Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Who was Kobe Bryant?

I wonder if that's what we'll all ask 40 years from now when discussing this period in basketball history.

Who was Kobe Bryant?

Not the basketball player. We all know what he's done on the court. But who is Kobe as a person?

I hear the argument that "it doesn't matter... why do we need to know anything more about Kobe than we do about you?" But the difference, I counter, is that Kobe has a platform the rest of us will likely never come close to having. And when you have that platform, you should be judged on how you use it.

Or, in Kobe's case, on whether you use it at all.

When you consider the global sports landscape, only a handful of today's stars are immediately recognizable in virtually every country. LeBron James, Tiger Woods, David Beckham, Kobe Bryant... and the list might end there.

Football isn't universal enough (yet). Same goes for hockey, minus the (yet) part. Roger Federer, maybe. Derek Jeter, perhaps. But the list is small.

And when you wield that level of attention, that powerful of a personal brand, a good argument can be made that you're obligated to do something with it. Well, something other than shoot a basketball really well.

Who is Kobe Bryant?

Kobe is an extra-talented basketball player with a well-documented intense work ethic and a fierce penchant for winning. Kobe is a man who cheated on his wife. Kobe is a guy who wears Nike, drinks Vitamin Water and plays EA Sports video games.

Kobe is also the most popular public figure among perhaps the most capriciously opinionated populace in the world.

Seems like a strange dose of praise and adoration for a basketball player. But then again, Michael Jordan was pretty darn popular back in the day, too.

As each year passes, more and more people are asking, "Who is Michael Jordan?" Not so much as an earnest question, but rather to prove a point about wasted celebrity or enigmatic persona.

In his defense, Kobe is only 31. His platform, however, is aging.

But unlike his NBA body, which won't get any younger, his ability to impact change has almost infinite lifespan potential, if he chooses to unlock it.

And Kobe should know a thing or two about potential.

1 comment:

  1. Where does Jerry West land in this argument? Or Kareem f/k/a Lew Alcindor? Or Magic? While all former great Lakers in their day, one could argue none of them have the attraction of Kobe.

    I was too young to follow Jerry and was never really captivated by Kareem. That leaves Magic.

    While Earvin Johnson Jr. is one of a few Lakers known simple by his first name, he is a wonderful example of your mission for Kobe and as fine an ambassador for humankind as one could find.

    - Mark in Minnesota