers are interesting:
Is he chasing the record books? Thirteen games into his 15th season, he's already set a few new ones -- embarking on the franchise record for most consecutive seasons played with the Los Angeles Lakers; becoming the youngest player in NBA history to score 26,000 points; passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's all-time minutes mark with the purple and gold.
"I don't know about them until they come up," Bryant said. [...]
Could it really be that a man who retired eight seasons ago and won his sixth and final championship in 1998, two years before Bryant won his first, is in the back of Bryant's mind every time he drives to the hoop? That he goes through every painful therapy session on his right knee and puts his 32-year-old body through another back-to-back just because he wants to be like Mike [Jordan]?
Or maybe it's because he wants to be better than Mike.
The Jordan issue comes up every time someone mentions Kobe. His game is clearly patterned after His Airness, and Jordan's shadow casts over all do-everything shooting guards whether they like it or not. On top of that, Kobe has a greater sense of history than virtually any other basketball player. He knows where he stands in the greater picture, even if he doesn't admit it to the press.
Then again, Kobe has reached heights that seem to go beyond any one player. Take a look at this quote from the same article:
"I don't need that stuff. I really don't. I'm already wired," Bryant said. "For whatever reason, I don't need motivation. I'm good to go."
Perhaps Kobe's drive started long ago with Jordan envy or a need to meet all kinds of amazing milestones. But at this point, in his 15th season, the need to win is just what he knows. Having a bordlerine-sociopathic need to win has been a fact of his basketball being for his whole life. It's second nature on the court, existing beyond rational motivation.
At this point, trying to explain Kobe's intensity seems unnecessary. It's just who he is, almost like an involuntary reaction rather than a calculated stance. Why is he still motivated to win? Because that's all he's ever known as a basketball player.