Kobe Bryant is one of the most talented players the league has ever seen and he has used his skills to repeatedly reach the mountaintop. Mind you, his basketball skills alone did not suffice in his ascension into the pantheon of greatness. He also had to morph into a leader.
The leadership component often goes unmentioned and even unnoticed. However, its absence typically gets a lot of publicity and becomes an important point of criticism.
Early on his career, Bryant could not be a leader on the Los Angeles Lakers. Within the span of a few months, he went from playing and practicing with high school players to sharing the court with professionals.
While still developing as a teenager, he now was in a working environment with grown men. Thus, Bryant had to evolve as a person before anyone on the Lakers would accept to follow him.
The path was a difficult one. In his early years, he was perceived as selfish. Some on the Lakers felt as though he looked to elevate his status while sabotaging team concepts.
This resulted in a well-documented rift with Shaquille O’Neal. During his stint with the Lakers, O’Neal was the team’s dominant personality and as well as its best player, which in turn made him the team’s leader.
Thus, whenever Bryant strayed form the pack, the onus fell on the big man’s shoulders to bring him back into the fold. Mind you, his methods were often questionable.
The process O’Neal borrowed created friction and animosity at times. Both players eventually figured out which buttons to push with each other on the way to championships, but the uneasiness often loomed in the background.