Tonight marks the final game for Kobe Bryant in a Los Angeles Laker uniform. Anyone who knows me well knows that I grew up loving the game and was the biggest Michael Jordan fan. While I wanted to be like Mike, I wasn't at an age where I could appreciate the nuances of MJ's game. (Note: Now I watch video and am even more amazed at the things he did)
By the time the 1996 NBA draft came around I was 10 years old and started to really appreciate all aspects of the game beyond the slam dunk. I still cheered for Jordan and the Bulls during the last 3 peat but during that time I had also become a big Laker fan.
5 championships, 1 regular season MVP (should easily have 2-3, fuck politics), 2 Finals MVP, 18 All Star selections, 3rd leading scorer in NBA history, 20 seasons later; The Black Mamba has been the closest player to emulate the great Michael Jordan. As I matured, so did Kobe's game and mentality. I am particularly saddened to see him retire as I got to watch his entire career start to finish.
As a fitness professional I fully comprehend what's required to compete and remain at that high of a level for this long. It's not just the insane amount of work and hustle but how he's prioritized recovery as well. Sorry Marshawn, he's the OG "Beast Mode".
My favorite story is told by a strength and conditioning coach for the US Olympic team in 2008. This story resonates with me to this day because this team featured some of the best players in the league today: Lebron, Wade, Carmelo, Durant and yet during a time when Kobe was still the best player in the league, he outworked all of them.
I was invited to Las Vegas this past Summer to help Team USA with their conditioning before they head off to London, and as we know they would eventually bring home the Gold (USA). I've had the opportunity to work with Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade in the past but this would be my first interaction with Kobe. We first met three days before the first scrimmage, on the day of the first practice, early July. It was a brief conversation where we talked about conditioning, where he would like to be by the end of the Summer, and we talked a little bit about the hustle of the Select Team. Then he got my number and I let him know that if he ever wanted some extra training he could hit me up any time.
The night before the first scrimmage I remember I was just watched "Casablanca" for the first time and it was about 3:30 AM. I lay in bed, slowly fading away when I hear my cell ring. It was Kobe. I nervously picked up.
"Hey, uhh Rob, I hope I'm not disturbing anything right?"
"Uhh no, what's up Kob?"
"Just wondering if you could just help me out with some conditioning work, that's all."
I checked my clock. 4:15 AM.
"Yeah sure, I'll see you in the facility in a bit."
It took me about twenty minutes to get my gear and out of the hotel. When I arrived and opened the room to the main practice floor I saw Kobe. Alone. He was drenched in sweat as if he had just taken a swim. It wasn't even 5AM.
We did some conditioning work for the next hour and fifteen minutes. Then we entered the weight room, where he would do a multitude of strength training exercises for the next 45 minutes. After that we parted ways and he went back to the practice floor to shoot. I went back to the hotel and crashed. Wow.
I was expected to be at the floor again at about 11 AM. I woke up feeling sleepy, drowsy, and almost pretty much every side effect of sleep deprivation. Thanks, Kobe. I had a bagel and headed to the practice facility.
This next part I remember very vividly. All the Team USA players were there, feeling good for the first scrimmage. LeBron was talking to Carmelo if I remember correctly and Coach Krzyzewski was trying to explain something to Kevin Durant. On the right side of the practice facility was Kobe by himself shooting jumpers. And this is how our next conversation went -- I went over to him, patted him on the back and said, "Good work this morning."
"Like, the conditioning. Good work."
"Oh. Yeah, thanks Rob. I really appreciate it."
"So when did you finish?"
"Getting your shots up. What time did you leave the facility?"
"Oh just now. I wanted 800 makes so yeah, just now."
My jaw dropped. Mother of holy God...
Just when you think you've worked hard today, your competition is out there working harder. I will always remember that every day is an opportunity to outwork your competition.
I will forever be inspired by his toughness, his grit and his will to succeed no matter what.
"I demanded greatness, and greatness demands everything. Love me when you become greater."
Thank You Kobe.