Kobe Bryant is the greatest basketball player of all time. I can already sense the blood pressure of those who don’t agree rising, the statistic obsessed cringing, and the older generation of NBA viewers scoffing at such a statement. Is Kobe Bryant the greatest basketball player of all time? Absolutely. But what people fail to understand is the universal why. Perhaps if we rephrase the question, it would help the perception around my definitive statement. So, I’ll ask instead, “What makes Kobe Bryant great?” Controversially, his greatness isn’t necessarily due to his basketball career. At least not conventionally.
We live in time where statistics and numbers have obscured some realities in assessing the greatness of an athlete and it’s unfortunate. Are personal statistics everything? No, but it remains the strongest argument nonetheless when it comes to evaluating an athlete. Because, well, factual numbers cannot be argued. However, we also acknowledge the continued emergence of non-sport community programs, charities and activities athletes engage in, likewise, the prestigious awards recognizing such contributions by said athletes. It lends credibility to the notion that statistics isn’t the only thing important for an athlete’s career.
There are a number of components to consider when defining a player’s legacy. Say what you will, but everything a player does and does not do, in addition to, who they are and aren’t when not playing sports, have become equally — if not — more important to their identity and reputation over the statistics they’ve piled up throughout their career. Why is this? Because we recognize that the essential nature of a person, how they build their legacy, their influence, and how they evolve comprehensively, matters substantially.
We innately know that numbers aren’t everything in life. Just take a look at large endorsement deals star athletes net, and how they’re commonly offered and pulled on any given day based on their actions and voice away from sports. Brands and companies want to be associated with athletes that have influence — away from the sport — as much as they do in the sport. This is only natural. Quality of character and proactivity speaks louder than anything else, because it’s what connects, unifies and inspires people.
Numbers and statistics don’t tell stories, nor shed light on the journeys or challenges of a team, player or coach. They don’t reveal the what, the why or the how; they only give us the math.
Lets consider everyone, who wasn’t a professional athlete, were to be critiqued and statistically measured in life the same way the public does with professional athletes. Everyone would immediately defend the fact that not everything in life can be solely measured with numbers when it comes to valuation and success. People would resort to excuses why they can’t succeed, perhaps citing circumstantial or situational reasons…claiming lack of opportunity, resources or preparedness. Many of these excuses may very well be justified, because there are complexities in life, we have responsibilities and preexisting conditions. Life isn’t fair.
So, if we inherently understand success isn’t defined exclusively by numbers, and that there are other influential factors that play vital roles in what attributes to success or greatness, why do people exclusively hold such a myopic standard with professional athletes? Why aren’t things such as leadership, evolution, longevity, influence, strategy, IQ or charity considered in conversations when we speak of the greatest athletes of all time? Or, at the very least, when considering iconic athletes?
Kobe Bryant redefined what it is to be an athlete, however, he did it in a way that transcended the game of basketball. Unfortunately, this is where nearly everyone fails to comprehend in what separated Mr. Bryant from the rest of the NBA players. The “greatness” people witnessed didn’t exist in the victories or the championships, nor the impressive feats he acquired over his illustrious career. On the contrary, those accolades — in it of themselves — are nothing. Yes, you read that correctly, nothing. Ask him, he’ll agree. Of course he trained endlessly and worked immeasurably hard for everything he’s earned. But his achievements on the court were indicative of something else. They were a manifestation of who he really was.
What everyone saw when they watched Kobe play was a representation, a culmination of innumerable concealed elements. Sure, he stands proudly for what he’s accomplished and contributed to the game of basketball, but his pride never rested upon his NBA stats. The money, the fame and the records…those were for the superficial, the shallow, for those who lacked depth of vision and identity in life. Kobe was beyond those things… and he played beyond them too.
Throughout his career, Kobe’s thirst for what lied ahead only increased. His soul constantly stayed on fire. We all witnessed this, but so few recognized the metamorphosis transpiring before them. If you ever stopped and questioned why his ceaseless tenacity and work ethic earned him the name, The Black Mamba, you might begin to see the perfect storm of unyielding fury beneath his skin. There was a duopoly; one of rage and one of love.
He didn’t burn to only win, Kobe reforged himself to become an instrument of philosophical methodology, a reincarnation of active evolution.
Kobe Bryant is a progressive blueprint on how to become more in life. He unlocked critical secrets of success by re-imagining its definition, by evolving into what drove his passion and obsession. He proved it with the sport he played, and he’ll undoubtedly prove it again with his new career (He’s already won an Academy award). Kobe demonstrated that we have the ability to become more than just the sum of parts. He showed us that by embracing what we fear most, that we too, can transform into a character who emanates the kind of strength, drive and integrity that evokes inspiration and commands respect.
But how did he do this? How could you do this? What do you need to learn and change about yourself in order to become something more? What adjustments do you need to make in your life to become substantially more successful? If you find yourself asking these questions, you’re simply out of touch. This isn’t meant to be harsh, but it’s the harsh reality. Because in a society where the culture has become obsessed with the finish line and not the race, the resolution and not the conflict, the result and not the process, Kobe Bryant revealed that everything is about the race, the conflict and the process.
Furthermore, Kobe revealed something more profound, that there is no finish line, resting resolution or final result… there never was.
Destinations and goals are just temporary constructs that help push us, to keep us from plateauing. But success isn’t a destination, it’s an identity.
Kobe Bryant is a new breed of philosopher. He remains active and stays engaged. He isn’t the romanticized philosophers of old, who sat, pondered and debated with similar minds for days on end about theories. Kobe emerged into something else. He adapted adaptation, he constantly broke his mind and body, only to reforge it, only to refuel it for a further horizon. This refinement is allegoric to how Japanese steel became legendary during the samurai period. Kobe’s solidarity and unique path through all the endorsements, sponsorship deals, contracts and ground-breaking sneaker campaigns — on top of — personal challenges, physical setbacks and responsibilities as a father and husband, are the kind of characters legends are built upon. This is what makes him greater.
Kobe Bryant’s legend continues. Basketball was only a part of his path. I, for one, am excited about his future and wish him continued success. I look forward to what insights and inspirations will be born from his endeavors because there is a tremendous amount of knowledge and strategy to be observed within everything he does. I wrote this because I simply wanted to bring awareness to it. There are many things that remain overlooked, unobserved, and that are not said about why Kobe Bryant is the greatest basketball player of all time… I only touched the surface.