18 All-Star selections.
11 All-NBA First Team appearances.
5 NBA Championships.
With all the incredible accolades Kobe Bryant accumulated over his 20-season NBA career, people tend to forget that it started fairly pedestrian.
In Bryant’s rookie season, he started just six games. His stats weren’t very inspiring, as he averaged 7.6 points per contest on 41.7% shooting from the field. But both of those numbers would increase the next season, and by Bryant’s third year in the NBA, he was an everyday starter for the Los Angeles Lakers.
How did the ultra-competitive Bryant handle starting just seven games over his first two NBA seasons? In August, he discussed that very topic with Alabama head football coach Nick Saban:
“For me, it was, ‘OK, why am I not playing? What can I do differently?’ I have to be better,” Bryant said. “Alright, then that’s not good enough, I have be twice as good. For me, it was a challenge of getting to a place where it’s undeniable. You have to play me—because I’m that good, I’m that efficient, I’m strong at both ends of the floor. So it actually helped me. Because I was coming off the bench the first two years. So I was like, I have to figure this out, I have to. So I used it as a source of motivation, (rather than) complain and whine about it.
“It’s also a strength to be able to tell your friends and family members to shut up,” Bryant continued. “Because they’d be in my ear, ‘Oh, you should be starting. Oh, you should be playing. I don’t know what they’re doing?’ Shut up. If I’m not playing, I need to get better at this and I need to get better at that. There are things I can control. But of course there’s a lot of noise. A lot of outside noise from friends and former coaches and all sorts of stuff, filling your head with nonsense. And you have be able to have the strength to edit that and say, ‘No, I don’t want to hear it. This is on me.’ That becomes tough for young players.”
It’s sage wisdom from the Black Mamba, and great advice for any athlete who isn’t satisfied with their current playing situation. The entire conversation between Bryant and Saban is a fantastic watch.