“Tennis Honors: Kobe Bryant” premiered on Tennis Channel Live Sunday night. The 8:40 piece features exclusive interviews with Nick Kyrgios, from a basketball court in Canberra; Rob Pelinka, general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe’s partner on the tennis court; Annie Matthew, who worked with Kobe on his book “Legacy and the Queen”; along with other tour players. Their words, along with the images and images collected for this special project, help tell a different story: Kobe Bryant’s tennis heritage, which continues to grow.
Watch the full video above and read below for more insight from one of the creators, Ed McGrogan of Tennis Channel.
Why do we love a sport that asks us to hit great shots again and again, without the guarantee of actually winning the point?
Because, as Kobe Bryant said, the reverse is also true.
Wait, Kobe Bryant? The basketball player who won five NBA titles, made 18 All-Star teams, and made comparisons to Michael Jordan? The man whose trash talk was as legendary as his scoring touch?
He also liked a sport where politeness was paramount?
Yes. Because, as Kobe said, you have to have conversations with yourself. And those conversations can be pretty rough too.
Kobe was a superstar in his sport. But on another course, he was like a weekend warrior on the golf course: he loved the sound of a good shot, no matter how many poor he’d hit before.
In hoops, Kobe wielded a large brown sphere that just wanted to graze. In tennis, he hit a small yellow ball with the intention of not hitting a net at all. In either case, he used his hands to place a ball exactly where he wanted it.
Kobe caught the tennis bug after a hitting session with Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka. His one-hander wasn’t exactly Federer-esque. His top jumping generation did not threaten Rafa. But when Kobe took to the tennis court, there was an undeniable joy in the simplest parts of the game – the ball bouncing on his racket; completing an exercise; finish a stroke.
There was also a lot of intensity.
Jordan’s obsession with golf is part of its enduring appeal. Could Kobe have done the same with tennis? In many ways, he has already done so.
Nick Kyrgios, in Canberra, reads a passage from “Legacy and the Queen”
When it comes to Kobe Bryant’s tennis legacy, we have to start with Legacy – the main character in Kobe’s book on tennis.
Yes, Kobe, an Oscar winner for that Best Basketball, his animated short about the sport he mastered for 20 years, was also a creator of young adult fiction.
In a story that calls The hunger GamesLegacy Petrin lives in an orphanage run by her father in the Republic of Nova, a world divided into neglected provinces and prosperous cities. As she takes care of the many orphans, we discover she has an inherent gift: tennis.
As soon as she hit the ball against the stone wall of the garden, the last worries slipped away. She was alone. Even the birds weren’t awake. There were no chores to do, no faces to wash, no tiny socks to wrestle with squirming feet. For now, Legacy only had to play tennis.
In a bit of foreshadowing, Legacy contends with shadows and darkness as she tries to hit the ball with greater accuracy. When “the pale light of the moon began to appear brighter” …
Then she started aiming at the same stone in the wall. Then she forced herself to strive for the same pit in the same stone. Time and again she hit her target. She poured her entire weight into every shot. The certainty spread through every muscle in her body. “
If this sounds like a young Kobe to you, cultivating his muscle memory and refining the focus that would take him to iconic heights as an adult, we wouldn’t disagree. But it also sounds like a more mature Bryant transitioning into his second career. Kobe was confident when he realized it was time to leave the hardwood for hardcovers, but he brought the same, disciplined approach to his newfound passion. When the author of Legacy and the Queen, Annie Matthew, was asked which passage of the book most resonated with Kobe, she answered matter-of-factly.
“Every passage of this was important to him,” she said, adding that he had read the full draft four times before the book was published in September 2019.
Legacy eventually leaves her county for the town tennis academy, against her father’s wishes, hoping to win Nova’s national championship. She faces opponents who use “inner weather” to invoke adverse playing conditions, such as snow on one side of the field or cracks in the surface below. The process is called ‘grana’.
But what sets Legacy apart from its competitors isn’t her lack of experience with Grana, it’s her upbringing. In one scene, Legacy walks onto the field in front of a crowded crowd of city dwellers, who have cheered on her opponent before the applause suddenly stops. It’s ‘our little scholarship student,’ says a patronizing, partisan announcer.
Kobe Bryant, on a different kind of field, tracks down a short ball.
It’s another nod to Bryant, who started his basketball journey far from home in Italy. Like the locals, he played football to improve his footwork. The foreigner was determined, and when he returned to the US, he continued to explore other sports – baseball, football, maybe even tennis.
As Legacy’s practice improves and the championship game is in sight, she’s thinking about how far she got and how she got there.
“If I want something, I want it. I don’t think about how it affects other people. “
Legacy’s friend and stringer, Pippa, then comforts her.
‘You cannot feel just one emotion. They are all interconnected. Love is part of anger. Anger is part of love. It’s all hopelessly confused. “
Tennis players feed on internal emotions more than other athletes. There are no teammates; just yourself to talk to. In writing this book, Matthews helped Kobe express the importance of knowing yourself and honoring all of your emotions – even the ones that scare you – to become the champion you can be.
If Kobe could do this with a fictional character, it makes sense that he experienced this in his own life.
Which helps answer the following question: Why Kobe?
Why did some of the world’s most prominent tennis players love Kobe in this regard, long before the tragedy a year ago?
He was a champion, of course, but he was so much more than that.
Naomi Osaka regularly took advice from Kobe and developed a relationship that went beyond athletics. She also consulted him about the book.
“I love Legacy’s drive, her passion and her fierce mindset,” Osaka Bryant told the novel’s protagonist. “I hope to say that we are similar in that sense.”
Novak Djokovic saw Kobe as a mentor, and a friend who helped him stay positive through the various dips in his career.
A devoted basketball fan, Nick Kyrgios took perhaps the most inspiration from Kobe.
Kobe was not only a tennis fan and player. He was a tennis influence
But even after death, Kobe’s tennis heritage continues to grow.
Osaka, Djokovic and Kyrgios had Kobe on their minds during the Australian Open, the tournament shaken by what happened halfway around the world. Last year merged into one swamp of grief – except for one thing: everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news.
The kids who play tennis with Bryant in August 2019 will remember him too.
“There’s something about having a situation like this, where you can play the sport on a smaller level, it tickles your imagination,” said Bryant after a hitting session with some youngsters at Flushing Meadows. “It takes you all the way back to being a kid.”
Kobe’s fantasy on the basketball court made him a player we’ll never forget. His imaginations and experiments on the tennis court led to the story of Legacy, “who knew how to shine in the darkness.”
We may never understand why everything that happened last year has happened. But in the midst of such darkness, we saw how enlightening and important Kobe Bryant was, especially within the tennis world.
A year after Kobe was in her player’s box at the 2019 US Open, Osaka hoped he would be proud of what she did in the future. She was going to win the tournament.
Kobe Bryant and tennis. Why not?
Located between January’s summer tournaments in Australia and March’s Sunshine Double in the US, February can be overlooked in tennis. But not in 2021, with the Australian Open moving temporarily to the second and shortest month of the calendar. Beyond that, February is Black History Month, and also a pivotal time for the sport in its recovery from the pandemic.
To commemorate this convergence of events, we are highlighting an important story by day, throughout the month The 2/21Put your clock on it: it drops every afternoon, at 2:21 Eastern Standard Time (US).
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