Kobe Bryant is emotionally fragile.
Often depicted as ruthless and coarse, the Black Mamba is never associated with vulnerability. He's Kobe Bryant; save for losing, nothing gets under his skin.
Oh, except criticism.
Said Jackson (via Mark Medina of Los Angeles Daily News):
He’s very sensitive. I had to be really careful in criticizing him. I learned immediately as I started to deal with him as a young man how sensitive he was in particular if it was done in a group setting. My criticism was best done if it was in my office or alone.
Not that we thought Bryant was truly made of ice or anything, but his sensitivity pertaining to outside perceptions is shocking.
Bryant has always seemed to scoff at his naysayers and nonbelievers. They were forms of motivation that he used as a means to succeed. Now we find out he's not as immune to external chatter as we initially thought.
This could be more of a young Mamba thing, though. Jackson admits that he began to deal with him as young man. Maybe that's it. Or maybe it's a coach-to-player issue. Perhaps he just doesn't want to lose face in front of his teammates or disappoint those at the helm.
Or maybe not.
All of what was discussed is true. No way in hell does Bryant want to be ridiculed (even constructively) in front of his teammates. And he certainly doesn't want to let his coach down. Entering the NBA as a teenager likely played a role in shaping his psyche early on as well.
But this could also be something more.
Even now, Bryant appears to be battling inner demons. Though he comes across as confident and fearless—and slightly arrogant—there are traces of self-doubt in some of his words.
Allergic to losing and programmed with an inherent need to emulate perfection, Bryant wages war against himself just like everyone else. Especially now.
Is he too old to succeed? Too broken-down to win? Is his career over? Those are sensitive topics for Bryant. We know this.
Defects, innate or not, are imperfections; imperfections are a sign of weakness. Bryant doesn't want to be remembered as weak or feeble. We know this too.
We also know that Bryant is a five-time champion and future Hall of Famer. Whatever Jackson and anyone else did in attempt to cater to Bryant's delicate ego, it worked.
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