By Rob Mahoney
Kobe Bryant has spent the better part of his career cultivating a cold, distant persona. It's frankly a part of his charm; basketball fans tend to love (and love to hate) the Lakers' star for his confidence bordering on arrogance and his drive bordering on mania, so much so that Bryant's chilly detachment became a primary theme in his public branding. Those personality extremes are fundamental to who Bryant is as a player and a leader, and they inform much of his NBA life.
Yet outside of a basketball setting, Bryant is oddly ... human. He has cares that go well beyond his teammates' shot selection and the win-or-lose binary, and on the rarest of occasions, we're privy to a slice of Bryant's more compassionate side. Case in point: the warm iteration of Bryant that reached out to struggling New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez, as detailed by Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles:
"We spoke a couple of days ago," Bryant said of Rodriguez, whom he befriended on the set of a commercial a few years ago. "You can only control what you can control. You go out there and do the best job you can. If they take you out of the lineup, it's really on you to be a good teammate and support the other guys, which he's good about doing."
I just say to him, 'You're Alex Rodriguez. You're A-Rod. You're one of the best to ever do it,'" Bryant said. "I think sometimes he kind of forgets that and wants to try to do the right thing all the time. Which is the right team attitude to have. But other times you really have to put your head down and say, 'Hell with it' and just do your thing."
The coda on that bit of advice may as well be Bryant's signature, but the initial sentiment is an interesting reminder of the power of separation. Bryant is no stranger to ripping his teammates, both behind closed doors and in front of the press corps. Public humiliation is apparently a part of Kobe's own system of accountability, and one can only imagine what has been said out of earshot of any recorder or camera. Yet when discussing another great player in an entirely different sport, Bryant displays an empathy that his basketball self hardly seems capable of. With his competitive fire and uncompromising tact filed away, Bryant brings a wealth of perspective and a far more welcoming tenor to a friend in a rut. It's a complete divergence from what makes Kobe Kobe in a basketball sense, but the slightest indication of what lies beyond Bryant's carefully maintained image.