The enduring inspiration of Kobe Bryant

kobe march articleOur regular readers know I’m a huge NBA fan, and that I count Kobe Bryant among my heroes. He shares that treasured status with Elvis, who I have admired since I was a shy but determined to make something of myself 12 year old girl. Kobe has been on my short list—and it’s truly short, as he and Elvis are it—since January 2006, when he had that 81 point game against Toronto. I watched, mesmerized at how he was able to single-handedly bring his team back from the brink and turn what was on track to be a humiliating home loss into a highlight reel that would be watched over and over again for years to come.

This past Wednesday, I watched in a similar state of awe as Bryant worked his magic again, this time against the under-achieving New Orleans Hornets, a team which has won only a handful of home games all season. At one point, the Lakers found themselves down by 25 points in a game they absolutely had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. They still trailed by 18 (75-93) to begin the fourth quarter, one that had Hornets fans on their feet, cheering what was certain to be a major upset, a tiny flicker of feel good in their season of lost desires. Twelve minutes later, the Lakers walked off the court with a 108-102 win. During those twelve amazing minutes, Kobe scored 18 points on seven-for-eight shooting and added four assists. He finished the game with 42 points, 12 assists, and 7 rebounds. Granted, he had some help from Dwight Howard, who posted his best game as a Laker with 20 points, 15 rebounds, and four blocked shots, the last of which was critical to preserve the win. But I know, as does every Laker fan, that it was Kobe and his refuse to lose attitude that won the seemingly unwinnable game.

It’s no secret that it’s been a tough season for the Lakers. What was expected to be a championship contender has struggled to stay within striking distance of the playoffs all year. The reasons are many: major injuries to key players, a coaching change (of which I still say thank you, Dr. Buss), too many new players, a difficult schedule, and the recent passing of legendary team owner Jerry Buss, may he rest in peace.

But Kobe isn’t one to make excuses, so neither will I. The Lakers should have a much better record than 31-31. Nonetheless, they are still alive and kicking because Kobe will not accept anything less than qualifying for the playoffs, even if it kills him. And frankly, most days I’m surprised it hasn’t. Here is a 34-year-old guy who still goes to the gym at 4:30 in the morning to work on his game, which often includes taking some 800 practice shots. He takes ice baths after games to keep the swelling down. Not ice packs on the joints like I use for my tendonitis and arthritis, but ice baths. He maintains a healthy diet of lean meats, fruits and veggies. Namely, he does everything humanly possible to keep his body in top shape. A body that has logged an enormous number of miles over his 17 year career.  As a result, as incredible as it is to say, he is playing better this year than he ever has.

There is talk of retirement when his contract ends after next season. Talk that I can certainly understand from Kobe’s standpoint. I can’t imagine how hard it is to do what he does every single day. As a basketball fan, however, I want the Mamba—or, as he has recently been dubbed, Vino, to keep doing all those things and more so he can play forever. Frankly, I just can’t imagine watching Laker games without that fine wine, number 24, dripping his magic on the court. Regardless of who has donned the Purple and Gold in the past and who will proudly do so in the future, I am certain of one thing: there will never be another player who displays the type of lead-by-example work ethic of Kobe Bean Bryant.

Greatest Laker ever? Yes, and it’s not even close. Best NBA player ever? At this moment, it’s probably a dead heat between Jordan and Kobe, but when all is said and done, I truly believe Vino will prevail.

This morning I was thinking that if I possessed even a fraction of Kobe’s determination, I would likely have penned several best sellers by now. I suppose there’s still time, so I best sign off this blog and get to writing them.

 

 

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Fire Mike Brown: An open letter to Dr. Jerry Buss

Okay, this post is for NBA fans only, and so I warn you beforehand, it will have absolutely nothing to do with writing (except for that fact that it is bothering me to the extent that I can’t concentrate on writing). Kindly, Julia told me today that she believes we should be free to write things that are weighing on our minds whenever the mood strikes. And so, after watching my beloved Lakers lose their 12th straight game last night to a team with inferior talent, there is indeed something weighing on my mind.

Dear Dr. Jerry Buss, wonder owner and keeper of all that means winning and championships:

PLEASE FIRE MIKE BROWN!  Please, please, please, please.  Our team—well, okay, actually it’s your team, kind sir, but you have through the years made it feel like the Lakers belong to all of us who follow them—has a fantastic chance to get number 17 this June. Number 6 for Kobe. And number one for Steve and Dwight! Listen, this team your group put together with Mitch is amazing. I have never been more proud to be a Laker fan. There is only one thing standing in the way of this super team reaching its goal, and we all know what it is. Who it is.

