Leadership comes in many forms through many different types of practices. Some leaders lead by example. Some leaders have a way of inspiring people. Some leaders use discipline and authority to lead. Some leaders, carry all of that with them.
The Lakers have been spoiled by great leaders in the past. Guys like Jerry West lead by example. He is still the only player to win a Finals MVP, and not win a championship that year. He has lost so many times in the Finals to the Boston Celtics, that he can relate to players through gut-wrenching losses, sheer passion for the game, and immutable competitiveness. That translated later to a brief coaching stint, but also, one of the most successful runs as an NBA executive ever. Think of how many banners hang because of his decision making. Think of how many outstanding players became true winners.
Only the great ones have that.
Magic Johnson further spoiled the Laker organization. He did the same as Jerry West, only with more championship success, far more enthusiasm, and that ever-infectious smile. Not only did he learn to win with different teammates, but he learned how to win his personal battle with the HIV virus as well as his business ventures. His charisma has a way of getting attention from everyone, yet, making them feel at home and sharing in all the joy.
Only the great ones have that.
Kevin Durant’s speech during the MVP award celebration was nothing we have ever seen of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Shaq and Bryant lead by example. They led by producing results on the floor and willed their teammates along to their success. Shaq took abuse daily throughout his NBA career and treated it with absolute grace. Kobe Bryant? His will is so strong, that he’s willing to make two free throws on a torn ACL, just so the Lakers could win over the Golden State Warriors, and fight for playoff contention. They weren’t really perceived as verbally inspirational, but rather, their leadership could be considered results-oriented. What legacy would each of them leave if they never won championships? They would still be a great players, but great leaders? Not in the way that West and Magic are considered.
All of this, brings me to Kevin Durant. Kevin, is an elite level player. He’s always a top-5 player in the NBA. Unlike most players, he is among the most humble, selfless people on the court. Not only did he call out his teammates by name and say how each of them inspired him, but he also mentioned his friends, family, and the organization. He was thankful. He loves them all. Speeches that heart-felt are usually reserved for Hall-of-Fame ceremonies. Kevin Durant knows he’s leading a Hall-of-Fame career, and he’s bringing the team with him. He lives in the present. Unlike most leaders, his talent, character, and eloquence inspire the team from within.
That is the kind of franchise player the Lakers are looking for. Sure, it would be best if that person had elite basketball talent, but on a team that has lacked true inspirational leadership over the past several seasons, it wouldn’t hurt to find something that unites the team deeply, both on-and-off the floor. Maybe the next guy is a head coach.
Maybe it’s Derek Fisher. Maybe it’s Byron Scott. Maybe it’s Mark Jackson. Maybe it’ll come from a source we have longed to see it come from, Kobe Bryant.
Maybe, just maybe, Kobe Bryant closes the loop of his NBA career. He was once so ambitious to becoming the best player ever. This time, perhaps, he’ll be even more ambitious making his teammates, the best players they have ever been.
Maybe, just maybe, he’ll inspire in a way that gives Kobe Bryant the validation of his career; a championship based on his teammates’ success.
Only the great ones can do that.