There has always been the debate about whether it’s more important for athletes to be perceived as a good guy or a merciless winner. This debate came into a new light during a Kobe Bryant interview with ESPN earlier in the week in which Kobe compared himself to Alex Rodriguez.
"We're different," Bryant said. "But you're talking about, 'He's one of the best to ever play.' I think really the difference is, sometimes he forgets he's the best. ... Where, I don't."
To many this quote came off as brash and arrogant, while to others it was simply “Kobe being Kobe.” The importance of this quote however, lies not in the perspective it is viewed but in its truth.
Bryant, throughout his career has been a ruthless competitor with little regard for anyone or anything that gets in the way of him and achieving his goals. Bryant has consistently argued with teammates, coaches and the media, all in the effort of winning championships.
Many of Bryant’s career successes can be attributed to this “killer instinct” and these combative traits, which allow him to come through in the clutch, time and time again. Bryant’s arrogance or unyielding self-confidence, evidenced in the above quote is a key reason as to why he’s won five NBA Championships and is one of the greatest player’s of his generation.
At the other end of the spectrum is Alex Rodriguez. Throughout his career, Rodriguez has struggled with the quest to gain the public’s approval. Whenever you watch an A-Rod interview you can almost see in his eyes just how much he wants to be liked. Unlike Bryant, Rodriguez wants the public to view him as a quality guy and great team player.
A-Rod’s desperate desire for public approval has led to many of his struggles in the postseason and in clutch situations, as well as his failure to ever realize the full extent of his talent.
It seems as if when A-Rod is batting in crucial moments of the game his need for public approval is only increasing the pressure of the game, limiting the ability of his talent and skill. This quest for public approval has not only affected A-Rod’s on-field performance, but also has created increased animosity towards him as he often comes across as phony or fake.
Lacking the incredible self-confidence exhibited by Bryant and showing signs of insecurity have negatively affected A-Rod throughout his career.
While Bryant’s quote may reveal truths about the differences between him and A-Rod as athletes and people, it does not solely answer the question: is it better to be viewed as a menacing athlete or a quality person?
Derek Fisher for example is one athlete who has been able to advance his career and personal brand by consistently being identified as a great guy, while also winning five championships. Also certain athletes like Derek Jeter have been able to walk the thin line of being both a quality person and fierce competitor because both roles fit his personality. Jeter naturally embraces both roles interchangeably depending on the context of the situation.
The primary lesson any athlete can learn looking at all of these examples is, to be your self. You do not have to be nasty to the media to be a relentless winner nor does being a great guy limit your potential for winning championships. Certain fans latch on to certain athletes for a wide variety of reasons, however us fans never appreciate any athlete whose public persona comes across as fraud.