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Lessons on vocation from Kobe’s retirement announcement

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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The Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant (24) waves to the cheering fans as he leaves the court after a 90-82 loss against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, November 13, 2015 (Credit: Icon Sportswire/Paul Moseley)

Late Sunday afternoon Kobe Bryant announced that he would retire from basketball at the end of this season. The announcement came at an unusual time, as most sports fan haven’t turned their attention to basketball yet. The Thanksgiving holiday always marks rivalry week for college football, and holds critical matchups for NFL playoff seeding as well, meaning that most sports fans won’t really begin following basketball again until January rolls around. But even while basketball takes a backseat to football, Bryant’s announcement garnered the attention of the collective sports world.

For almost an entire decade, from 2000-2010, Bryant was the most important basketball player in the NBA. He served as a bridge between the Jordan era and the modern era. Now, stars like Lebron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden have taken the collective mantle of carrying the NBA torch, but for the first decade of the millennium, Kobe bore that burden himself. His Lakers teams won three consecutive NBA titles from 2000-2002, and won two more at the close of the decade. While being a 5-time champion, he is also a 2-time Finals MVP, 17-time All-Star, 9-time All-Defensive First Team, and ranks 3rd all-time in NBA scoring.

While he first announced his retirement via a post on The Player’s Tribune, he held a press conference later Sunday night that expanded on his announcement. The press conference was something special to watch, as Bryant reflected on everything from his career to how he made the decision to retire, and did so while answering questions in multiple languages. During the course of the press conference, 2 lessons emerged about vocation.

Find joy in the details and the process, not just the outcome

Bryant was asked why he decided to retire in the middle of the season but was going to continue to play to the conclusion of the season, and his response evoked an important lesson on how to approach work: “There’s so much beauty in the pain of this thing. It sounds really weird to say that, but I appreciate the really, really tough times as much as I appreciate the great times. It’s important to go through that progression, because I think that’s where you really learn about the self.”

It’s easy to fixate on measurable goals and objectives when it comes to our life’s work. We want to be able to have a more secure financial future, to get more customers, make more sales, see improvements from students. These goals are important because they provide a horizon-line when the waves start to toss us about. But we can become so concerned with the future that we forget to appreciate the present. We need to train our hearts to find joy and gratitude in the details of everyday life, for as Brother Lawrence said, “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

Mentoring the next generation

Asked about what he hoped to impart to younger players, Bryant answered: “It starts with the aggressiveness and that killer mentality of trying to figure things out by any means necessary. And then breaking things down into the most minute details, which is very hard to get conceptually.” He talked about how he tries to not only speak wisdom to younger players, but also show them through his work ethic and drive.

In almost every stage of life, it’s wise to have older mentors while also seeking to mentor someone younger. Bryant mentioned how he sought out Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson as he was making his decision, and it is important that we have people we can go to to find wisdom for decision-making. It’s easy to neglect the younger generation, however. They need a lot of time and attention, and the results cannot always be seen right away. Bryant’s desire to teach younger players through his actions as well as his advice is a great reminder that we need to mentor through our habits, not just our words. Much can be imparted through simple habits of faithfulness. Paul spoke in his letters of being “poured out as an offering” (Phil. 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6), meaning that he saw his whole life as an opportunity to encourage, mentor, and serve others. You and I would be wise to follow his lead.