Friday, January 22 was the 10th anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s 81-point scoring extravaganza against the Toronto Raptors, and it was a milestone almost categorically overshadowed by the bombshell announcement that David Blatt had been summarily dismissed as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Therein lies the paradox of the NBA, a professional sports league simultaneously so fraught with history, yet so mired in the moment-by-moment quest to secure a place in that history.
And that Sisyphean quest is what has, in so many critical ways, characterized Kobe’s career and legacy. The mythology surrounding his work ethic and preparation is as much a part of that legacy as are the five championship rings that came as a byproduct of it.
This might be the fundamental way in which his career diverged from his idol Michael Jordan. Everything about Michael felt both effortless and inevitable. Whether it was the body control, or the perfect arc on his fadeaway jump shot, or how he seemed to hang in the air that much longer than everybody else in a way that didn’t seem humanly possible, it was a marvel of aesthetic beauty, as if it sprung directly from the Platonic ideal of basketball purity.
That was the magic of Michael Jordan. He even acknowledged this perception of himself later in his career in one of his ubiquitous Jordan Brand commercials when he says “maybe I led you to believe it was easy.”