Photo credit: news.nike.com
Kobe Bryant just wrapped up his brilliant 20-year NBA career, but he obviously intends to continue to influence the game beyond selling his latest Black Mamba sneakers personally designed by Nike CEO Mark Parker.
Perhaps in an effort to solidify his legacy, and probably out of sheer love for the game, Kobe has become a leadership mentor to several young players. Most notably, at least two of his prized protégés appear to be on a collision course toward the NBA finals.
Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving has been in Bryant’s camp, literally, since his rookie season.
“I’ve had a tremendous opportunity. I’m fortunate enough to have a mentor in Kobe and having a teammate, a brother like Bron. Those are guys that I can kind of bounce ideas off of…I think that’s been the maturity and the growth of this year,” Irving said in an ESPN interview.
Another young player Kobe has formed a mentorship with is a little less obvious since they don’t play the same positions on the court; however, in many ways they are cut from the same cloth.
Bryant and Draymond Green have formed a Brotherhood of the Jerk. Bryant, like his mentor Michael Jordan before him, often was characterized as a jerk, someone who pushed, prodded, challenged and harassed his teammates.
“It’s your job as a leader to bring out the best in people,” Bryant said recently. “If bringing the best out of people is being a jerk, then I think that as a society we need to reconsider what our perspective of being a jerk is.”
Bryant began reaching out to Green early this season, through the media and one on one. Bryant got in Green’s ear at the All-Star Game, and has phoned Green since then.
“After playing all these years, I feel it’s important to share whatever knowledge I have with him, and with other young players as well,” Bryant said.
“Draymond is a rare breed in this day and age,” Bryant said. “He’s a competitor, and he’s not afraid to show he’s a competitor. He’s not afraid to address certain issues with teammates and with (opponents) that may seem uncomfortable. He’s a challenger.”
“You have to have some guys on the team that are hitting those buttons every day in practice. You’re creating that tension, you’re creating competitive nastiness in practice. You have to have that in order to build up that internal fortitude,” Bryant said. “You can’t let that stuff bother you. You have one job to do, and that’s to bring out the best…Don’t worry about the outside world, that’s not important. The important ones are your teammates. How can you guys get the best out of each other?”
In this age of unearned trophies, tagless tag, and jump rope without the rope, let’s hope the spirit of the Black Mamba continues to have its place in the NBA and on America’s playgrounds.