Kobe Bryant died this week. I know next-to-nothing about basketball, but luckily when I was working on Steal Like An Artist back in 2011, my friend Matt Thomas clued me in to part of what made him such a good player:
Kobe’s interesting b/c, perhaps more than any other player, his game is based on his watching of videos of other players. Kobe’s gotten flack for this from players who learned to play “on the street” while he learned to play “watching tapes.” Kobe grew up overseas as part of the first generation where VHS tapes were ubiquitous. Tapes were his teachers.
Here’s what I wrote in chapter two of the book:
“There isn’t a move that’s a new move.” The basketball star Kobe Bryant has admitted that all of his moves on the court were stolen from watching tapes of his heroes. But initially, when Bryant stole a lot of those moves, he realized he couldn’t completely pull them off because he didn’t have the same body type as the guys he was thieving from. He had to adapt the moves to make them his own.
Kobe was far from the only player who stole moves.
Here’s Al Jefferson:
When I got to Boston I stole Paul Pierce’s ball fake. Tom Gugliotta used to kick my (butt) every day in practice my rookie year. It was always the same move – a turnaround jumper – so I stole that, (particularly) his footwork. Everyone I go against, if I like something they do, I steal it and put it in my own form.
“That’s the beauty of basketball,” said Mike Miller, in a NYTimes article about USA players importing “The Euro Step” move:
If you’re a basketball player and you want to get better, you’re going to take things from everybody. They take stuff from what we do. We take stuff from what they do.
What’s interesting is how technology continues to improve the ability of young players to study the masters who came before them.
“Where Kobe ‘stole’ Michael Jordan’s moves from watching him on VHS (e.g., “Playground” and “Come Fly with Me”), today’s young stars like Tatum ‘steal’ Kobe’s moves from YouTube,” Matt pointed out.
More from a 2018 WSJ story, “Why Are the NBA’s Best Players Getting Better Younger? YouTube”:
Tatum is young enough that he grew up with YouTube. There was never a time in his life that he couldn’t watch any clip of any NBA player any time he wanted.
“That’s how young I am,” Tatum said.
He was 7 when YouTube was invented, and it wasn’t long until he was searching for Kobe Bryant videos. “I’ve been watching Kobe ever since I can remember,” he said. But what made him the player he is today is not that Tatum simply watched Kobe. It was what he watched. And how he watched it. He studied Kobe.
Eventually, Tatum ran out of Kobe clips, and started studying other players, incorporating their swiped moves into his game.
And so the game evolves. Allen Iverson, in a video about the crossover move, said:
I’m pretty sure there’s gonna be some guy who come along that’s gonna learn it and get it better than I got it and his is gonna be better than mine. Hopefully it’s my son.
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