Look, I don’t know Mike Brown. I’ve never met the guy. He seems like a nice enough fellow. But so is my dentist, and I wouldn’t expect him to be hired as Laker head coach. Since Brown’s hire last summer, I have tried to figure out how he got the job. He managed to get the Cavs to the finals once thanks to LeBron, but had no idea what to do once he got there, as evidenced by the losses as he paraded up and down the sidelines with a confused look on his face. Now we Laker fans have to look at that confused face night after night after night. Let’s face facts: Brown started his basketball career as a video coordinator. A video coordinator! How in the world that translates into a head coaching job with the premiere franchise in the league defies explanation. At least any logical explanation. Whatever was on those DVDs he showed to Jimmy Buss when interviewing for the head coach vacancy must have been magic. Maybe they had some kind of subliminal messages inscribed in the content, like an old X-Files episode that comes to mind. Whatever the reason, it’s time for Jimmy to admit his mistake and move on.

The Lakers are not a team that’s used to losing two in a row, let alone 12, dating back to last year’s disastrous playoff series against OKC. While it’s true that 8 of those were preseason games, a loss is a loss. And the fact that those losses don’t seem to bother Brown in the least (at least according to his public comments) proves he is the wrong man for the job. A team that has a starting lineup of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and World Peace (aka Ron Artest) is not a team that should lose more two games in a row all season. Brown’s silly Princeton offense, which basically negates the signing of Steve Nash by taking the ball out of his hands, is both foolish and boring. And for all the talk of Brown being a great defensive coach, our poor defense and ridiculous number of turnovers suggest otherwise.

I realize Dr. Buss will never read this post, but perhaps it will spark other people to step up and be heard, people who Jerry knows and respects. (Magic, Mitch, and Jerry West, are you guys listening? And by the way, thanks Charles and Kenny for calling the Princeton offense what it is–stupid!) So, fellow bloggers, let’s get moving. The more of us who ring in on this, the better chance it will pick up speed. I just visited a Facebook page dedicated to getting Brown fired. (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fire-Mike-Brown/377663348927041) And I rarely visit Facebook, let alone sign in and post a comment. But this thing has begun to take over my life. It’s all I find myself thinking about, how great our team could be, how much fun it will be to watch them win games by margins of more than a few points (as it went last year). That can and will happen, as soon as we show Mr. Brown the door. And please, Dr. Buss, do it sooner rather than later!

Yours sincerely,

Connie Kirchberg, Laker fan for life

Why the media hates Kobe Bryant

Katie (my daughter) sent me a link to David Brooks’ NYT column this morning, “History for Dollars,” and pointed out how it parallels my heroes post from a while back. She’s right. Brooks talks about the dip the humanities and liberal arts degrees have taken in recent years, how students have abandoned studies that teach them how to immerse themselves in the emotional aspects of life (including language and writing) in favor of specialized careers they hope will pay them mega bucks upon graduation. And surprise, surprise, he even mentions Kobe Bryant in the mix.

The money angle Brooks raises is a topic in itself, and it certainly isn’t confined to college students. Salaries in the NBA have grown to numbers beyond my comprehension—and probably that of old school players like Jerry West, Charles Barkley, Magic, and Bird as well, guys who played basketball because they couldn’t imagine themselves doing anything else. I’m not saying today’s NBA players aren’t worth a lot of money; they have skills that make them stand out from 99.9% of the rest of us, and deserve to be paid accordingly. So no, my gripe isn’t with the annual salaries of $10 to $20 million being shelled out across the league, rather the lack of passion that accompanies the majority of those stellar paychecks.

I can name on one hand the players in the league today whom I feel play every game as if it’s the most important thing in their life at that moment, and, as previously mentioned, Kobe tops my list. He’s the type who would be doing this for free if that’s what it took to play the game. (Kind of like us hapless writers who keep writing for peanuts, hey?) Kobe’s passion for what he does is obvious to anyone who watches him play—and therein, I think, is why he is among the most hated stars in the league insofar as the media is concerned. They just can’t seem to accept the fact that someone could love what he does that much and be the best in the world at doing it. Or, to put it in simple terms: they’re jealous. And that’s too bad for them because they’re missing a once-in-a-lifetime superstar playing at the top of his game, and doing it with an unsurpassed passion that Brooks calls The Big Shaggy. If the Lakers wind up losing again to the Celtics in this year’s Finals, it won’t be because Kobe hasn’t given his absolute very best. As a basketball fan, I couldn’t hope for anything more.

Writing with passion

This time of year always brings out the best in me. The NBA playoffs—aka the “real” season—is underway!  Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy each and every regular game throughout the league’s 82-game, six month marathon season. I hope the powers that be never shorten it, even though a case could be made for doing that given the number of player injuries that have mounted up this year across the board. But no matter. This isn’t the time to whine about who’s hurting and who isn’t—as the shorthanded Utah Jazz proved last night. Deron Williams, you are amazing, baby! Any chance you might want to wear purple and gold in the near future? (I’m talking very near future.) L.A. is a great place to live and play hoops, just ask Lamar Odom.

