The world unraveled in many ways after Kobe Bryant’s passing. The pandemic, and the resurgence of civil rights protests, affect politics, daily life, and even sports in very direct ways. As Milwaukee Bucks players engaged in what amounted to a wildcat strike, bringing the NBA playoffs to a screeching halt, it was clear that the struggle will continue to be fought with professional athletes near the front lines.
Yet through all that, Kobe’s death still resonates. He’s regularly brought up, often by athletes and media personalities still grappling with his monumental loss. When former Miami Heat great Dwyane Wade sat down with current New Orleans Pelicans star JJ Redick, their conversation hit on many topics. Yet, even with so much erupting around the world and sports in particular, their gaze turned to Bryant.
The truth of Kobe Bryant’s legendary work ethic
Bryant’s legacy is one that seemed all but complete when he retired. It’s who he became in his final years in the league, and the short time after, that elevated him into something else. That he died in the middle of that run, which included boosting the WNBA and writing an Academy Award-winning short film, is likely why his loss is so hard for NBA stars to cope with.
He drove his teammates and opponents to be better simply by being who he was. While he was often written off as a single-minded, cold Michael Jordan clone early on in his career, he evolved into his own kind of player and man. Consider Allen Iverson’s recent Player’s Tribune piece on Kobe. He speaks of Bryant as a rival who was all smiles, even as he tried to kill you on the court.
There’s a recurring element to Iverson’s brushes with Kobe that comes up in so many stories. He made his teammates, and his competition, better. It wasn’t always by saying anything directly, but by example. Iverson recounts running into Kobe after a game, and having a friendly chat. Iverson was off to let off steam at a local club. Kobe simply said, “I’m going back to the gym.”
Dwyane Wade’s eye-opening story about Bryant in the 2008 Olympics
Wade recently sat down for an interview with Redick. At the five-minute mark, Wade dives into a remarkable story about Bryant. It’s the type of perspective that can only come from working alongside someone, an opportunity Wade appears to be thoroughly grateful for. And it’s a familiar tale of someone who is already great, already a superstar, realizing that Kobe was still different. And that to sustain true greatness, immense dedication was a necessity.
At the 2008 Olympics, the who’s-who of NBA superstars rivaled the Dream Team in huge names. Wade name-drops Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and of course Kobe. While he never slanders those players in his anecdote, reading between the lines reveals something. Even among those killers, Kobe still had another level of dedication on display.
How Kobe set the tone for the legendary 2008 USA Men’s Basketball Team
“We probably get like three hours of sleep,” Wade said of the night after their first day of practice together. The stars decided to rouse each other and figure out where to meet for food. They went downstairs, and Kobe was already there, icing his knees. He said he’d just finished his second workout while the rest of the players slept. And he was about to start a third. That’s the moment Wade realized that if he wanted to have a career like Kobe’s he needed to dedicate himself far more than he ever imagined.
It was a crucial moment. After the Jordan-led Dream Team reignited interest in U.S. Olympic ball, NBA players slowly lost interest again. The 2008 team was a concerted effort to repair the country’s reputation for international competition, dubbed the Redeem Team. Kobe’s change of heart, according to SB Nation, set off the push to take the Olympics seriously again.
Bryant even participated in the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship to prepare. Because as should be obvious by now, once Kobe decides to do something he goes all in. Wade led in overall scoring, while Kobe was there to pick up the slack with 13 fourth quarter points that sealed the Gold Medal win against Spain.