On Monday, the Los Angeles Lakers retired two jerseys. Magic Johnson emceed the ceremony before a standing-room-only crowd at the Staples Center in the heart of downtown L.A. As the two jerseys, numbers 8 and 24, were hoisted to the rafters, the adoring Laker fans showered applause on the Laker greats who wore them. For this storied franchise with a long list of Hall of Famers, it was a fitting tribute.
There's only one twist to this fairy tale. Both numbers were worn by the same man.
During Kobe Bryant's 20-year career, he elevated a Laker franchise that had already seen the likes of Jabbar and Magic. His record wasn't without its smudges--he was arrested in 2004 in connection with a sexual assault complaint in Colorado, and while the charges were later dropped, his reputation was tarnished. Even so, he remains one of the very early success stories of players who came right out of high school to the NBA.
"Those times when you get up early and you work hard," Bryant said during the number-retirement ceremony. "Those times you stay up late and you work hard. Those times when you don't feel like working. You're too tired. You don't want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream."
Bryant's career has mirrored the path many entrepreneurs travel. By any measure, he has made it. But, don't be fooled: Understanding his approach to the process is the lesson for any entrepreneur.
It's about the work, not the result.
Bryant was an 18-time All-Star, 15-time member of the all-NBA team, won five championships, and finished his career third on the all-time scoring list. He won Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012 for Team USA. He holds the record as the NBA player with the longest tenure with one NBA franchise.
He is a future Hall-of-Famer.
Still, Bryant says "the dream" was the work it took to get there. Let's remember his quote from the ceremony:
"Those time when you get up early... those times when you stay up late... when you're too tired... you don't want to push yourself, but you do it anyway."
"That is actually the dream."
Bryant's work ethic is legendary (and that's an understatement).
Bryant would show up for 7 a.m. practices at 5 a.m. After high school practices, he'd make teammates stay to play games of one-on-one to 100.
Lakers head coach Byron Scott would find a sweaty 18-year-old rookie Bryant in a darkened gym, two hours before practice, doing individual shooting and dribbling drills.
He routinely outworked the NBA's best players. During the run-up to the 2008 Olympics, he did full predawn workouts before official practices started.
Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade recounted such an episode to ESPN's Michael Wallace. "We're in Las Vegas and we all come down for team breakfast at the start of the whole training camp," Bosh said. "And Kobe comes in with ice on his knees. He's got sweat drenched through his workout gear. And I'm like, 'It's 8 o'clock in the morning. Where is he coming from?'"
Wade added, "Everybody else just woke up. We're all yawning, and he's already three hours and a full workout into his day."
It wasn't just on the court. Bryant claims to have taught himself to play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata on the piano throughout the course of a season.
As a business pro, yes, outworking your peers can be a strategy.
The same concepts apply to business.
Now out of the league, Bryant appears to be shifting his attention to the business and entrepreneurial world. He has been known to text successful business friends at all hours of the night and cold call others who catch his interest via a tweet or article.
Bryant told Bloomberg Businessweek:
I'll just cold call people and pick their brain about stuff. Some of the questions that I ask will seem really, really simple and stupid, quite honestly, for them. But if I don't know, I don't know. You have to ask. I'll just do that. I'll just ask questions and I want to know more about how they build their businesses and how they run their companies and how they see the world.
While Bryant's NBA career is done, his legacy lives on in the rafters of the Staples Center. But it was clear during the retirement ceremony for those jerseys: He's interested in a different kind of legacy. One that speaks to the process to reach the accomplishment over the accomplishment itself.
The same can be said for building a great business or career. The accomplishments you achieve are an afterthought to the process it takes to get there. The work is the dream.
I'm guessing we haven't seen the last of Kobe Bryant.