22 May 2017

You can be like Kobe Bryant and like Isaiah Thomas

Kobe Bryant is a basketball legend.  Having played for the Los Angeles Lakers throughout his 20-year career, Kobe led his team to five NBA championships from 2000-2002 and 2006-2007.  He has secured numerous scoring titles and MVP awards. He has had 1 eighty-point game, 6 sixty-point games (including his final game), 26 fifty-point games, and 134 forty-point games in his career. In his final game on April 13, 2016, he became the oldest player to score 60 in a single game (37).  Sure, he had his ups and downs, often caught flak for being selfish, had personal issues (who doesn’t?) but few would deny that he was one of the most fearsome competitors the league has ever known.  

Kobe Bryant. A legend, certainly.  Isaiah Thomas is a star.  Not a legend.  Not yet, anyway.  

Isaiah  is only in his 6th NBA season, hasn’t won any championship rings, doesn’t own any scoring titles and in a league dominated by the likes of LeBron James, Stephen Curry and James Hardin, is just one of several ‘second rung’ names.  True, he has led the Boston Celtics to the top of the Eastern Conference regular season standings and has inspired his team to make it to the conference final against defending champions Cleveland Cavaliers.  Not a legend though.  Not yet, anyway.

Kobe Bryant led the Lakers.  Isaiah Thomas currently leads the arch rivals of the Lakers, the Celtics.  So what’s the Bryant-Thomas story?  It began or it could be said to have begun when Bryant called him to offer condolences over the tragic death of Isaiah’s sister Chyna in a car accident the day before the playoffs began.

Later, Isaiah would recall that Bryant had told him that it is up to him, Isaiah, to decide whether or not to play in that first game, but had added 'The one bit of advice I would give you is, if you are going to play, then you gotta play; maybe you can find some peace in moments out there.’  Kobe had also said ‘if you ever need anything, just reach out; I’m here for you.’

And Isaiah did reach out.  This was when the Celtics fell behind to the Chicago Bulls 2-0.  He called Kobe and asked if he’d mind looking over some of the game film and help him figure out how to unshackle himself from the Chicago defenders.  So the two players had set up their laptops and done a video tour of the game action together.  The Celtics went on to beat the Bulls and then the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.  The Celtics were creamed by the Cavs in Boston no less, in the first two games, but bounced back in Cleveland to win Game 3 even though they played without the injured Isaiah.  The result of the series is not relevant here.  It's the lesson that counts.  A lesson of reaching out. 

Kobe said he was happy to help Isaiah: ‘He had the courage to ask. I did the same thing with Michael Jordan when I was a young player.’  And he had learned the importance of reaching out from another legend, another Michael but in a different field, music.  Apparently during a visit to Neverland Ranch in his rookie season, the pop star had told him to reach out to all the greats in his profession and learn from them.  Kobe had done just said.  Over the years, basketball greats such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West and Magic Johnson (all Lakers) as well as Bill Russell, Hakeem Olajuwon, Larry Bird and of course his childhood idol Jordan had been generous with advice whenever it was solicited.  Bryan had decided that one day he would do the same, mentoring any young player who came to him. 

Not everyone is a legend but there’s no harm in aspiring to be one or at least wanting to be the best that one can be.  This involves a lot of hard work.  Talent helps of course but it is the commitment, unforgiving hard work, the ability to overcome adversity, the will to win and the humility to acknowledge frailties that makes ordinary people great and great people legends.  

Two things are necessary.  First, the accessibility to the greats.  Secondly, the courage to ask.  Kobe was ready, Isaiah had the courage.  

In all of us, there’s a potential Kobe (the Mentor) and a potential Isaiah (needing guidance).  Isaiah Thomas may or may not end his career as a legend, may or may not make it to the Basketball Hall of Fame, but he certainly has the talent, the humility and the courage to learn from those who came before.  There are dozens of basketball legends and many of them have mentored younger players, in official as well as in unofficial capacities.  Some seemed to have been happy enough to let footage of their greatness do the work.  That’s all available in the public domain, true enough, but then again the right word at the right time and in the right tone can add that much more to such kinds of ‘learning material’.  In short, there are people like Kobe.  And there are people like Isaiah.    

You and I may not ever be like Kobe or like Isaiah, not in basketball or in any other field.  There’s nothing to stop us from trying though.