There are shortcuts to success but none that take you to greatness. Success is often taken to be a matter of being name-recognized or face-recognized, but that’s only for a while. A reasonable enough goal, certainly, and many are more than happy to get there. They are more likely than not to be ready to adopt the limited wisdom of the adage ‘by any means necessary’. Greatness is something else though.
Bernadus Carnotensis, a twelfth-century French Neo-Platonist philosopher, better known as Bernard of Chartres, once spoke of discovering truth by building on previous discoveries. Isaac Newton’s version is the most quoted, ‘if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ Greats.
The late Kobe Bryant worked hard and relentlessly to get to where he got in basketball. If he hit airballs he tried to find out the reason. Weak legs, he figured. He worked hard to strengthen his legs. No airballs thereafter. Done.
That was not all. There were times when he couldn’t get around something. Then he visited, in his words, GOAT Mountain. GOAT as in ‘Greatest of All Time.’ Obviously that implies just one individual, but there’s always a debate about the GOAT of any sport. Bryant covered all the bases. He went to all the available peaks in the mountain range: Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, Jerry West, Oscar Robinson and Bill Russell.
Sure, he wanted to be better than MJ and was dismissed as an arrogant kid when he said so at the age of 17. And yet, there was utmost respect and that respect was returned by MJ and others.
The greats are almost always generous with advice and like all true greats they recognize and nurture potential greats. Like Kobe Bryant. They would respond, of course, to the not-so-great or even the pedestrian, but there’s particular delight in offering tips to those who had it in them not just to be great but to surpass the advising great.
Kobe visited GOAT Mountain. Now that alone won’t do, obviously. You need focus. Discipline. Exercise. Fellow travelers on the path to greatness. Great teachers. The GOATS are there, but there are not hands-on teachers. They inspire and spending time with them or even being in their presence can fuel the determination to become better at what you do. However, for a variety of reasons it’s not everyone who pencils in ‘Visit GOAT Mountain’ in the must-do notebook. Kobe did. It must have helped.
It’s not a basketball story. It’s a soccer story. It’s a tennis story too. Name a sport and you’ll find there’s always a GOAT Mountain. There are GOATs. Name a field of science and you’ll find scientific GOATs. It’s the same in the social sciences. The arts. Literature. Politics. Even party politics. Specific fields of business. Manufacturing. Advertising. Services. Agriculture.
GOATs are libraries. Archives. Repositories of secrets gathered through handwork, discipline, engagement and years. AND the GOATs who came before.
Kobe always figures in discussions about the GOAT in basketball. Is it Jordan or LeBron, someone will ask and immediately the audience will divide into pro-MJ and pro-Bron. However, someone might chip in, ‘how about Kobe?’ The debate never ends and the true greats really don’t care about such things.
MJ scored 32,292 points in his NBA career. When LeBron passed him in May 2019, he did it in a pair of Nikes with ‘Thank you M.J.’ written on the side. ‘MJ was like lightning in a bottle for me, because I wanted to be like him,’ Bron said. MJ congratulated him.
On January 26, 2020, LeBron passed Kobe and moved to third place (behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone) and Kobe tweeted, ‘Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother.’
A few hours later Kobe Bryant was dead. And the basketball world wept.
That’s another story. All that we need to understand is that there are mountains. GOAT mountains. The GOATS are down to earth folk, but you have to go to GOAT Mountain to meet them, climb on their shoulders and see further than they could see. They will not mind.
This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [February 17, 2020]