When I agreed to participate in Kobe Bryant Blog Day
, I assumed that it was going to provide me with yet another chance to make fun of a player that I don't particularly care for. But either I was lied to (possible), I believed only what a wanted
to believe (probable), or I didn't take the time to read the KBBD description carefully enough (definitely the case).
So now I have to -- preparing to throw up in my mouth -- honor Kobe Bryant
. Those of you who read this site regularly must wonder whether that's even medically possible. Even I'm not sure. But I'm going to give it the old college try. Just as soon as I wash my mouth out and pop a couple Tic Tacs. (I prefer Citrus Twist, in case you were wondering.)
Okay, then. Onto my solemn duty. Now, I've found the easiest way to do something you totally detest is to sugarcoat it with something you really like. So I'm going to talk about Larry Bird.
Anybody who's taken NBA History 101 knows that Bird's work ethic was the stuff of misty, water-colored legend. Bird was always the first guy to practice, and he was always the last guy to leave. And keep in mind that he did that way back before
every player was described that way. (Seriously, does anybody go home anymore?) But Bird's off-season training regimen consisted mostly of jogging and playing basketball all day on the asphalt court outside his mom's house in French Lick, Indiana. I'm not making this up.
Just jogging and shooting hoops all day. It doesn't exactly seem like the ingredients of legendhood, but that's what being a professional athlete was like in the 80s. Working the Big Mac fat off your ass was what sprinting suicides in training camp was for. Back then, running for health was considered a fad, adhering to a "specialized, nutrition-based diet" was code for being a vegetarian, and the only people who lifted weights were convicts, gay men, and Lou Feriggno. I don't even think that terms like "cardiovascular conditioning" and "plyometrics" had even been invented yet.
So everything Bird did was pretty consistent with an era in which nobody knew anything about health. I mean, doctors were still trying to cure arthritis by injecting people with gold flakes
, which is about half a step ahead of using leeches and maggots as medical devices
. This might explain why Larry once used a diet of popcorn and 7-Up to lose 20 pounds immediately prior to the 1987 playoffs. According to Larry Legend himself, he wanted to feel "light and hungry." Well, I'm pretty sure he got his wish on the "hungry" part. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? Depriving the body of vital nutrition right before the most important stretch of the season. But Bird didn't know any better. Not many people did.
Bird started to realize something was wrong, though. So after the 1986-87 season ended, his physical therapist, Dan Dyrek, gave Larry a four-inch thick notebook filled with flexibility exercises, strengthening exercises, cardiovascular exercises, and nutritional guidelines. Bird came back the next season in the best shape of his life, and it showed. He suddenly had a quick first step, and he stunned his Celtic teammates during the exhibition season by following a missed shot with a two-handed, put-back dunk. Nobody could believe it. It was like basketball scientists had somehow discovered a cure for "White Man's Disease" over the summer.
Bird started the 1987-88 campaign on fire. In the second game of the season, Bird capped the Bullets with 47 points
, including a three-pointer to tie the game and another bucket in overtime to win it. Two games later, he became the first Celtic to produce a 40/20 game with 44 points and 22 rebounds against the Pacers
But less than a week later, Bird attempted a behind-the-back dribble against the Cavaliers and strained both of his Achilles tendons. There were already bone spurs in the area and they snapped at the base of the tendon. Bird wasn't the same for the rest of the season. In fact, you could argue he wasn't the same for the rest of his career.
Still, Bird managed his second straight 50/40/90 year (52.7 percent from the field, 41.4 from three-point range, and 91.6 from the line). He also scored a career-high 29.9 points per game and finished second to Michael Jordan in MVP voting. What nobody knew at the time was that Bird's career had officially peaked, and the beginning of the end came a mere six games into the following season when Bird opted to have surgery to remove the bone spurs under his Achilles tendons. Larry missed the rest of that season. He came back for the 1989-90 season, but he had lost the strength in his legs, and then his back started to go out on him. He would retire a few years later, hobbled and in constant pain.
As a Bird superfan, I often think back to the halcyon days at the begining of that '88 season and find myself thinking "what if?" What if Larry had started on that special workout routine earlier in his career? Or even before his career had even started? Maybe he would have won more MVPs, captured more championships, maybe his career would have lasted longer and ended in a happier fashion.
For all the what ifs in Kobe Bryant's career -- and there are a handful -- the way he's honed his skills and prepared his body
in a ceaseless effort to become The Best will not be among them. Early in his career, he didn't have a jump shot, so he worked on it and worked on it until he had one (ahem, Jason Kidd). A few years ago, Kobe felt like he was getting pushed around on the court, so he added 15 pounds of muscle to his lanky frame. Last summer, he shed a little bit of that excess weight so he could be quicker and more explosive. The man's freakin' shoes have been designed with a special alloy band inside the arch to cut (he thinks) hundredths of a second off his reaction time. Seriously
So no matter what else I ever say about the man, know this: I admire his work ethic and training habits. Other NBA players -- such as Kidd, Shaq, Vince Carter -- as great as they are and have been, they might have achieved so much more if only they'd pushed themselves the way Kobe has pushed himself. Of course, they'll never know for sure. But Kobe will.Editor's note:
Much of the information on Bird's career came from Peter May's The Big Three
. Buy several copies. Read it every night.
Labels: fitness, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird