Was Kobe Bryant the Most Competitive Professional Athlete of All Time?
Kobe Bryant’s greatness is well chronicled. The late Los Angeles Lakers basketball star is fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, the owner of five NBA titles, and an 18-time NBA All-Star. As talented and competitive as Bryant was in his basketball career, he may have also been the most focused professional athlete of all time.
Kobe Bryant’s focus and determination set him apart
On Dec. 17, 2017, Panini Authentic, a trading card company, released a card set featuring signed NBA cards of the late Lakers star. Panini Kobe Eminence was released the day before the Lakers retired both of Bryant’s No. 8 and No. 24 jersey numbers.
The ultra-premium set featured at least eight Bryant autographs per box. Cards laden with an ounce of gold or platinum were also included. Single-box cases sold for better than $10,000. Each card highlighted special moments in Bryant’s career, and Bryant seemed to remember each and every moment as he was signing each card.
In a video showing Bryant signing the cards, the Lakers legend reflected on his playing days, saying each card instantly brought back memories. He said he played a little game with himself as he signed each one.
“As I sit here and sign card after card, I play a little game with myself in terms of trying to remember the exact moment of the card that I’m signing,” he said. “And I can pretty much remember every single one.” He called his memory “a little frightening.”
Frightening would also be used to describe his play on the court as he used that same focus to put together his Hall of Fame career that helped him climb to become the league’s fourth all-time leading scorer.
The Lakers legend was a competitor both on and off the court
In an interview with Alex Kennedy of Hoops Hype back in 2018, Kobe Bryant was asked what the pros and cons were for someone who is obsessively hard-working and competitive.
“You have to take the good with the bad (laughs),” he said. “It’s hard because you’re always working, you’re always fine-tuning things, you never believe anything is as it should be and you always want to continue to re-work things. Sometimes, I refer to it as, like, a disease or a curse or an affliction (laughs). It can feel like that.
“But you know, that’s what we’ve been blessed with and I’ve found that it’s much better to just try to embrace it and work on things that may help the person next to you. I try to use that focus on something that’s not individual in nature but rather something that can reward people at large. I’ve found that’s the best way to deal with it. I think that’s the best form of therapy for it.”
Bryant’s former Laker teammate Devean George said the LA legend wasn’t just a competitor, he was a ‘psycho competitor.’
Devean George, Kobe Bryant’s former teammate
“Kobe isn’t a loud competitor. He’s a quiet, psycho competitor. I believe he’s talking to himself inside, drilling himself. He’s at home watching film 24 hours a day when the cameras aren’t on him.”
Even after his playing days were over, Bryant continued to show his fire that resulted in him becoming an Oscar winner for Best Animated Short Film with Dear Basketball. The film was based on a poem Bryant wrote in 2015 regarding his impending retirement.
Bryant’s legendary career with the Los Angeles Lakers
Yes, it was Kobe Bryant‘s talent and athleticism that helped build his legacy as one of the NBA’s greatest players ever, but without his hunger and drive, he may not have cemented having his name forever mentioned with the all-time NBA greats – and the greats in all of sports.
Bryant, who retired after the 2015-16 season, ended his career third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. LeBron James, however, surpassed Bryant with a 29-point performance in Philadelphia on Jan. 25, 2020 – one day before Bryant was tragically killed in a helicopter crash.
Bryant finished his career with 33,643 total points, averaging 25 points per game. Bryant showed he was a competitor through the final game of his career as he scored 60 points in his NBA finale in a 101-96 win over the Utah Jazz on April 13, 2016.