When you talk about sports you always have this dilemma of how to dissect the unmeasurable intangibles. Things like clutch and leadership don’t hold as much value in the face of today’s data revolution. At times people overrate these things. Case in point with the Ronald Torreyes fans and Austin Romine truthers of the past. When you’re talking about guys like Kobe Bryant and Derek Jeter – guys who wore their championship pedigree like it was latched on to their soul – you realize clutch and leadership are very real.
You can’t numerically define these attributes but I think I have a decent understanding of how to really show which guys exhibit them the most. It’s simple actually. It’s something Bill Simmons said to JA Adande in his last podcast dedicated to Kobe.
The other players always know
Look at the admiration Jeter got when his Hall of Fame nod was announced. Look at Kobe since Sunday. In some form or another, our favorite athletes said these guys were their favorite players growing up.
Bill Simmons went through a gamut of elites who put Kobe on their favorites list. There was Larry Bird, Kevin Durant and, of course, Lebron. Then over the weekend, you saw Trae Young ball out with Kobe’s old number 8. For Jeter legends like Dave Winfield spoke of his admiration for him and one of today’s great shortstops, Trevor Story, also showed his love.
Everyone loved Jeter and everyone loved Kobe and when these guys had their respective moments, it showed. Just look at this outpouring of love.
Congratulations Derek Jeter and Larry Walker! Both of you are so deserving of this honor. I got to witness both of your greatness competing against you for years. #WelcometotheBaseballHallofFameClass2020
Eli Manning was asked about retiring the same week Yankees icon Derek Jeter was selected for the Hall of Fame. “I’m just trying to figure out which one of y’all didn’t vote for him.” pic.twitter.com/XzZev9Su62
Derek Jeter brought up during an impeachment trial is all-time.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: “We hope we can subpoena John Bolton, subpoena Mick Mulvaney. But perhaps we can all agree to subpoena the Baseball Hall of Fame, to try to figure out who, out of 397 individuals, one person, voted against Derek Jeter.” https://t.co/7CO9n4TTiGpic.twitter.com/S43tXir8DD
Italian soccer team AC Milan honored Kobe Bryant during the Italian Cup game against Torino in the San Siro stadium in Milan. Fans stood up during the 24th minute of the game, in reference to Bryant’s number with the Lakers. https://t.co/EacwOhB1Oapic.twitter.com/LYOomMsqI2
Before the start of today’s impeachment trial, the Senate chaplain referenced Kobe Bryant and the 8 other victims of the helicopter crash: “As millions mourn the deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant and those who died with them, we think about life’s brevity, uncertainty and legacy.” pic.twitter.com/tSnmwUKWSq
I love and embrace data. You need it way more than the eye test. Here’s the thing. I do think clutch is very real. The data should dictate the game but don’t forget we have humans on the field.
This year I heard the term “The analytics love Dak Prescott” a lot. For as much as the NFL’s version of Fangraphs, fanboys repeated this, did anybody who watched really think it? Do Cowboys fans even think this? Yeah, he had his moments but remember when the Cowboys went down to Philly and Dak needed to step up? He didn’t. It just felt predictable too.
On top of this, the entire league made him out to be a meme. It’s like Bill said. The other players always know. Remember the Dak Dance?
This isn’t to pick on Dak. (Okay maybe I am a little.) With some guys, you’re just not shocked about the outcome no matter how good their stat line has been. For guys like Jeter and Bryant, you saw the opposite end of the spectrum. Their stat line was great whether it was the first game of the season or Game 7.
You always expected them to win. You always expected them to at least make the playoffs. Once they were there, you expected them to take their team to that shiny land where championship rings grow on brass trees. It’s a spot somewhere behind Valhalla.
It’s a ridiculous sentiment considering both guys had 20-year careers and you can’t win every year but in the moment, you knew these two really wanted it so you thought it was possible. Winning was all they talked about and it wasn’t some contrived statement. They believed it was their destiny to be champion each year and if they weren’t, they hated every second of the off-season until the next season started.
The funny thing is even in their championship droughts where they went a few years before winning a title again, you still felt like these guys had a winning aura around them. That never went away.
