When Kobe Bean Bryant met his untimely death in that fatal air crash on January 26, 2020, it was not just a basketball family loss but sport in general. This is one of the greatest players to ever play the game. He was to basketball what Cristiano Ronaldo is to football!
They both defied all the odds. Their commitment to their craft, level of professionalism, attention to detail, attitude, self-discipline, work ethic, arrogance on the field, humility off the field, influence, strong personality, aura, overall performance and consistency are just some of the characteristics these two icons share. It is for this reason that these two sports ambassadors’ names will always and forever be entrenched into our hearts. We will always cherish and adore them.
No one really cares about how much they’ve made in their careers, suffice to say they’ve made more than enough through the game they love. Money and endorsement deals have always been a by-product of their commitment, love and passion for their respective crafts. They will always be remembered for breaking records, making history and being consistent because they were consumed by the game, not the flashy lifestyle that comes with it. In an up-close interview with award-winning American television host, Jimmy Kimmel, Kobe was asked about being a teenager with a lot of money and whether he remembered his first big expenditure, after being drafted at the age of 17. “Ha, ha, ha, it was cool. Nah, not really. I wasn’t big (on) like, ‘I’ve got to get this car’. I was just all about the game. The game just completely consumed me and that was my focus, 100% of the time,” was the late shooting guard’s answer. Simply put, Kobe was more about the game than what he made out of it.
When you bring this closer to home, you will realise that this is the professional conduct and attitude that we desperately need for most of our players. The obsession with the game rather than what comes with playing professional football. This is what is missing from most of our footballers, being consumed by the game and not the luxurious lifestyle that comes with it. It is not the flashy cars, social media attention and celebrity status that should occupy our players’ minds. It is improving on their game, ensuring that they deliver consistently and being obsessed with their numbers. If you created one goal in a game, the next target should be two goals and so on rather than playing by the ear, so to speak. Breaking records and being obsessed with numbers is what we need. Players need to know everything there is to know about their club’s records so that there is something for them to work towards. They also need to know about their own numbers so that you don’t call a player to congratulate them on a milestone yet they are not even aware of the statistic you’re talking about, their very own. If they don’t know their own statistic, what are the chances they will know anything else?
Happy Jele celebrated his 400th appearance in a Bucs shirt in the team’s 1-0 win in the original Soweto Derby against Swallows FC on Saturday afternoon. Not many players will get to this point, let alone spending 15 years at one club because it takes more than just talent to achieve such a milestone. A simple question about their number of appearances and goals to numerous DStv Premiership players would fail to yield a positive answer. That’s not because players are ignorant – no, it is simply because they are just going with motions. Imagine if all the players invested a lot of their time into the game and worked on staying ahead of everyone else? We would not have a player scoring 20 goals one season and then less than 10 the following campaign. We wouldn’t have a Footballer of the Season one season and then he’s not even in the top 10 players the following season. These things happen because we are going with motions rather than attention to detail.
I was privileged to be in a meeting with Orlando Pirates marketing manager, Nkosana Khoza, whose appeal was goosebumps stuff as he highlighted the importance of our players being obsessed with numbers and delivering on the field of play more than anything else. The importance of our players making history and being goal-driven. The importance of ensuring that there is something our players look forward to, all the time. The importance of conscientizing our players about the statistics of the game. It is now early into the season, so each and every footballer should have something that drives them – something to look forward to achieving come the final whistle of the season. What drives you? What are your targets for this season? You can’t just continue to play for the sake of it. There has to be something you wake up looking forward to working towards, rather than just training for two hours and that’s it. Football is never just about the 90 minutes on the field of play, it goes way beyond that. There are team and individual objectives to be met. That’s how you get into the history books, through ticking both team and individual boxes. You don’t get into the history books merely on how much you made in the game, that’s a by-product and not the main objective. When you have that mentality, you are not going to score 10 goals this season and only find the back of the net twice the following campaign. There is going to be a level of consistency and improvement in your game because it is not just about playing the game. It is about giving your all to the name on the front of the jersey so that the world can always remember the name on the back.
With that mentality, you’re not going to be content with just making the starting line-up, you’re going to constantly push for more. You will be pushed to give more of yourself so that you can achieve more, without waiting on the technical team to do it for you. When you look at your game like that, you improve and start attracting more money. Like coach Pitso Mosimane said, in a recent Instagram interview with Casper Nyovest, “I always say hard work and good work. Money follows good work. Money follows success. So, when you focus on success, when you focus on what you’re doing, money will always follow. You don’t focus on the money, you focus on the process. When the process is good, the outcome will sort itself (out).”
It is this level of competitive nature that will see you flourish and soar. When you are always looking to improve, the universe will reward you. Even beyond the grave, Kobe Bryant remains a symbol of success because people are still talking about his work ethic and historic numbers. People still talk about his last appearance in the LA Lakers jersey, a 60-point game, against Utah Jazz at the Staples Center on April 13, 2016. That was one of the greatest final game performances in the history of sport, not just basketball, and for him to give that much of himself even on his last dance says a lot about his commitment to the game. That’s the attitude and consistency we need to see more of from our footballers, so that they remain obsessed with their career and statistics. That’s why at 36, Ronaldo is still making news and taking the EPL by storm while most of his former Manchester United teammates have long hung up their boots.