A generational talent who attained basketball perfection and transcended the sport
As I was growing up in Bangladesh, basketball never got much recognition in the country. While there were always some kids playing in schools, or in Abahani Maath in the 2000s, it was never a sport that was covered by the media. In fact, it still remains a niche for the country.
However, I remember even then, there were perhaps two or three names that were mentioned. Players that cannot be avoided on the global stage. Those who transcend just fans of their own sport. Michael Jordan naturally has always been the face of the sport post-1990s as his Chicago Bulls won six NBA championships in the decade.
However, in the 2000s, beyond Michael Jordan, there were a couple of other players. One of them was Kobe Bryant.
If the 90s belonged to Jordan, then the 2000s belonged to this shooting guard, who made it his mission in life to be as great as his idol, Michael Jordan. That he nearly succeeded in becoming Michael Jordan of all people should tell you all there is to know about him.
Remembering Kobe Bryant is about prodigy. Kobe came into the NBA drafted straight out of high school, a physical specimen phenom, with high-flying dunks and acrobatic displays. He became a fan favourite almost immediately, drafted by the purple and gold of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Remembering Kobe Bryant is about passion. Passion is a word thrown around casually, particularly in the sporting world. However, if there was ever a word that embodied a sportsperson perfectly, that word was passion and that sportsperson is Kobe Bryant.
Remembering Kobe Bryant is about hard work. No one worked harder on his game than Kobe. His work ethic was legendary, and he never took a backseat to anyone. It is what led to his famous “mamba mentality” nickname. If there was a serial winner with a “clutch” mentality, it was Kobe. He was never afraid of the big moments -- instead, he embraced them. Combining his physical gifts with skill, a tireless work ethic, and an ability to rise to the big occasion when his team needed him was yet another similarity to Michael Jordan.
Remembering Kobe Bryant is about standards. Because he was his harshest critic, he would hold everyone around him to the same high standards. Nowhere was this more apparent than with his beef with Shaquille O’Neal, his partner in crime for his first three championships. Shaq, as he is called, was perhaps the most physically gifted player of all time but was also known for a lax work ethic. Who knows how many championships the Lakers would have won if Shaq had stayed on and emulated Kobe’s work ethic.
Remembering Kobe Bryant is about recognition and achievements. Kobe Bryant was chosen as an All-Star 18 times in his 20-year career and was the youngest All-Star in history. He was a 15 time All-NBA member, of which 11 of them were in the first team. He won five NBA championships. He was a two time Finals MVP. He was a regular season MVP in 2008. He won two scoring titles. A slam dunk content. He finished his career surpassing Jordan’s points tally and was until recently the third highest scorer in NBA history. And true to his mantra of emulating Jordan, he did on the defensive end as well, making nine NBA All-Defensive First Teams and 12 All-Defensive teams in total.
Remembering Kobe Bryant is about loyalty and leadership. He retired a laker and became the first guard in the NBA to play 20 seasons. He weathered the storm post-Shaq leaving the team. He became the unquestionable leader of the team, and despite the critics, won two more championships without Shaq.
Remembering Kobe Bryant is about doing more. Only recently, he won an Academy Award for writing and narrating the animated short film, Dear Basketball. His business acumen remained just as focused as his playing career and he was a known philanthropist who wanted to give back to the community. His willingness to work with younger players, as young as last year’s Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic, showed his continued passion for the game of basketball.
Remembering Kobe Bryant is about legacy. He has carved out a place for himself as one of the best NBA players of all time and a model example of professionalism, tenacity, dedication, and respect for one’s craft. He will be missed.
AHM Mustafizur Rahman is an Editorial Assistant at Dhaka Tribune.