Kobe didn’t win a title between 2002 and 2009. He lost Shaq along the way. Still, you always thought there was a shot the Lakers win another championship because Kobe was there. Jeter didn’t win a championship between 2000 and 2009. He lost guys like Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and David Cone. Still, you always thought there was a shot for him to come through for the Yankees because he was Derek Jeter.
Through midge or high water, you always thought it was possible.
Jeter and Kobe had similar careers in that they were the centerpiece of dynasties. Granted they were different people. Derek Jeter was more reserved while Kobe Bryant had a braggadocios swagger on the court where he wasn’t afraid of letting you know how great he was. During the NBA Finals when he returned back home to Philly his response to one of the fans at the time was that he was going to rip the city’s heart out.
When it was Jeter’s turn to end Philadelphia’s life in the World Series he took a less brash approach. Instead of saying he was going to rip their hearts out he let Hideki Matsui do it for him.
While there were differences in how they carried themselves throughout their career there was one thing that was for certain. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever matters. Their performance on the field and on the court.
Derek Jeter and Kobe Bryant both shared five championships in their long careers with their respective historic franchises. Kobe had 18 all-star appearances while Jeter had 14. Kobe is fourth on the all-time scorer list and 1st with the Lakers with 33643 points while Jeter is sixth on the all-time hits list and first with the Yankees with 3,565 hits.
They both had their championship droughts that spanned from the early 2000’s that ended in 2009. They both had storybook endings in their final games. Kobe put up more than 60 points before walking away and looking tired for the first time in his career. Derek Jeter walked it off during his last at-bat in the Bronx.
To quote Michael Kay for these two, it was where fantasy became reality for a duo of athletes who defined a generation.
To be that good for that long while also carrying a dynasty is just rare. Having two guys do it at the same exact time is even rarer. We may never see that again.
I’ve heard a lot the past few days that, when it’s your time, it’s your time. Maybe that’s true? Who really knows how those truths of the universe work. If things do work that way it’s still hard to even wrap my head around the notion that it was time for Kobe, his daughter and the other families on the helicopter to leave this Earth so suddenly.
What’s a better world? Those people with their families or those people without them? Maybe it’s all senseless. Maybe it’s all a reminder that life is not perfect. I guess while we’re here, we’ll never know.
For now, all we can do is think about those people; We can think about that teenager; We can think about a guy who, for a majority of our lives, had a place in our headspace for about half the year for 20-years.
I’m sure this will sound corny but I hope that, in honor of Kobe, we can all go about our endeavors with a Mamba Mentality. We should be doing this regardless but we’re humans. We’re weak sometimes. (That’s okay because we’re all weak sometimes.) Maybe none of us will ever reach as many people as Kobe did but if there’s one thing we can take from all this it’s that, if we work hard and do something well, we can inspire others to do the same.
I think the thing about losing Kobe wasn’t about how good he was. It was that, even though he played in L.A., it seemed like he was for everyone. He was one of those one-name guys like Prince where it just felt weird to say his full name. Whether you lived in New York, Portland or Seattle, you still said “Kobe” when you threw a piece of paper into the garbage.
I think back to one day from my childhood that really showed how beloved Kobe was. It was after winning his third straight championship.
Once Kobe took his crown (again) he came to New York and went up to Rucker Park in Harlem to play basketball. At the time my dad owned a pizza place in Brooklyn so I didn’t find out about it until the next day when I went there. The Internet wasn’t what it is now so I found out through word of mouth.
People didn’t have Twitter updates blow up their phones. Still, EVERYBODY was talking about how Kobe came to us to play ball.
When I try to measure how much people love Kobe I think about that day. People came into my dad’s pizzeria with the utmost appreciation that this superstar went into one of our boroughs to play ball. Everyone talked about it. It was the same in the park where we all hung out. All we talked about was Kobe.
The guy just won three straight championships and it meant enough for him to come to one of our boroughs to see us. It didn’t seem real. Thinking about that and how hyped everyone was, it’s not shocking that Twitter broke for a few minutes the day the world lost Kobe.
There are the people that win a championship or two. Then there are the people who wear their championships and attach each win and each loss to their very being. Kobe was that guy. Jeter was too.
I feel bad for you if you never got to grow up watching either.