A day after we learned that LeBron James would be opening the "I Promise" school, we were pleased to hear that another Nike athlete had stepped up and demonstrated his commitment to the youth as well.
Kobe Bryant, in partnership with Nike, has established a youth basketball league called "The Mamba League" in Los Angeles. Designed for boys and girls aged 8 to 10, the league focuses heavily on technique and developing children's confidence, the former being of special importance for Bryant due to his displeasure with the current state of AAU basketball, which he voiced to ESPN last year in January.
I think everything is a reward system. I think the coaches who are teaching the game are getting rewarded in one fashion or another. It's just a showcase. I think it's absolutely horrible for the game.
Bryant went on to say, "I think we're doing a tremendous disservice to our young basketball players right now. That's something that definitely needs to be fixed, and it's going to definitely be one of the things that I focus on."
Being able to focus on basic fundamentals of the game is something he's strongly emphasizing.
"I like seeing kids get better," Bryant said in the league's promo video. "I like seeing the light go on where they're like, 'OK, I couldn't do this last week, but now I can.' It's almost like watching magic slowly develop in front of your eyes."
Bryant discussed the importance of these fundamentals with his "play, learn, grow" concept integrated into the league.
"Play, learn, grow is really important. When I wrote it, the first thing that came to mind is my journey. Through playing the game of basketball, I learned. Not just about the game, but about myself and about others."
The league started in February and was taken to four different neighborhoods in Los Angeles, giving back to the youth and the communities that supported him throughout his 20-year NBA career.
"The league is comprised of 40 coaches who are volunteers from Nike stores in the Los Angeles area and Boys & Girls Club staff, and they taught the game to a total of 288 players. Coaches participated in a comprehensive training clinic that was equal parts basketball and social-emotional training, in order to make sure every player had a positive experience. Female coaches were brought in to lead the all-girls teams, which made up 45 percent of the league’s participants."
The Mamba League ends its first run this Saturday, and Kobe and Nike have already discussed plans for expanding the league to additional locations next year.
Kobe was seen by some as a selfish player early in his career. We later learned that that wasn't true. He simply needed to win like most need oxygen. And now, that desire for success and making sure he carries others to victory continues, as he gives back to those who not only look up to him, but who aspire to be and do more than their present circumstance warrants.
Through their passion and dedication, LeBron and Kobe continue to prove that it's much more than a game.