5 time NBA Champion, 2 time NBA Finals MVP, 2008 NBA MVP, 12 time NBA All-Star, 3 time NBA All-Star Game MVP, 2 time scoring champion, 12 time All-NBA selection, 10 time defensive selection, and now, entitled as one of the top ten players of all time by the man, Michael Jordan. All of the debate on bleacher report regarding Kobe's place in history can continue, but just keep in mind Michael's sentiments.
Even with all of this, in a recent Yahoo Sports article Kobe responded to Jordan's statements by stating “That stuff doesn’t get to me. You can’t motivate me or take me to a place that I’m not already at.” Don't be so quick to label Kobe as ungrateful, he quickly added “It steps into a territory that only a select few have ever been to. I understand. That’s what's special to me, that I’m this fortunate to have this opportunity. So, let’s try to make the most of it.”
But it's not his accomplishments that stand out. It's his character.
When asked about how he would like to be remembered, Kobe stated “Hopefully, they perceive me as person who did whatever he had to do to win above all else. Above anything. Above stats. … If they say that about me I’ll be happy.”
That "Killer Instinct" that Kobe has been recently dubbed with doesn't come from championships, or even MVP's, it comes from his character. It comes from when being faced with a linebacker-esque one-time Cavalier by the name of LeBron James, he finds a way to shoot a shot so high over his head that the cameraman has to adjust the view. And it goes in.
That desire to chase that constant goal of winning doesn't come out of a need of urgency, or even to live up to his potential. It comes from how a man is built. Luckily for Laker fans, not only was this man built with a ton of the stuff, but he just happened to also be a talented basketball player.
In recent years, Kobe has not necessarily been the most talented athlete, the fastest, the strongest, or even the most composed, tallying up record technical fouls. But he still found a way to win, repeatedly.
This is because while Stephon Marbury was doing his little song and dance on webcam, or Allen Iverson was and is contemplating playing in Turkey to avoid taking a bench role on a team, Kobe was adapting. He managed to take the talent he was blessed with and combine it with his unparalleled motivation and hard work and found a way to win. Over, and over again.
His knee, his ankle, his finger, all injuries that would have sidelined any other player in the league, Kobe took on as yet another challenge. It fit into the schema of his personality, a new challenge, a new way obstacle to conquer.
Instead of rigidly trying to preserve his "golden days" of driving to the hoop for posterizing slam-dunks, he accepted his age related deficits and developed one of the best jump shots in the game. He focused on his role as a facilitator. Rebounds, assists, and continued defense.
Kobe's drive and motivation, or as he likes to call it, his "over-achievement" is the reason why he was able to adapt to the game, both on an individual level and as a team. When he was younger, he was a star trying to shine. Shaq just happened to get in the way of that spotlight “I’ve never given it thought that I wanted to get six to catch Michael. His six and my six are different. That’s not to say that his were more challenging than mine because I had to play a different role and do something out of character my first three. They’re just different."
Something out of his character.
At a young age, Kobe wanted control. He wanted to hit the shot and have the offense revolve around him. And it didn't, so it left him frustrated. Can we really blame him though? Don't we all have to go through a natural evolution of selflessness on the road to maturity? He had the talents and he wanted to win, but he didn't fully understand the game of basketball, which was his achilles heel.
His character now involves utilizing his invaluable teammates: Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom. He has plenty, and he understands that. Kobe even went out of his way to try to recruit Raja Bell, a known nemesis. If Kobe really wanted to be scoring champion, does anyone doubt that he would fail? The team would, but would he?
Possibly the most significant insight into Kobe's character came halfway through the Yahoo Sports interview.
“I’ve always been comfortable as a kid growing up to think that when my career is over, I want them to think of me as an overachiever despite the talent that I have,” Bryant said. “To think of me as a person that’s overachieved, that would mean a lot to me. That means I put a lot of work in and squeezed every ounce of juice out of this orange that I could."
He didn't mention anything about how many titles he would win, or MVP's, but that he made everything he possibly could have out of the opportunity he was given.
And the opportunities are endless.