The Kobe Question
Thoughts on Bill Russell, Kobe Bryant, and the different paths to immortality
By Bill Simmons on December 7, 2012PRINT
I spent five hours with Bill Russell last week and thought of Kobe Bryant twice and only twice. One time, we were discussing a revelation from Russell's extraordinary biography, Second Wind, that Russell scouted the Celtics after joining them in 1956. Why would you scout your own teammates? What does that even mean? Russell wanted to play to their strengths and cover their weaknesses, which you can't do without figuring out exactly what those strengths and weaknesses were. So he studied them. He studied them during practices, shooting drills, scrimmages, even those rare moments when Red Auerbach rested him during games. He built a mental filing cabinet that stored everything they could and couldn't do, then determined how to boost them accordingly. It was HIS job to make THEM better. That's what he believed.
So when Russell mentioned a current star devouring his book and stealing that specific concept — then thanking Russell for the help — naturally, I expected the player to be LeBron James, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, maybe even Kevin Durant. Nope.
"Really?" I said incredulously.
And that's how I learned that basketball's greatest teammate ever held something of a soft spot for Kobe, someone who's battled more coworkers over the years than Chevy Chase. Russell enjoys his competitiveness, loves his work ethic, appreciates his respect for history, and over anything else, loves how he borrowed that scouting idea. No other player ever mentioned it to him. Just Kobe. Which didn't make sense to me. After all, Kobe regards his teammates the same way President Obama regards the Secret Service — these guys are here to serve and protect ME. Why would he need to scout them? What was I missing?