|Product dimensions:||4.21(w) x 6.87(h) x 0.49(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 17 Years|
Chapter One: Air Apparent
Madison Square Garden bills itself as the world's most famous sports arena, the "Mecca of Basketball." Because few arenas can boast the storied history that the Garden can, who is to disagree? So it seemed a fitting place to host the 1998 NBA All-Star Game, one that turned out to be more than a star-studded event. It was on this court that the world watched a classic matchup -- a significant moment in the constant evolution of the National Basketball Association.
This All-Star Game in some ways was no different from the others that had preceded it, featuring all the usual stars (both on the court and in the stands, watching). Anytime the best talent in the world is collected on one court for a game of hoops, millions of people around the world tune in to watch the high-scoring spectacle. Because of the feats of athletic prowess that the All-Star Game is known for, it is no mystery why this game is one of the most popular sporting events each year.
Additionally, the best player ever to play the game was talking about retirement. Perhaps for the first time, owners, players, and fans alike were taking Michael Jordan's retirement seriously. It seemed very possible that this would be MJ's last All-Star performance.
The subplots did not stop there. This game also featured the youngest player ever to start an NBA All-Star Game -- Kobe Bryant. Despite the fact that he was not even a starter on his own Laker team, the very popular 19-year-old was voted to start for the Western Conference All-Stars. He was one of four players from the Los Angeles Lakers to make the team -- Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel were selected by the coaches to participarowd roared with approval. This was the world-class level of talent that they were expecting to see after shelling out (in some cases) thousands of dollars.
There was something distinctive about this play, something that made this alley-oop dunk different from the hundreds, perhaps thousands that everyone had seen on the NBA's "I Love This Game" ad campaign. This dunk was a statement, an exclamation point to the notion that the game is ever-evolving. And perhaps there was a new star ready to pick up the scepter of basketball royalty that Michael Jordan was soon to put down. That dunk was more than two points for the Western Conference All-Stars. It was an announcement that Kobe Bryant was worth all the hype he had received, that he could be the heir apparent to Air Jordan, the undeniable King of Basketball.
But the comparison of Kobe and Michael goes beyond their respective on-court talents. Michael Jordan is who he is because of his pure athleticism, discipline, and the leadership that he exhibits in every game he plays. Michael is also the most marketed athlete, appearing in commercials, TV shows, and movies, and his ever-present smile and charisma have made him into the greatest sports star of all time.
Kobe Bryant had thus far shown Jordan-like talent to appeal to fans and consumers both young and old. And the simple fact is that a player of his abilities can make as big an impact on his bank account with sponsorships and endorsements as with his on-court talents. While the athletic matchup between the old man and the youngster was the matchup of the day, there was another, more subtle issue at stake -- the highest-paid endorser was talking about retiring. While we can still expect to see Mr. Jordan's smiling face in Gatorade, Wheaties, and Nike advertisements, someone new and young (possibly 20 years old) will soon have to take his spot, on the court and off it.
But the game has not always been like this. Not only have the mechanics changed dramatically in the last 10 to 20 years, but the popularity, social impact, and commercial value of professional basketball have grown exponentially as well.
More people go to live NBA games, watch them on television, and spend more money to consume the game of basketball than ever before. Because of this dramatic increase in popularity, there is more pressure on the league and the team owners to deliver to their fans as competitive and entertaining a product as possible. This in turn creates a terrific demand for the best basketball talent, earning quality players outrageous sums of money. If a player has charisma or charm, it only serves to make him more marketable and in demand.
It is in this environment that Kobe Bryant has entered the game of professional basketball. Because he is as charming off the court as he is powerful on it, Kobe has drawn the inevitable -- and perhaps unfortunate -- comparison to Michael Jordan.
Since Air Jordan began talking seriously about retiring from the NBA, owners, advertisers, and television stations have been actively looking for the "next MJ." The truth of the matter is that there will never be another Michael Jordan, for no individual in recent decades has single-handedly changed a professional sport more. But after watching Kobe match up with Michael in the 1998 All-Star Game in New York City's Madison Square Garden, it was easy to see how and why a comparison has been made.
In what many consider his breakout game, Kobe showed the world that he could compete with Michael, not only in scoring, but also in style and charisma. Everyone loves Kobe, because there is a strong sense that he is indeed special -- special because he shows respect for the game and everyone associated with it. In an era where players get suspended for drug problems, speeding, or physically attacking their coaches, people sense that Kobe is plain and simply a good kid. A very good kid.
The qualities that make him a good kid come primarily from the environment in which he was brought up -- his family taught him both humility and a strong work ethic. It also helped him to have a father who played in the NBA and to watch many of his father's friends fall prey to the temptations that come with a young athlete's making -- and most often wasting -- ridiculous amounts of money. It also helped growing up for a significant amount of time in Italy (his father played in the Italian professional league), where a strong family unit is a huge part of the culture. Most importantly, it has helped Kobe to have parents who have stayed together. They succeeded in raising a kid with strong values, primarily because they themselves had their heads squarely attached to their shoulders.
Kobe Bryant knew at an early age, that he was special. It was at the age of three, in fact, that he knew he wanted to play professional basketball. In the eighth grade he dreamed of skipping college to go directly to the pros. He was fortunate enough to have learned that the easiest way to achieve one's dreams is through a tremendous amount of self-discipline and hard work. Kobe is not lucky to be where he is today -- Kobe is a phenomenon only because he c reated an opportunity for himself. He has made a great number of personal sacrifices combined with hard work to prepare himself for the opportunity that eventually came to him.
Copyright © 1999 by Jonathan Hall
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Kobe Bryant is only 22 and has made a great affect on the NBA. He has come right out of High School and had his best season this year and helped the Lakers win their second straight NBA championship.He averages 31 points a game most of the time.