As 2015 melts into 2016, it’s really starting to hit home how little of Kobe Bryant we have left. And the most telling sign that things are winding down for the Los Angeles Lakers star is the degree to which Bryant has embraced the role of elder statesman.
He’s telling Kevin Durant to be the greatest. He’s sitting himself to let the Lakers’ young players shine. And he’s offering advice to his younger self — words of wisdom that fly in the face of Bryant’s career:
If Kobe Bryant could go back in time and tell his 18-year-old self anything, he said it would be to “understand compassion and empathy."
It makes for a great narrative. Bryant, the ultimate competitor who modeled his game and his approach to basketball after Michael Jordan, realizes in his old age that compassion and empathy might have led to more titles. If only Bryant had been able to get along with Shaquille O’Neal, perhaps he’d have six … or seven … or eight rings, right?
Maybe. But maybe not. Would a more compassionate Bryant have been as successful as he was? At what point was his nature an intrinsic part of his success? Could a Black Mamba who saw opponents and teammates as human beings been so capable of crushing the life out of those who stood in his way?
There’s a middle ground, of course, where the young, brash Bryant tempers his hotheadedness with a little bit of empathy for those around him. And surely, that would be ideal. Yet to ask a teenager to strike that balance is optimistic at best. Bryant’s aggression and passion for competition helped him to five rings. To look back and ask for more is asking too much.