But I digress. The point of this post was intended to focus on passion. You know, that heart-stopping buzz that takes over our senses when we’re involved in something we love. I have informed my blogging partner, Julia, who is new to my NBA nuttiness, to beware: I will not be myself for the next couple of months. I live and breathe basketball from now until mid-June when, hopefully, the Lakers will repeat as World Champs. My husband has other expectations. He’s never been able to quite let go of the Seattle Sonics and is thus a Thunder fan. I can’t blame him in some respects. The Thunder is the team of the future. Just not this year.  Kevin Durant’s time will come, but Kobe is the present Finals MVP and I know he will be again. Go Lakers!

Ah, again I digress. I suppose I should apologize to our readers who aren’t NBA fans, but I’m not going to because the whole point here is to embrace your passion. That passion can be anything. Sports, gardening, hiking, animals, museums, collecting stamps. It doesn’t matter. Just feed your soul with something you love and it will make you a better writer. I guarantee it. Now get off this blog and go write something inspiring!

Writers and Heroes Part II

Even heroes are human. In fact, that’s one of their biggest attributes, at least in my world. Neither of my two personal favorites, Elvis Presley and Kobe Bryant, have ever gazed down at me from a state of perfection. To some that disqualifies them as bona fide heroes. After all, isn’t that the very point of a hero? That he or she is considered perfect in every way, something we all strive to be?

Talk about setting ourselves up for failure. No one is perfect. Superheroes are so named for the fact that they are super heroes, i.e. above and beyond the definition of a hero. Real life heroes have real life flaws. That’s what makes them human.

As much as I love Elvis, he had weaknesses. While the specifics will probably be debated for infinity, he did have a drug problem which, more than likely, contributed to his reluctance to take charge of his career in later years. He also spent lavish amounts of money (on himself and others). But Elvis did everything in extremes; it was part of who he was. Faults that made him human.

In my previous post, Do writers need heroes?, I mentioned how impressed I am with Kobe Bryant’s work ethic. How he goes out and plays every night no matter the injury. Ironically enough, he’s missed the past five games because of a sore tendon above his ankle. I’ll admit I was shocked he opted to sit out the Lakers game against Portland last week, especially since his team hadn’t won in that arena in the past nine tries. But the fact is, Kobe needed to sit out that game. (And guess what? The Lakers blew out the Blazers without him!) After having played in 235 consecutive games, Kobe finally reached a point where his body reminded him that he was human.

Knowing our heroes are human gives us permission to be the same. I haven’t spent as much time on marketing this week as I should have. I’m painting our bathroom, giving it a much-needed spruce up. And giving me some much-needed time away from the computer and the daunting task of trying to draw people to this blog so they will see my and Julia’s work. But it’s okay. I can forgive myself because, like Kobe and Elvis, I’m only human.

Do writers need heroes?

I suppose that depends on your definition of hero. For me, it’s someone who inspires me to improve myself both as a writer and a person.  I’ve had many heroes over the years—some celebrities, but most just regular folks. Today I’m going to talk about the two celebrities who have most impacted my life: Elvis Presley and Kobe Bryant.

Yes, I know they couldn’t be more different. Nonetheless, each has inspired me in his own way. When I was a kid growing up in a tiny Wisconsin town with my grandmother, Elvis became my inspiration. Here was an incredibly determined boy from dirt poor Tupelo, Mississippi, who had overcome numerous hardships to become the most famous singer in the world! Elvis wasn’t afraid to chase his dreams by following his heart. “I don’t sound like nobody,” he told Marion Keisker that day he walked into Sun Records. And boy, was he right. Today, nearly 33 years after his death, thousands of people are still trying to look and sound like him.

My history with Kobe is different. In fact, I used to hate the guy. Thought he was a ball hog and full of himself. Ironically, all of that changed on January 22, 2006—the night I saw him drop 81 points on the Toronto Raptors. For those of you who don’t follow the NBA, that’s the second highest point total ever scored by one player (second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game on March 2, 1962). An impressive feat to be sure, yet it wasn’t so much the point total that inspired me as the effort behind it. The Lakers were far outplayed in the first half of that game, losing to an inferior team at home. Obviously Kobe wasn’t happy about that, so he took charge of the situation. And I mean took charge. Second half box score: Bryant 51 points, the Raptors (as a team!) 41.

Bottom line, Kobe Bryant hates to lose. Since becoming a fan, I’ve learned a few things about him as a person. He goes to the gym every day at 5:00 a.m. to work on his game. He plays hurt. (Broken finger? No problem. Back spasms? So what. The flu? Forget about it.) He plays hard. He plays to win. And he does all that because playing basketball was and is his dream. Kobe, like Elvis, has achieved great success by having followed his heart. Basketball experts will continue to debate who’s the best player in the NBA, but for me it’s a no-brainer because there’s no other player in the league today who puts 100% of himself out there every single time he takes the court. Just as Elvis gave his all every time he took the stage to sing for his fans.

Elvis and Kobe have taught me dreams can be achieved as long as I keep believing in myself. I might still be waiting for my ship to dock, but at least I have days when I can see its bow burning through the fog.