My Sportsman: Kobe Bryant
This nomination is a little different. It's not about starting a sustainable soybean farm for needy kids in Zimbabwe, or finishing a marathon with one leg (and only two toes on the one foot!) or inspiring an [insert-calamity]-ravaged community with a sublime performance that just begs to be mythologized.
No, this nomination is about winning and competing and wanting it so bad that it's almost inappropriate. It's about doing whatever it takes, yelling at whomever it takes and preparing whenever it takes. This nomination is about
Sure, you may not like the guy -- your prerogative -- but it's impossible not to respect him as a basketball player. Not only did he win his fourth ring in June -- more than
Granted, none of this makes Kobe a "sportsman" in the traditional sense of the word -- those guys don't usually publicly chew out teammates (as Bryant did to Lakers center
But if we define the term instead as encompassing passion and intensity and a profound, abiding love for the game, then there is no more deserving candidate, for Bryant possesses that rarest of qualities: pure, uncut, 100 percent organic, free trade, 200 proof desire. In
Even better, Kobe never apologizes for his desire, and why should he? Last year, while working on a book, I asked Bryant if he ever felt bad about obliterating teammates and friends during practice or one-on-one games, as he is wont to do. "Nope, not at all," he said. "To me, I enjoy doing it. I enjoy beating guys and beating them and beating them. If you're going to beat somebody, you have to beat them to a pulp. To see what happens, to see what they're made of."
Now imagine if all NBA players took this approach to the game. Imagine if they all -- if we all -- took the game as seriously as Kobe. Sure, things might get a tad contentious, but there would be no such thing as a boring midseason game, no such thing as garbage time. Hell, there might not be such a thing as the "Los Angeles Clippers" or the "Memphis Grizzlies."
So for all this -- for working out at the team hotel at seven in the morning after a Finals win, for providing the league with both its greatest hero and villain, for playing each fourth quarter as if the fate of the free world depended on every fadeaway jumper, for one of the most impressive postseasons in NBA history -- Kobe Bryant should be Sportsman of the Year. And, knowing Kobe, he probably agrees.