How Kobe Bryant Learned to Win From the King of Pop

Michael Jackson recognized in Kobe a fellow prodigy and outsider.

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    DENVER - NOVEMBER 11: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers takes a free throw against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on November 11, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Lakers 118-112. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

    Here’s a little secret about Kobe Bryant: When he’s really being himself and honest, he swears a lot. When he’s serious and impassioned expletives that we’re not reproducing on this site become his adjectives and adverbs.

    Which is why it’s interesting that there are so many words blocked out in a fascinating discussion with Bryant by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo. He got Kobe to really open up.

    Including how the late King of Pop Michael Jackson helped teach Kobe to be true to himself and his craft. That it was an MJ named Jackson not Jordan that taught Kobe his drive.

    “It sounds weird, I guess, but it’s true: I was really mentored by the preparation of Michael Jackson,” Bryant told Yahoo! Sports.

    “We would always talk about how he prepared to make his music, how he prepared for concerts,” Bryant said. “He would teach me what he did: How to make a ‘Thriller’ album, a ‘Bad’ album, all the details that went into it. It was all the validation that I needed – to know that I had to focus on my craft and never waver. Because what he did – and how he did it – was psychotic. He helped me get to a level where I was able to win three titles playing with Shaq because of my preparation, my study. And it’s only all grown.

    “That’s the mentality that I have – it’s not an athletic one. It’s not from [Michael] Jordan. It’s not from other athletes.

    “It’s from Michael Jackson.”

    Jackson reached out to Kobe when Bryant first came to the Lakers. Here was this passionate, driven prodigy who was getting mentally bounced around by Shaquille O’Neal and eventually Phil Jackson. That was Shaq’s locker room, make no mistake, and he wanted to establish himself as the alpha dog over Kobe.

    Michael Jackson maybe more than anybody understood about being a prodigy and an outsider, and he passed along wisdom about how to overcome it.

    If you’re a Laker fan the entire Yahoo article is a must read because Kobe was straight forward about how it took him a long time to really learn how to lead — and that it was talks with Celtics legend Bill Russell that really taught him that.

    And that this is not going to last forever. Kobe said he doesn’t want to be one of those athletes hanging on at the end. He said he doesn’t want to be the guy being abused by the guys he’s abusing right now. That is when he will walk away.

    And it’s not that far off, Kobe is 32 and in basketball year’s that’s getting up there. Which is really a reminder for all of us in Los Angeles to really soak up and enjoy this now. Savor Kobe, savor these Lakers. Don’t get overwhelmed with the minutia, enjoy the big picture and the amazing basketball.

    And thank the King of Pop for helping make it all happen.

    Kurt Helin lives in Long Beach and is the Blogger-in-Chief of NBC's NBA blog Pro Basketball Talk (which you can also follow in twitter).