The world is still mourning the death of basketball champion Kobe Bryant. I am a native of Los Angeles, I live close to the Staples Center, and every day I am reminded of his tragic death. There are giant memorial billboards, and public transportation buses go by with RIP Kobe highlighted on the front. It’s a constant reminder of a legend sadly and tragically lost.
Yesterday, I was walking in Tokyo Town near Downtown Los Angeles, and there was a line around the block with people wearing Lakers jersey’s, and holding other Lakers paraphernalia. By the time I got to the front of the line, I saw people were waiting to get into a store to buy a pair of Kobe’s shoes. When I examined the crowd it was a mix of adults and children from all walks of life, and it made me think about what we consider to be a true champion. Someone that wins multiple NBA championships? Someone who acquires endorsement deal from athletic lines like Adidas or Nike, or makes a shoe called, “Mamba Rage?” Someone that touches hundreds of thousands of lives? Yes. All these elements make up a champion, however, when I looked at all the young and excited kids in the line dying to get their hands on a pair of Kobe’s shoes, I got me thinking about other definitions of a champion.
Several years ago, I worked in an acute inpatient psych ward in Compton, and the attending was a huge Lakers fan, specifically Bryant. I recall one session of rounds when he gave a speech about Bryant’s mental power capabilities, which parlayed into his athletic superiority. He labeled him a Level 5. A Level 5 is an athletic competitor that never leaves the gym. They are constantly striving to be better, the best version of themselves, and have the ability to combine natural born talent with mental strength to achieve ultimate performance. Yes, they want to rise above their competitors, but more so, it’s about competing with themselves to be the best they can possibly be.
I played sports in college. Our team was known for working out more than any other team in our league, and we never won a single game. But that didn’t stop us from showing up to practice, or lifting more weights, or spending summers on a strict regime, but it makes me think about the Point 5 player. The mere fact that we never won a game but kept showing up to practice, and sweating out or loses, is a testament to a different type of player. It can be the players that struggle, but keep going that I also admire. It’s easy to look up to an athlete like Bryant, but maybe it’s also time we look at those that warm the bench.
Recently, I was watching “Cheer,” a docuseries on Netflix about competitive cheer leading, and there was a player that never made the “mat.” In other words, he would cheer his team on from the sidelines never knowing if he would get a chance to compete. I watched this kid come to practice every day with a positive attitude. I saw him struggle with his weight, and spend time in the gym on the elliptical machine to lose weight, and kept his head held high with positive energy. He would have open conversations with his coach on what he could do to improve his performance, and he would respectfully work on his routine.
Then one day one of the starters was injured and he had a shot at the mat. All his hard work, dedication, determination, sacrifice, and positive attitude finally paid off.
Now, in my opinion, that’s a whole other level.