Kobe’s farewell tour has got players capturing the moment and taking it all in.
What is the first thing you think of when somebody says Kobe Bryant? Fierce competitor? The clutch gene? Champion? All obviously are valid ideas. Kobe is the epitome of all three. But personable, interactive or maybe even mortal? Through first 19-seasons of Bryant’s career, his aura was so out of this world that no one would consider even mentioning any one of these characteristics in the same breath.
Kobe Bean Bryant, interactive? Smiling? Joking around on the basketball court? Impossible! His competitive fire would never allow such a thing!
What we are all seeing in the 2015-16 season, Kobe’s 20th and final season in the NBA, is something we did not think was ever possible. It seems as though Kobe has accepted that the game has long passed him. He is no longer the student, he is now the teacher, the player coach, helping the young, yet talented Lakers core grow and mature as NBA players. He has taken the next generation of Laker upstarts in Jordan Clarkson, D’Angello Russell and Julius Randle under his wing and is ready to push them to be stars in this league.
This is the same Kobe Bryant who did not speak a word to Smoosh Parker because he believed Parker was just not good enough for the NBA, the same Kobe Bryant who’s competitiveness resembles that of the great Michael Jordan. What we see from the ‘Black Mamba’ this year is that he is finally at ease with the idea that his career is coming to an end. Sure, he may beat himself up over not matching M.J. in the rings category, but one thing is for certain, Kobe gave the game everything it could ask for and he truly understands that the next step is to develop the next generation of stars.
It seems like it was just yesterday when Kobe Bryant, in his dark shades, announced his decision to bypass college and enter the NBA Draft. The afro-rocking, number eight-wearing, Kobe burst onto the NBA scene showcasing his incredible athleticism and his mature beyond his years skillset. From there, it his career sky-rocketed into superstardom and seemingly in the blink of an eye, one of the greatest NBA career, a magical 20-year ride, is very quickly coming to an end.
Kobe’s career has finally come full circle. He started off as a student, learning from his idol, Michael Jordan. Became the top box-office attraction of the NBA, and is now a teacher, playing out his final NBA season. He is doing everything he has worked hard to have the right to one day do. He is capturing this moment. The ‘Kobe Farewell Tour’ is a yearlong celebration of a great and storied career and now, Bryant is just taking it all in.
It is a blessing to step foot on an NBA floor and play amongst the best in the world. Of the billions of people on the planet, only 400 or so people can truly say that they have been able to perform and play the game of basketball with the best. For 19-long seasons, Kobe only focused on winning and as he takes a step back in his final season, he now sees the impact he has had on the game and how special this opportunity was for him.
Sport careers are short and in just the blink of an eye, they will be over. This is why all veterans tell their rookies to work as hard as they possible could, the NBA grind never truly ends, so when one day they are veterans themselves, on their last leg they can look back and appreciate where they are knowing that their consistent hard work is what brought them to this level.
When BALLnROLL caught up with a couple Toronto Raptors, Luis Scola addressed the topic as any humble veteran would – one that is thankful for the opportunity he was given, but at the same time a player still caught up in living the dream. “The older you are, the more you appreciate the things that happen around you”, Scola admitted, “and probably once you’re gone, you’re going to miss it and you’re going to realize that you were more and better than you thought you were and I just think that’s the nature of being in the NBA for 10-years”.
Scola understands that he is closer to the finish line than most of his Raptors teammates. It is clear that he has really embraced the new Kobe ideology of sometimes being able to look back and enjoy what he has already accomplished because this is a surreal opportunity that will not last forever.
At the same time, Scola also believes it is important to appreciate the day-to-day aspect of the NBA lifestyle, to really live in the moment and more importantly to not miss even the smallest of moments as it captures the beauty to what goes into each NBA game. “I just try to enjoy, come to work, play, hang out with the players, being in the locker-room, hanging out, lifting, the preparation for the game, the happiness after a win, the sadness after a loss, all those things, try to enjoy them the most I can, I know I am getting much closer to the end than I am to the beginning, but you know, I am still playing it for now and I try to enjoy it”.
The not miss a moment mentality is so underappreciated by many players until the reach the finish line. Not taking the game and the lifestyle for granted accurately depicts how Scola, Bryant, and many veterans play out the final stretch of their careers and it is something that rookies and the young, rising players in the league must keep in mind before it becomes too late.
When asking Scola what advice he would give to any rookie, Scola replied that the key is not what you do on the court, but the work that is put in off the court. “The more effective way is when you ask questions, when you really know what it’s all about”, according to Luis. “Why you [are] lifting, why you [are] shooting, why your body reacts in a certain way and that makes you smarter, and when you are smarter, you [make] better decisions and when you [make] better decisions, your career goes to a different level and I think it all pretty much starts off outside the court, I think that’s how good career are built… that is what separates good from great”. “The harder you work, the more you appreciate what you are doing.”
What Scola offers the Raptors is veteran leadership, the Paul Pierce factor that even former Raps’ point-guard Greivis Vasquez believed the team was lacking in their playoff round against the Washington Wizards. Clearly, his combination of veteran savvy, high basketball IQ and developed skill-set has been a huge part to what has contributed to the best season in Toronto Raptors franchise history.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have rookies. The newbies to the league, who still have so much to learn and so many adjustments to make to fit into the NBA. Raptors rookie, Norman Powell, a four-year senior out of USC has found a small, yet valuable role in the absence of DeMarre Carroll and is quickly learning to not taking these early opportunities for granted.
“[I] Make a conscious effort to not take things for granted whether it’s playing in the NBA or life in general”, says Powell on what this opportunity means to him. It’s a blessing to be part of this organization, just to have my name called on draft night… Some people do not get this opportunity so I enjoy it every day.”
And what he does personally to capture the moment – “ learning from the guys in front of you,, talking to DeMar (DeRozan) on his time here as a rookie, being in Toronto, how different the city is. Things like that has helped me embrace this opportunity I have. “
On his first ‘OMG’ moment. The moment he said ‘I made it’ “ ,,, my first bucket! (with a big smile) scored it in Dallas. That is something I will Never forget. I already played a few games but didn’t score. Needed to see my first two points go in before I could say I made it. “
Like his veteran teammate, Luis Scola, Powell too believes that everyone should enjoy the opportunity of playing in the NBA and to take it as a privilege. Whether it is superstars like Kobe Bryant, savvy veterans like Scola or even young rookies like Powell, the NBA very quickly humbles you and as athletes of the sport continue to put in the work and mature into veterans and leaders, their appreciation for the NBA and what they have accomplished grows further and further.
And when an NBA player’s career really is close to an end, they will realize how quick it all really was and how now it has all come full circle.