Ultra-competitive NBA legends like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan have an inherent bitterness about them.
That sounds like a bad thing, but it really isn’t.
The bitterness isn’t always mean-spirited and it’s not always obvious, but it is the special quality at the root of their greatness. It's what makes them intense competitors and very, very unique people.
If you need an example of this, look no further than Jordan’s infamous Hall of Fame speech. You’ll recall, during his induction ceremony, Jordan mockingly apologized to his sons for casting such a huge shadow over them. For being something that they could never hope to be, and setting a mark that they could never hope to meet.
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In the aftermath, some people pounced on the greatest ever for his words; but, for those of us who had followed his career from the very start, for those of us who realized this was a guy who thought that winning was the most important thing ever, his speech was just M.J. being M.J.
You don’t attain the level of success that he attained and you don’t reach the plateaus that he reached without being a super cutthroat competitor – plain and simple.
Kobe is cut from the same cloth. He wants to win, and he wants to win as the guy leading the charge. He didn’t want to be second-fiddle to Shaquille O’Neal because he knew he had what it took to be No. 1. And he eventually proved that – ultimately winning two titles sans Shaq’s dominating presence in the post.
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He too, like Jordan, is a ridiculous competitor. And as a ridiculous competitor, during a recent interview with Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen, he couldn’t help but take a little jab at newly-crowned NBA champ, LeBron James.
"One championship doesn't get it, you know what I'm saying?'' Bryant said. "So for me, when we won one, it was a little different because it was, like you know, Michael (Jordan) had six, Magic (Johnson) had five. So me and Shaq (O'Neal) both were like, man, we got to get some more. One ain't going to cut it.''
Surely James has been thinking the same way.
"Yeah, I mean, since the last time we were here I got two,'' said Bryant, extending the vowel the way Jordan extended his fingertips after making his last championship shot in Utah. He let the "two'' hang out there without rushing onto the next sentence. "Dirk got one. He (James) got one.''
Has Bryant reminded James of the championship score?
"Not yet,'' he said. "I will. I will.''
Of course he will. It’s what guys like Kobe and M.J. do. It’s why we can acknowledge that they’re not good guys per se, but we respect them anyway.
No matter what his sons achieve in life, Jordan will always see them the the way he described them in that speech. Because it's who Jordan is.
No matter what LeBron achieves on the basketball court, Kobe will always see him the way he sees him right now. Because it's who Kobe is.
And it's who we expect them to be.
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