Kobe's true court vision
In 2009, Traction was hired to launch Alibaba.com in the United States. A few of us had the great honor of being invited to Alibaba's 10th birthday party and the 2009 APEC Summit for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Hangzhou, China—and seeing Kobe Bryant be interviewed about leadership by Jack Ma onstage.
The other speakers at the event were Bill Clinton and Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus who had just won the Nobel Prize—which gives you a sense of the esteem Kobe was held in worldwide. He was a giant.
It was great to see him up close, but the greatest lesson I learned from Kobe came in Phil Jackson's book, "Eleven Rings." As hard as it is to believe, Kobe and Shaq didn't win a championship every year they played together. They paired up on the Lakers in 1996, but it took until 2000 for them to start winning rings. What changed? According to Phil, Kobe came to a realization—and a maturity—that made him realize that the path to a championship was for him to run the offense through Shaq's physical dominance in the paint. Once he did, they became unstoppable and won three championships in a row and a fourth Finals appearance that they didn't win as well.
Many have called Kobe a selfish player, but his greatness was established on a foundation of sacrifice and humility.
After they lost that fourth championship and Shaq left the Lakers, Kobe tore off two NBA scoring titles in a row in 2006 and 2007, including his 81 point masterpiece of a game. In hindsight, it underscores how deliberate his decision to let Shaq be the primary scoring threat during the championship run really was. With Shaq gone, he knew that now he needed to score, so he did.
But those scoring titles didn't translate to championships, so he adjusted his game again. The result? 2008 MVP. Three more Finals Appearances in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Rings and Finals MVP awards in the latter two.
Kobe will always known for his ferocity as a competitor, his creative and lethal game as a scorer, and of course, as a wonderful father. But I'd like to also see us remember him for his wisdom and ability to see what it what took to win beyond his enormous raw talent, and the strength and humility it took to defer when that's what it took to win. That is true court vision.
Rest in peace, Mamba. You're an inspiration.