When a star player guides his team to a championship, the standard narrative states that he gets serious, focuses entirely on the task at hand, and cuts out all distractions. The idea is that the championship comes only when the athlete achieves some greater understanding of his purpose, putting aside childish things and becoming a grand champion on the order of Hercules, Achilles, or Bill Russell. These are reductive and largely dismissive descriptions, obviously, but this is also a popular belief.
In 2009, the Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers defeated future frenemy Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in five games to win the NBA title. It was a massive achievement for the Lakers as a franchise but especially Bryant, who silenced critics by winning his first championship without Shaquille O'Neal. At the time, the narrative said that Kobe had finally figured out how to be a leader, working with teammates and generally figuring things out. Kobe had always been serious, but in that season he found out how to be the right kind of serious.
It turns out that he may have found this focus while watching a very stupid, critically reviled teen sex comedy over and over again. In an interview with Todd VanDerWerff for The AV Club's "Random Roles" feature, in which actors discuss past projects, David Walton of the new NBC comedy "About A Boy" talks about his performance as "Dr. Rick" in the 2009 comedy "Fired Up!" For those who haven't seen the film, "Fired Up!" is the story of two rising high school seniors who forgo their final summer of football practices to chase girls at cheerleading camp. Walton plays the self-involved romantic rival of one character, and he is the best part of the movie by a wide margin.
Anyway, it turns out that Kobe told Walton that he really loves "Fired Up!" and watched it throughout the 2009 playoffs:
That is a cult hit, that movie. There’s so many people who’ve seen that movie in double-digits. I did New Girl this past year, Kobe Bryant came to the set and was like, “Yo man, are you Dr. Rick?” And I was like, “Yeah.” He said, “I watched Fired Up! every day before we won the world championship in 2009.” So these athletes are, like, it was the coolest thing in the world thinking about the entire Lakers team watching Fired Up!, this teenage sex comedy before going out on the floor and winning.
Walton must not be much of a basketball fan, because anyone who's followed Bryant's career knows that it's extremely unlikely that the entire Lakers team would have joined him for regular screenings of any movie. Good teammate or not, the man is a bit of a lone wolf. I mean, he once played Beethoven after a loss to calm down. And it pains me to correct this point, by the way, because I would really like to imagine Pau Gasol reacting to Eric Christian Olsen's yuck-filled attempts at wooing Molly Sims.
While it's possible that Walton's story is an exaggeration, I hope that it puts the lie to the idea that a championship mentality must only involve serious thoughts about the task at hand. In the midst of the pressure of the NBA Finals, it's possible that the best way for a player to succeed is by kicking back and turning his brain off for 90 minutes (or 91 minutes, if Kobe watched the unrated DVD).
Then again, maybe I'm looking at this anecdote all wrong. The two heroes of "Fired Up!" continually utter the catchphrase " You gotta risk it to get the biscuit." The motto dictates that everyone must put everything on the line to achieve their desired goals. Perhaps Kobe used this phrase to learn the true meaning of winning.
Stranger things have happened. Did you know that the San Antonio Spurs watched "Trojan War" on HBO before defeating the Knicks in 1999? It was the only way they could figure out that their true desire was right in front of them the whole time.
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