Slamadamonth, SLAM #67: Kobe Bryant

Originally published in SLAM 67

“It’s not about winning or losing,” the voice on the other end said, “it’s how you play the game.” The sound of pages rustling, “‘I know what I can do individually, but that’s not what it’s about.’ Sounds good but sometimes you gotta go for yours. You gotta. Win, but get yours. Don’t ever forget that.” Click.

In the back of the team bus—usual seat—Kobe Bryant puts down the Motorola and takes off the Guccis. Looking through the smoked glass at the Memphis streets, he turns the words over in his mind: Winning or personal glory? Why does it always need to be “or”? Why not “and”? If you can get yours and help everybody else get theirs, it’s over. Even the Trash Talkers should be able to see that. He slides the glasses back on, shading his game face.

Overtime? Against the Grizz? With Big back? Nah, ain’t happenin’. It does, though. But in OT, the Lakers get control. Then Kob’ gets it. Rollin’ wide open on the break, with “eboy” up ahead. With 40-something points on the board already, this is easy. Just slow up, pull it back out, let time trickle. But the words echo. “Go for yours.” So this—the spin, throwing Jason off like an out-of-control carousel, and the throwdown that helps you remember that dude won a Dunk Contest like it was nothin’.

Click. In an office high above DC, a plasma TV is shut off. A phone is picked up, held to a gleaming bald head and glittering hoop earring. Slowly, without being dialed, it’s set back down. No need to make that second call.

Russ Bengtson