Sports Stories

Do you remember what you were doing on Monday, Dec. 18, at around 9:30 p.m.?

I was watching the Los Angeles Lakers host the Golden State Warriors.

For me, the spectacle of the game was not Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr.’s posterizing dunk over Warriors star forward Kevin Durant late in the first half, nor Durant’s overtime game-winner.

For me, it was the halftime ceremony during which Lakers legend Kobe Bryant’s two jerseys, 8 and 24, were retired to the rafters of STAPLES Center.

He won five championships — three wearing No. 8 and two with No. 24 —and the number of records and honors he owns are too numerous to write here, which include one NBA MVP and two Finals MVPs. He is the first NBA player to ever have two jerseys retired.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss spoke about what he meant to the Lakers organization during his 20-year career with the purple-and-gold.

Afterward, Bryant stood over the Lakers logo at midcourt and spoke to the current team and fans about his time in Los Angeles and how to approach the future.

For me, he was my sports hero; growing up a sports fan in a suburb of Los Angeles, his actions on the court and his words off of it spoke to me about what it takes to be successful; how to approach my future.

This is not a column to laud Bryant’s career and talk about how great he was. There are as many fans and great things to say about him as there are staunch dissenters and negative anecdotes.

This is about the importance of having a hero. Bryant was the one who convinced me from a young age that if I work as hard as I possibly can, in a sport, school or anything, I would be great at it.

Watching that ceremony, eyes glued to the television, I had memories of confetti fluttering down over celebrating players and interviews of them dripping with endless beads of sweat. Behind all of that was one simple thing, and to this day it resonates with me.

Since the beginning of the fall sports season, I have asked student-athletes around the Verde Valley who their favorite athlete is. Some of the answers: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, John Wall and Cristiano Ronaldo. What do they all have in common? They’ve all achieved greatness, along with a story of endless amounts of work to get it.

Irving hit that memorable corner three-pointer to win the 2016 NBA Finals for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Curry is a two-time NBA MVP and one of the best shooters in league history, Wall was the first overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft, and Ronaldo just secured his fifth Ballon d’Or as the world’s best soccer player.

Before that, Curry played at Davidson College, not a household name of NCAA basketball. Ronaldo was once told he was too skinny.

When NBA legend Michael Jordan was a sophomore in high school, he was cut from the varsity team.

Surely they looked up to players for motivation, and the young athletes of today need heros like that, too.

It is easy to say that professional athletes are poor role models because they make blinding amounts of money to play a game.

But what is undeniable is their power to inspire people around this valley, the nation and the world to work hard to achieve their dreams, to achieve greatness in whatever they wish to do. Whether it is to graduate college, open a successful business or even raise a family, it is an attribute useful in every aspect of life.

Hearing those answers and the others from the valley’s student-athletes reassured me that they will be great one day. And for those who do not have a hero to look up to, I recommend finding one.

One who works hard as much in the offseason as he or she does in the spotlight.
One who does not quit after coming up short.
One who, after achieving success, continues to work for more.

For me, I know it helped.

This quote by Bryant’s teammate Derek Fisher is one of many that sticks with me. “Kobe showed me that limits upon performance exist only in our minds. He made me realize that if you have the will to achieve something, and you put in the time and energy, it will happen.”


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