By Jason Koop,
Head Coach of CTS Ultrarunning
I had an article all penned out for this week’s blog. It was something about what to do when you get a cold, which is raging rampantly though the running world. That was quickly put on the back burner when I learned early Sunday morning about the tragic loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven other passengers in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, CA. Any premature passing of a sports icon shakes the sports world to its core, and this was no different.
Remembrances and eulogies flooded both traditional and social media. We think of what was, and what could have been, from an individual who by all accounts had one of the best athletic careers ever in any sport, yet may in fact have had his best years ahead. I was not immune to this, having long admired Kobe’s career from afar as a fan and coach. His combination of athletic, leadership and innovative presence on and off the court was unique in professional sports. So, I took some time to reflect on why I respected Kobe so much as an athlete, as a disruptor, an innovator and as a person. I rummaged through my thoughts, old articles that had caught my attention and even some childhood sports memorabilia to gather inspiration from one of the great inspirers of our generation.
There’s no running comparison
To set the stage a little bit, here is a (very partial) list of Kobe’s accomplishments over his 20-year basketball career and relatively short retirement. 5-time NBA champion, 2-time Finals MVP, Most Valuable Player in 2008, 2-time scoring champion, 12-time all-defensive team selection, 18-time consecutive All-Star selection, 2-time Olympic gold medal winner. Off the hardcourt, Kobe racked up a few ESPYs, and both an Oscar and an Emmy for his poem-turned-film ‘Dear Basketball’. As much as I love running, and with all due respect to elite runners past and present, there’s no comparison to this depth, breadth and span of accomplishments in the running world.
Throughout his career, Kobe’s work ethic was the stuff of legends. A few Google searches will render hundreds of stories about Kobe showing up to the gym at 5 AM, watching film of himself at halftime, shooting hundreds of jumpers on the off days, and enduring insane workout routines. The sports world is so full of hard workers that describing it can seem cliché. Nearly all athletes that make it to the very tip of the spear have this similar, almost obsessive quality to preparing. Kobe was on another level.
His preparation was relentless and comprehensive. He was relentless by way of having no off season. His 666 workouts, aptly named for the 6 months of the off season he would spend 6 days of the week training for 6 hours, served as a model for future generations of players (and many of those 6 hours a day were spent on the track doing 100, 200 and 400 meter repeats).
He was comprehensive in the fact that preparation knew no ends. Physically, he would work out the hardest, longest and I will also say the smartest (he famously shed 15 pounds before the 2012 Olympics to give some relief to his ailing and aging knees) compared to his contemporaries. His mental skills were at the top of the heap, craving to have the ball in his hands when games were on the line.
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Early in his career, he reached out to the likes of Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for career advice. However, as he became more seasoned, his network expanded to entrepreneurs, CEOs and thought leaders entirely outside of the sports world. Kobe was always upping his game. This process eventually became what is now known as ‘Mamba Mentality’ and I’ve always considered it one of the first in what now seems like ever-emerging renditions of ‘be the best version of yourself’.
If you take anything away from Kobe’s career, it’s that he loved basketball. He loved it so much, it became more than a game to him. In his eyes, basketball was a living, breathing and feeling entity capable of reciprocating feeling and emotion for those who partake. His retirement poem ‘Dear Basketball’ illustrates this brilliantly. In it, the game of basketball is personified. The game, as he has felt it, has given and received the same emotion, elation, joy and sadness that he put into it as a child and during the course of his career. This description of sport is one of the things that has had a larger impact on me. If we can think of sport and movement as not just things that we do, but as living, breathing entities of their own, it connects us intimately with those forms of activity. We are better though sport, and the sport can be better through us.
Maybe that’s what we all can take away from Kobe. Sport can be more than something we just do to get fit, pass the time, lose a few pounds or ‘test ourselves’. If we let it, sport can be something that lives, gives, takes, loves and grows alongside us as mutual partners.
Rest in Peace Kobe.
Features image: Kobe_Bryant_7144.jpg: Sgt. Joseph A. Lee derivative work: JoeJohnson2 (talk) (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kobe_Bryant_8.jpg), „Kobe Bryant 8“, cropped, https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/legalcode