It’s fascinating how professional sports’ two primary “alpha dogs” (Tiger Woods & Kobe Bryant) are so similar. In addition to being Nike Family siblings, both polarizing superstars share a certain personal coldness that’s only rivaled by their individual greatness.
Tiger and Kobe clearly know what it takes to win (14 PGA major wins and 4 NBA titles, respectively), and they also possess unparalleled drive to add to their distinguished resumes.
Their hunger for athletic conquest is so intense, that it often makes them seem inhuman. Watching Tiger and Kobe hunt for birdies and baskets is sometimes reminiscent of the T-1000 chasing John Connor in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (I can’t help but think that Governator is going to one day come down from his Staples Center suite and block Kobe’s path to the lane while mounted on a Harley).
Despite their global fame and success, Tiger and Kobe never conveyed the authenticity or fun that their rivals and historical predecessors were able to master. While Tiger dominated Phil Mickelson for most of his career, he was never able to truly relate to his fans like the affable “Lefty” does. Similarly, Kobe lacks Lebron James’s outgoing, larger-than-life media image, perhaps contributing to many “experts” thinking King James is the superior player (for anyone watching the 2010 Playoffs, this is clearly untrue). Regardless of being the closest thing we’ve seen to Michael Jordan on the court, Kobe will never match #23’s level of global super-stardom (somehow I can’t see Kobe suiting up with the Tune Squad anytime soon). Still, I don’t think this bothers him much, as the only thing on Kobe’s mind right now is undoubtedly Championship Number Five.
Perhaps Tiger and Kobe simply care too much about the record books to concern themselves with their public images. To a degree, they are probably right in being this way. Maybe we do place too much emphasis on our favorite athletes’ personal lives, instead of celebrating what it is that really makes them stand out. Re-examining our values and expectations may be necessary when it becomes nearly impossible to tell if we are watching ESPN or TMZ.
While I’m enrolled in this school of thought, Tiger and Kobe must each understand that there is NO divide between their personal and professional lives. One’s athletic legacy is as directly shaped by actions off the court/course as it is by triumphs on them. If neither comprehended this reality early in their careers, both must surely get it now.
When Kobe Bryant faced sexual assault charges in 2003, he was forced to repair his image and relationships with fans, teammates, and sponsors. Seven years later, Kobe seems to have accomplished this difficult feat.
Now, it’s Tiger who must do the same. While his “charges” are less serious (legally), surmounting his shitstorm will likely require even more commitment and focus. Without teammates to support him, Tiger must tame himself in order to restore his legacy and the prominence of his entire sport! The NBA can survive without Kobe, but the same cannot be said about the PGA without it’s only active legend. It’s fitting that if Tiger Woods ever wants to surpass The Golden Bear’s (Jack Nicklaus) record 18 major tournament wins, he will have to essentially become a “Golden Boy” again.
Tiger and Kobe can learn a lot from one another. In fact, they may be the only individuals who can understand what makes both of them exactly who they are.
** Blogger Evan Klonsky inspired me to write this post with his most recent work, From Robert to Eldrick. Check this out for a closer look into the mind and world of Tiger Woods.**