These days, fans of the Los Angeles Lakers have many memories of Kobe Bryant lifting the team to a victory with his last second heroics. As a rookie, however, Kobe became the scapegoat for his team’s elimination in the playoffs.
Against the Utah Jazz in the 1997 Western Conference Semifinals, Kobe shot four airballs, three of which came in overtime, as the Lakers were eliminated after the 98-93 loss.
An experience like that could completely implode a young player’s confidence, but looking back now, Kobe called the ordeal a turning point according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
“It was an early turning point for me in being able to deal with adversity, deal with public scrutiny and self-doubt,” Bryant recalled. “At 18 years old, it was gut-check time.”
Bryant also added that he actually has fond memories now, though that wasn’t the case when it originally happened:
“I look back at it now with fond memories of it. Back then, it was misery […] It helped shape me.”
Being able to move past that moment to become one of the greatest players of all-time is an accomplishment in itself. Many players, especially 18-year olds, would have been distraught and never recovered, but Kobe showed his mental toughness and took it as motivation to make sure it never happened again.
Now, Kobe is revered as one of the greatest clutch players of all-time and it is because of his mentality and fearlessness. Kobe isn’t afraid to take any shot and now he and the fans have plenty of games that can erase that memory of his initial failure.