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Kobe Bryant Taught Me Hustling Hard Trumps Talent Alone

11/30/2015 12:42 EST | Updated 11/30/2016 05:12 EST
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Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant talks at news conference on why he decided to announce his retirement prior to an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers in Los Angeles, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015. The Pacers won 107-103. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Dear Kobe,

We've never met.

If you look up your name in the dictionary, under the part that says "antonym" you'd probably find me. I'm your exact opposite.

You're black, tall and make a gazillion bucks doing what you love. I'm brown, not very tall and don't make a gazillion bucks doing what I love.

You had a hot celebrity as your date for the prom. I didn't even go to mine.

You're famous around the world. People can't even pronounce my name.

Still, the thing about role models is that having one is a weird, beautiful thing. Out of everyone that I grew up admiring, few people taught me more about covering warzones -- and life -- than you did.

Let me explain: I remember the day you were drafted -- that goofy 18-year-old standing next to David Stern, the rest of the world wondering how a skinny kid like that could ever battle in the paint with bigs like Shaq or Malone.

But man, did you battle. You weren't the greatest player ever. Maybe not even the greatest Laker. But you were the most driven -- and it's not even close. You brought it. Every night. Over and over again. Dropping 38 while fighting the flu. Dropping 55 against MJ.

The late nights on an empty Staples Center court, long after the fans had left, rehearsing shot after shot after shot. Every detail, every sneaker squeak became part of the quest for perfection. The legendary one-on-ones with the rookies on your squad, taking turns beating and getting beat. The obsession to be the best, and doing whatever it took to get there.

If there's one thing you showed the world -- and especially this skinny kid from Toronto -- is that talent will give you opportunity, but work ethic is what makes you a star.

Back when you were drafted, I remember thinking here a kid who's around the same age as me with a world of expectation on his shoulders. Let's see if he can make it.

I work in an industry where I'm surrounded by incredibly talented people. When you see TV news globetrotters like Matt Guttman or Arwa Damon, what you don't see is the hours and hours of work that goes on behind the scenes to make it all seamless. It's not just about making just two free throws. It's about the hours of practice behind it.

And it's not just my industry. It's life.

Some people can do it through their talent alone. You didn't. And that was your gift to your fans. The lesson were simple: When you love something, give it everything you can. Wake up thinking about it. Love it. Learn it. Give it your blood. Make it your life.

When I got my first gig on TV in my early 20s, my boss made me a deal: Learn how to anchor in six months or I'd be out of a job.

I pulled a Kobe. On late nights when on one was around, I'd sit in the anchor chair and practice. Every word. Every syllable. The inflection of my voice. I'd even practice my voicing on the subway, reading the newspaper out loud as though I was live. Ask Jonathan Vize how many hours we spent reviewing stories, what worked, what didn't, how many milliseconds they held each shot for. People must've thought I was crazy.

People probably thought that about you, too.

There's a scene in Braveheart where William Wallace shows up on the battlefield, outnumbered by a huge army. There's no fear in his eyes. Just pure, unadulterated drive. It's the same look you had when you dropped 81 on the Raps. Or the dagger against the Suns in Game 4.

When I covered my first warzone a few years ago, I didn't think about basketball. Not even once. I was too focused. People ask me if I was afraid. I wasn't. Even when the Taliban were shooting at us. When you train the way you do, there's no room for fear.

It doesn't matter if you're down 20 heading into the fourth. You respect the game. And you play it to win. Every minute matters. For me, it meant getting to the story, shooting the story and getting out.

Now that you're retiring, a lot of your fans will be sad. Not me. Nothing lasts forever. People change. Bodies break down. It's part of life. I'm glad you're not trying to hold on to a fading legacy. That's part of life, too. Even in your retirement, you're teaching your fans one last lesson: When it's time to put aside whatever it is that you love, don't let them break up with you.

Do it on your own terms.

For that and the way you gave your fans a blueprint for how to be great, we owe you.

Thanks for the memories,

Muhammad

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