Kobe Bryant’s competitive streak and work ethic is the stuff of legends. You don’t become as great as he was over such an extended period of time without an extraordinary commitment to your craft.
But this can be true while also acknowledging Kobe as an odd dude. In a piece he wrote for The Players’ Tribune, Bryant talked about his obsession with 76ers star Allen Iverson early in his career, and the route he took to try to stop him on the court with the Lakers:
Working harder wasn’t enough. I had to study this man maniacally.
I obsessively read every article and book I could find about AI. I obsessively watched every game he had played, going back to the IUPU All-American Game. I obsessively studied his every success, and his every struggle. I obsessively searched for any weakness I could find.
I searched the world for musings to add to my AI Musecage.
This led me to study how great white sharks hunt seals off the coast of South Africa.
The patience. The timing. The angles.
Quick intermission: Someone is going to have to interview Kobe on how great white sharks play pick-and-roll defense. Do they prefer to hard hedge or play more conservatively?
Back to Kobe:
On Feb 20, 2000, in Philadelphia, PJ gave me the assignment of guarding AI at the start of the second half. No one knew how much this challenge meant to me.
I wanted him to feel the frustration I felt.
I wanted everyone who laughed at the 41 and 10 he put on me to choke on their laughter.
It’s a figure of speech here, but this does not exactly dispel the belief that Bryant would have turned into a serial killer if his obsession was not basketball. Wanting to shove it in the face of haters is one thing, hoping they choke on their laughter is pretty questionable.
You can’t really argue with his results, but it’s hard to imagine there being a player who is as singularly great and relentlessly corny as Bryant. Whether he’s creating phallic-adjacent nicknames for himself after dodging sexual assault allegations or crafting videos about what a “musecage” is, his act is tough to deal with.
Iverson was a relentlessly frustrating player to root for and a flawed human being, but confronting and discussing his flaws seems like a much better option than having to tell my future nieces and nephews I grew up a Kobe fan.