Kobe Bryant makes his appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated ( if you can’t SI for Kids) this month. Take a look at his past covers and you will see the journey from young sidekick with Shaq to the break-up to the Colorado incident that could have ended his career to the current cover hinting that the end is near.
Also be sure to pick up the latest issue. You can read a few excerpts below from the full article.
Spring of 1997 and Bryant sits alone in the visitors’ locker room at Utah’s Delta Center. “Why?” he asks himself. “Why did I miss those shots? Was I nervous? No, I don’t get nervous in games. I don’t get afraid in games. So what happened? The shots were right on line, right on target. Why did they come up short?” He is a rookie who just unleashed three air balls down the stretch of an overtime playoff loss to the Jazz that ends the Lakers’ season. He is packing for his first offseason when the answer dawns on him. “I was going from 30-something games in high school to 100-something in the NBA on an 18-year-old body,” Bryant says. “I went right back to L.A. and changed my whole weight training program. I had to start lifting during the season so what happened in Utah would never happen again.” That summer Spike Lee begins filming He Got Game, a movie with Denzel Washington about a basketball prodigy named Jesus Shuttlesworth. “I want you to be part of it,” Lee tells Bryant. “Thank you but no thank you,” Bryant says. “This summer is too big for me.” Ray Allen lands the role as Shuttlesworth.
Winter of 1999 and Bryant is bracing for his third straight season coming off the bench. “I was looking at Ray Allen and Allen Iverson, guys I came into the league with, who were already starting and kicking ass,” Bryant says. “I’m sitting here on the bench thinking, I’m just as good. Why aren’t I playing?” Jellybean puts similar questions to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, who explains the benefits of patience, but Jellybean’s son is still years away from comprehending that concept. Bryant takes out his rage on the starters, punishing them in practice to prove a point. “I had to kick their ass every day,” he says.
Bryant develops a penchant for dribbling through five defenders at a time, which earns him the nickname Hollywood. “That’s not the name you want,” cautions Lakers executive vice president Jerry West, so Bryant reduces his dribbling exhibitions and bolsters his midrange game. “On the team plane we had Shaquille O’Neal in the aisle doing the Macarena,” says Del Harris, the coach of the Lakers at the time, “and Kobe watching tape of Jordan.” Before the 1999 opener, small forward Rick Fox complains of sore feet because his shoe insoles don’t fit properly. Bryant’s days on the bench are over. No one calls him Hollywood anymore. “If I’d been allowed to start right away,” he says, “who knows what would have happened to me.”
Summer of 2004 and news breaks that O’Neal has been traded to Miami. This is great! Bryant thinks, the end of a tumultuous year in which he feuded with O’Neal, nearly signed with the Clippers and made court appearances in Colorado for a sexual assault civil case that was later settled. “Then everything sinks in, and it’s like, Oh, no, now you better win or your whole career is basically bulls—,” Bryant says. “Those last three championships you won will be meaningless.”
He morphs, in one offseason, from baby brother to head of household. “I was no longer a 20-year-old with 30-year-olds,” Bryant says. “My teammates were suddenly my peers. I couldn’t be the kid who was trying to demolish everything in his path anymore. I had to step back and realize, It’s not about me, it’s about you, what you’re doing, goals you have, things that may be affecting you. My reputation was as this drill sergeant, and I had to make the conversion from on-court assassin to manager. But I scaled back too much. I was trying to find the balance of when to push and when to pat on the back.” He calls Jordan, and they talk many times about how to impart motivation with love. “Getting other people to believe in themselves,” Bryant says, “that’s always been the hardest part.”
Summer of 2007 and O.J. Mayo, the No. 1 high school player in the country, attends the Kobe Basketball Academy at Loyola Marymount. Mayo asks Bryant if they can work out together. “Yeah,” Bryant responds, “I’ll pick you up at three.” The next evening Mayo sees Bryant and asks, “Where were you?” Bryant looks confused. “Three in the morning,” he says. “Not three in the afternoon.” Mayo slinks away. The back-patting era, however long it lasted, is over. “I can’t relate to lazy people,” Bryant says, speaking generally, not about Mayo. “We don’t speak the same language. I don’t understand you. I don’t want to understand you. Go over there. If I drive somebody too hard, and he feels like he’s over-committing to the game and cracks because of it, I don’t want to go to battle with him in the seventh game anyway. … Some guys don’t want this. It’s too much. It’s too uncomfortable. If that’s the case, then we can’t play together. It won’t work. I believe you need a confrontational crew. If I have to resort to this [shaking his head] instead of telling you that you’re being lazy and f—— up, then we’ll never resolve anything.”