"Know This Above All Else...Time Waits for No Man": Kobe Bryant Talks to Esquire MagazineIt is hard to miss the current issue of Esquire; the cover declares that Charlize Theron is the "sexiest woman alive" and offers some visual evidence of this. However, you can tell your wife/girlfriend/significant other that you bought the magazine for the articles--specifically, Mike Sager's Kobe Bryant profile, titled "Scito hoc super omni." Those Latin words--meaning "Know this above all else"--are part of the mantra Bryant posted on the home page of his website (the complete phrase, which Bryant posted in Latin, reads "Know this above all else...Fully use every point, moment and hour that you have. Time waits for no man"). The subtitle of Sager's article is, "Kobe Bryant doesn't want your love, but he does want to be so good, so great, you have to love him."
Sager caught up with Bryant while Team USA was in Las Vegas for the FIBA Americas tournament and he made a sincere effort to really understand what makes Bryant tick as opposed to buying into the stereotypes and the superficial statements that litter most articles about the Lakers' superstar. The article begins where all stories about Bryant should begin--on a basketball court. Bryant explains to Sager that he does not practice taking shots, he practices making shots.
To whet you appetite to read the entire piece, here is Sager's reaction to that statement: "If you're clear on the difference between the two ideas, you can start drawing a bead on Kobe Bryant, who may well be one of the most misunderstood figures in sport today. It is a tragic misunderstanding, for his sake and for ours. You can blame it on the press. You can blame it on the way the world revolves around fame and money. You can blame it on Kobe himself. Having just celebrated his twenty-ninth birthday, Kobe is about to begin his twelfth season in the NBA. Lately, somewhat grudgingly, people are beginning to acknowledge him as the greatest all-around player still active in the game, mentioned as a peer of Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan...Spending five days with Kobe--a dozen hours, really, spread over five days--is to glimpse the life of a highly skilled craftsman. He sees his work as his art, his calling." This is reminiscent of how Steve Young speaks passionately about the craft of quarterbacking and how seriously he devoted himself to that craft during his career.
Sager adds that it was Bryant's idea for his Sprite and Nike commercials to focus on his grueling workouts. "This is the essence of me," Sager says of Bryant's rationale. "The guy who guts it out on every rep" (the italics were used in the original statement). The Bryant that Sager goes on to describe is focused, prepares relentlessly, has a tremendous thirst for basketball knowledge and has an amazing attention to detail. For instance, Bryant requested that Nike put a special band in the arch of his shoes to cut hundredths of a second off of his reaction time; also, he ices his knees front and back, something that many players neglect to do because it takes more time.
Bryant's famous 81 point game was not a fluke. "That game was a culmination of days and days of hard work," Bryant says. "The best thing about that game is it feels good because we won...to me, winning is everything. That's the challenge, the ultimate challenge--how do you get to that elite level as a group?"
It is easy to forget just how much hard work Bryant has put into becoming the best player in the NBA. Although Jerry West always believed in Bryant and traded up to draft him straight out of high school, many people were skeptical. I have to admit that I was one of them at first (that has always been my default position with hyped up young players, from Jordan to McGrady to James to Durant--prove your greatness on the NBA level and then I will sing your praises). The Lakers traded an All-Star quality center--Vlade Divac--to draft a high school guard. That seemed very risky to me at the time. Bryant hardly took the league by storm as a rookie and what sold me on him as a player may seem strange at first glance. While it was quickly apparent that Bryant possessed a lot of physical skills it was not clear how long it would take for him to learn how to play the game or how mentally tough he was. Those questions were answered during an infamous playoff game in Utah that ended with Bryant shooting three straight airballs. What struck me was not that Bryant missed those shots but his reaction to it: he walked off of the court with his head held high, his confidence unbowed. He was not afraid to take big shots and he was not devastated by missing them. I knew then that it was only a matter of time until he became a great player. Earlier this year I reminded Bryant about that moment and he told me with a smile, "For better or worse, I'm very optimistic. I'm glad that I don't have a gambling vice." Bryant's work ethic and confidence have enabled him to fully develop his abundant talents. As he told Sager, "God blessed me with the ability to do this. I'm not going to shortchange that blessing. I'm going to go out there and do the best that I can every single time."
posted by David Friedman @ 8:27 PM