Kobe Bryant’s retirement announcement earlier this week began yet another professional sports retirement that would be considered the “end of an era.” Almost every opposing team will likely honor Bryant in some sort of formal or informal fashion. Numerous articles commending his athletic prowess and renowned work ethic have dominated media outlets, as well as nostalgic facebook posts, tweets and instagrams from fans– not only of Bryant but also the NBA in general (and some barely basketball fans, for that matter).
But one social media post in particular caught my eye because of a declaration that I now realize has been a prevalent whisper for some time now.
“Kobe Bryant is just like Derek Jeter.”
I am going to try very hard to resist a very frustrated eye roll in an attempt to acknowledge that there are, in fact, pointed and obvious similarities between the two athletic greats. Both are known for their relentless perseverance both on and off the court (or field, in Jeter’s case). Both are associated with one organization for either the majority or the entirety of their careers. Both belong on a list of the athletic heroes of my generation — those of us born in the mid to late-90s, who are very unfamiliar with worlds in which greats such as Jeter and Bryant are not playing for our favorite–or least favorite–teams. And this article on statistical comparisons illustrates some eerily amazing numbers that both men share.
That said, I would like to take this time to firmly establish that Kobe Bryant is not Derek Jeter. Different sports aside, the two men played vastly different roles on their teams. Their personal reputations are galaxies apart, and the never-ending respect awarded to them by fans exists for very different reasons.
Derek Jeter is much less glamour, much more grit. He was never the diva, never the number one slugger. He was never Albert Pujols, never Babe Ruth. He was reliable, consistent, and while he hit a homer or made a web-gem worthy catch fairly frequently, even I, who scrambled to snatch the number two jersey every year before Little League, will admit that the average baseball fan’s view of his “ethereal” baseball abilities is likely overrated. Jeter pales in comparison to the legendary domination of Kobe Bryant, who is arguably one of the basketball players to ever, well, shoot baskets–and we all know by now that Bryant has shot an obscene amount of those. It doesn’t make sense that both would be celebrated as being the best athletes to walk the earth.
But Bryant is no saint, either. Cheating on his wife, being accused of sexual assault…those are hefty blows to the question of Bryant’s character; so much so that Bryant had to completely remake his image after this incident took place by changing his number and embodying the persona of “The Black Mamba.”
Jeter’s worst offense, on the other hand, is most likely the PG-13 obscenity he uttered in the movie The Other Guys. While other professional athletes were getting busted for drugs, DUIs, and galavanting unfaithfully with women, Jeter was completely and utterly absent from any reports that would have in any way brought his ethics into question — and if he was doing anything sketchy, no one knew about it.
It is for this reason that Derek Jeter might as well be a synonym for respect. Jeter was never the best at his game. He was never even considered to be the best at his game. He was a solid contributor who led by example. He was one of the only squeaky-clean images that could actually be dubbed a decent role model for my generation and those to follow. And while Red Sox fans hated Jeter for all those times when he was Mr. October, when he was clutch, when he was consistent. They respected him for his uniquely laudable reputation. Celtics fans, however, hate Kobe Bryant because he’s great. And they respect Bryant because his hard work has made his great.
But mostly because he is great.
Respect, as well as reasons for becoming the face of a franchise, manifests themselves for many different reasons. And while both the Captain and the Black Mamba may receive a seemingly equal amount, fans should understand that the two men are receiving this respect for vastly different reasons–Bryant for his behavior on the court, Jeter for his behavior off.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide which type of respect is more deserved.