The late Kobe Bryant is unquestionably one of the greatest basketball players of all time and became a major inspiration for not just a generation of basketball players, but an entire generation of young athletes.
So why then on Wednesday, as the Eagles opened training camp, did Nick Sirianni show his Eagles a video of Bryant’s worst moment in the NBA?
The message was loud and clear.
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“He was just trying to show that even the great ones have failures,” Lane Johnson said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter who you are in this league. It’s all about how you handle adversity, how you bounce back. And if you have a bad rep, then move on to the next one and do your best and try to have a short-term memory.”
The video Sirianni showed his team came from Game 5 of the 1997 Western Conference semifinals between the Lakers and the Jazz. Kobe was still an 18-year-old rookie back then and shot four airballs within a span of just a few minutes as the Lakers lost a must-win game and were bounced from the playoffs.
In a win-or-go home game, Kobe shot one airball to end regulation and three more in overtime. The Lakers lost the game 98-93 and lost the series 4-1.
But that’s where the legend began.
As the story goes, after the Lakers flew home from Utah to Los Angeles, Kobe went directly to Palisades High School, where he knew the janitor and got him to open the gym. Bryant shot the basketball “until the sun came up” and kept doing it every day that offseason.
“I look back at it now with fond memories of it. Back then, it was misery,” Bryant said in 2016, via the Los Angeles Daily News. “It helped shape me.”
As he prepared to retire from the NBA, Bryant was able to look back at those failures in 1997 and realize how much of a turning point for him it was.
“That was a defining moment in his career,” former Lakers GM Jerry West said, via the Daily News. “If somebody would have shot an air ball on our team and they had shot a second one, they would only shoot a third one. He was fearless. I think that’s one of the things that spurred him to greatness. He wasn’t going to allow himself to fail.”
The Eagles, of course, have deep ties with the late Bryant that go beyond his time at Lower Merion High School.
While there aren’t a ton of Eagles left from the Super Bowl team, there are still a few who will remember when Bryant spoke to the entire team in Orange County, California, in December of 2017. That day, Kobe wore a No. 8 Eagles jersey and tried to explain his Mamba mentality.
"A killer mentality," Rodney McLeod recalled in 2017. "He said literally every time he stepped on that court, he wanted to be the best. He wanted to go out there and kill the guy lining up across from them and make him feel like he didn't deserve to be on the court. Like literally, those were his words.
"He wanted to make them feel like they shouldn't be a basketball player, they should be an accountant. That's what he said. And you see it when you watch him play. When you have that mindset, it's hard to beat a guy like that."
When Bryant died in a helicopter crash in February of 2020, it hit the sports world hard, including the Eagles. That July, the Eagles added a Kobe mural in the hallway of the NovaCare Complex.
For the Eagles, Kobe was always a reminder of greatness. Thanks to Sirianni, maybe now he’ll be a reminder that great things can come from setbacks.
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