(By guest blogger, Samaki Walker: pictured)
It seems as June 26, 1996 was just yesterday. We were young men eager to make our mark on the biggest stage. We would go on to see Ray Allen achieve great things, Steve Nash win MVP’s, and now Allen Iverson entering the Hall of Fame. Three of us would become teammates and win a title together in 2002.
20 years later and we are now saying good-bye to the last of our class. Someone I won a championship with, and the one who stood above the rest: Kobe Bryant. I won’t get into his stats, but would like to share three of Kobe’s keys to success:
Yes- we’re talking about practice. Kobe never took practice lightly. He knew this is where games are won. He was the hardest working player, would perfect drills, and would push the rest of the team to not take anything lightly.
I remember coming to the practice site early to receive treatment for an injury. I walked in and saw Kobe on the court hours before practice just rolling the ball out and executing footwork drills for minutes. I did not see him take a single shot! He was just imagining offensive and defensive scenarios creating visuals that connected him to the game.
2. Mental toughness
We all saw how Kobe had no hesitation to take the big shots in the playoffs as a rookie. Most players would lose confidence after an air ball, but Kobe kept wanting to take the big shot. He shot four air balls, but that did not deter him from the next big shot. Not his best moment- but foreshadowing of great moments. Kobe revealed his killer instinct in what was a defining moment of his career.
Kobe never lost focus; winning was everything. I recall being on the road and going out for a late night snack only to notice Kobe at the local fitness center across the street doing squats with heavy plates and chains on each side, and this was the night before the game. This is a true testament to his hard work and dedication. Winning and being the best always came first.
3. Commitment to improve
When Kobe revealed that he wanted to go to the Wizards about ten years ago, fans got excited over ‘what could have been’ with Kobe and Jordan teaming up. Just the thought of those two working together captured fans’ imaginations. Personally, I see this as Kobe’s dedication to be the best he can be. He was willing to give up one of the best basketball cities, the Showtime spot light, to be tutored daily by Michael Jordan.
When he wanted to improve his post-game, he went to the best- Hakeem Olajuwon. As a guard, that wasn’t really necessary but Kobe didn’t want to leave any weakness in his game and always saw himself as developing.
I’ve played in the NBA and all over the world. I can honestly say I have not seen anyone as dedicated to basketball as Kobe Bryant. Passion is the torch Michael Jordan passed to Kobe, and in an era where shoe deals pay more than winning, I hope Kobe can pass on that torch.