November 23, 2010
The part that makes the cable chat shows will no doubt focus on the surprising revelation of a late-1990s mentorship between the late Michael Jackson and a young Kobe Bryant(notes). Bryant was trying to make his way as a rookie on a Laker team with championship ambitions and championship talent, but second-round brains and leadership abilities.
Struggling to cope with why everyone seemed to think he (the guy taking all those jumpers after practice and staying in his hotel room all night) was the problem, a frustrated Bryant found Jackson reaching out to him at exactly the right time.
The part that might make for a good Internet meme is the sheer amount of "[expletives]" included, eight by my count. Certainly more, as anyone who has ever spent quality time with Kobe will tell you, were tossed around during the course of this dinner conversation.
But the part that people should walk away from Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski's fascinating interview with Kobe Bryant thinking about?
They should be mindful and appreciative of this man's absolute and utter obsession with the game of basketball, and his role within it.
His dogged determination when it comes to piling championship upon championship. Whether he's right in the way he goes about it (the obsession, the practice, the preparation) or wrong in the way he goes about it (perhaps, let's say, forcing a few too many would-be daggers from 20 feet?), the guy goes about it. More consistently and more assuredly than anyone this league has known since Michael Jordan, and few that this league have known in the years before Jordan dominated.
Bill Russell is included amongst the latter crew I just mentioned, in a piece that I'd like to honestly cut and paste 99 percent of, I will be judicious with the work and offer this snippet into the relationship between Bryant and Bill Russell, Mr. Boston Celtic.
"I've never understood this stuff, where a star player sits out and a team goes into the tank. Well, they need him because he makes them better. Well, if he's making them better, they should be able to survive without him. That's how you lead your guys. You've got to be able to make guys suffice on their own, without you. If you're there all the time and they take you away, they shouldn't need a respirator.
"Once I understood all that, I looked at things completely different. I took my hands off. I didn't try to control them. I let them make decisions, make their own [expletive]-ups and I was there to try and help them through it."
As much as anyone, Russell led Bryant to those epiphanies. At an NBA All-Star weekend years ago, Bryant introduced himself to the legendary Celtics center and they've never missed a chance to sit and share thoughts and memories since. Things Russell told him years ago made more sense as Bryant grew up, grew older and saw leadership and winning through more advanced prisms. When the rest of the league's best players were invited to play at the White House this summer, Bryant ended up sitting on the side with Russell because of his knee surgery.
"Bill is always a Celtic, but I think he's appreciated my thirst for knowledge," Bryant said.
Sounds to me like Phil Jackson has also had quite a hand in these "let them breathe" realizations, but Kobe has to go to practice with Phil later today. Can't give too much away, y'know?
This is, as mentioned above and by several mindful NBA scribes on Twitter after it was published, a fascinating read, and needed look into the sort of mind that too few in this league try to emulate.