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Kobe Bryant Finds Inspiration to Change, Prepare for Future, in Tracy McGrady

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterSeptember 18, 2014

Executive Producer Kobe Bryant speaks on stage during the
Richard Shotwell/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — It happens all the time with all sorts of people. On occasion it can be as graphic as what has happened to Donald Sterling and Ray Rice with their livelihoods. At other times it occurs gradually, when an athlete faces the march of time or the struggle to bounce back from the wear of thousands of games played at an elite level.   

Only when the enjoyment of something those in sports, or those in every walk of life, have grown accustomed to is taken away does the real cherishing and coveting sink in.   

Take Tracy McGrady, who popped back on the radar last month when he told Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski that he had been working out with Kobe Bryant as he prepared for another run at the NBA

It was difficult not to feel a little pity and sympathy for McGrady, 35. Poor T-Mac, desperate to take advantage of Kobe's ongoing relevance. It's a shame the guy can't let go and keeps trying to recapture the past.

Inspiration can be found in McGrady's determination. But it's hard to take someone seriously after they dabbled in independent league baseball and were quoted there as saying: "It feels good to be celebrated again."

Bryant and McGrady, preps-to-pros jumpers who joined the NBA a year apart, are longtime friends, so it's not shocking to hear of them working out together. What Bryant might be able to get out of it, though, is what's really interesting.

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Bryant needs more work than usual this offseason, which is why, besides his regular early morning workouts at the Los Angeles Lakers' training facility in El Segundo, California, he has been hosting sessions near his Orange County home—some with Lakers teammates Jeremy Lin, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Ed Davis.

After missing all but six games last season, Kobe Bryant has spent the summer working out with teammates and other NBA stars.
After missing all but six games last season, Kobe Bryant has spent the summer working out with teammates and other NBA stars.Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Bryant played only six games all last season between his Achilles and knee injuries, and although he is viewed as completely healthy now, he needs extra work.

But it's not that simple.

In a broader sense, Bryant is very much determined not to become McGrady…or anything close to him.

First of all, Bryant is resolute about maximizing and relishing the latter years of his career. Anything less would taint the bar he has set for himself so far.

McGrady doesn't motivate Bryant, per se, yet his presence a year after retiring at age 34 can't help remind what disappointment could await if Bryant doesn't adhere to his same standards now that his body and game have changed.

Allow Bryant's trusted longtime physical therapist, Judy Seto, to explain.

"What's the secret? What's the inside scoop?" Seto said. "It's not something fancy. He works at it. He works at it consistently. He works at it religiously.

"Some people work hard because someone's watching or someone's pushing. His motivation isn't someone else. It's within him. It's this internal drive that he has.

"And he's smarter now. He's not one to sugarcoat things. I think he has a very good handle on what his abilities are and what he's able to accomplish and what he's not. He realizes that there is a certain amount of mileage; he's not the same person—no one is—from when he was 10 years ago.

"That doesn't mean there aren't other attributes that he can't tap in to. He's got 10 more years of basketball knowledge and experience. His basketball IQ is 10 years better. He's not saying, ‘This is all I can give. Oh, my gosh, I'm approaching the end! What will I do?'"

Tracy McGrady's final playoff series ended without any points scored and without a long-sought NBA title.
Tracy McGrady's final playoff series ended without any points scored and without a long-sought NBA title.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

There is no doubt that McGrady failed to bring Bryant's level of attentiveness, both mental and physical, to a career that infamously lacked postseason success and ended with him bouncing to five different NBA teams down his stretch, going to China and then missing a coattails ring in 2013 with the San Antonio Spurs.

McGrady didn't score in a handful of playoff appearances as the Spurs fell just short against the Miami Heat in an NBA Finals series so close that McGrady could rightly imagine being a champion if he could have given San Antonio just a little help.

The Spurs redeemed that without him this year, while McGrady tried his hand at pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters, a team name straight out of a screenwriter's imagination and a place close enough to McGrady's former Rockets fans in Houston for the Skeeters to derive some publicity out of the stunt.

When McGrady retired from baseball right on the spot upon finally recording his first strikeout, the small-time sideshow could be summed up in the fact that the radio reporter who got the quotes about it was the father of the Little Leaguer who partnered with McGrady in a home run derby competition that night.

One of those quotes, it's worth noting, started this way: "Not having my basketball career end the way I wanted…"

So McGrady, more than a year younger than Bryant, is back entertaining thoughts of the one thing he has been able to trust in his life: playing basketball.

Which brings us to the second key point in comparing and contrasting Bryant and McGrady.

When it does end, Bryant will not live in or for the past.

He prides himself on having delivered a consistency that Michael Jordan and his two failed retirements never could, never needing or seeking any breaks. And even though it is a veritable certainty that Bryant's obsession with competition will give him some trouble without that basketball fix, he's not nearly as single-minded as is often portrayed.

Bryant has been plotting this out for years and years, determined to maintain his relevance in a real, different and earned way.

Tracy McGrady's baseball career lasted less than two innings with the Texas-based Sugar Land Skeeters.
Tracy McGrady's baseball career lasted less than two innings with the Texas-based Sugar Land Skeeters.Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

Now that the Kobe Inc., office building is a reality in Newport Beach and he has invested to own 10 percent of BodyArmor sports drink, the vision he has been reluctant to discuss sans any accomplishment is taking shape.

"There's so much more to him than just being a basketball player," Seto said. "He's not the same person that he was when he entered the league. What people don't realize about him is he's already put in motion the things in his life that he wants to pursue and move into.

"It's not like suddenly it's over and then there's nothing. He's already made preparations for what he wants to do with his life. It's a natural continuum.

"Maybe it's because I've seen behind the curtain, but I already see that his life is just going to keep on going and evolving. He's not going to go back and try to relive it.

"You've got to realize one thing: When basketball ends, his competitive drive doesn't end. It's just going to shift to other things. He's competitive as a basketball player. He's focused.

"Wait till you see him in the business world."

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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