Kobe knows the score
Yeah, that's J-Rich from his twitter, them just in time to see some USA World Cup in South Africa actionHow Kobe inspired a young MessiBy Martin Rogers, Yahoo! Sports
jun 26, 12:47 EDT
JOHANNESBURG – With a few casual words, spaced between bites of his lunch, Kobe Bryant chalked up an assist in helping modern soccer’s greatest player achieve his full potential.
It was the 2008 Beijing Olympics and Bryant, just a few days short of leading basketball’s Team USA to the gold medal, spotted some members of the Argentina men’s soccer team huddled around a table in an athletes village food court.“Where’s Messi?” Bryant demanded. “I want to see Lionel Messi.”
Soon enough, the Los Angeles Lakers star was locked in conversation with Messi, then 21 and with the soccer world at his feet, in Spanish.
Bryant was 29 and had long since established himself as a man of the world. Messi, already a superstar in his own sport with both his national team and Spanish club Barcelona, was more shy back then than he is today, even with millions in the bank and the chance to lead Argentina to an Olympic gold medal.
The American did most of the talking. And as he left with a handshake and a wave, Bryant turned over his shoulder and uttered words Messi has carried with him since.
“You’re the man, Messi,” Bryant said. “You’re the best. You’re not just good, you’re the best.”
Lionel Messi of Argentina has emerged as one of the greatest players in the world. (Clive Rose/Getty Images)
They were just a few words, but they resonated with the young Argentinean.
“It was important to me what he said,” admitted Messi, whose next date with destiny will be at Soccer City on Sunday when Argentina takes on Mexico in the World Cup’s round of 16. “One of the best things about being successful in sport is getting the chance to meet these people who are legends in what they do.
“It was one of the reasons I so wanted to play in the Olympics, to have that experience of mixing with athletes from all around the world. And what Kobe Bryant told me made me think a little.”
At the time of the Beijing Games, Brazil’s Kaka was the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year. Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal was about to surpass him. Messi was still knocking on the door.
Yet the following European club soccer season, Messi began his surge toward greatness. Leading Barcelona to an unprecedented three-championship run with titles in the Spanish league, Spanish King’s Cup and Champions League was more than enough for him to be finally acclaimed as the planet’s elite player.
“Meeting Kobe, it made me think about who he is and what he has achieved,” Messi said. “Even when he got to a very high level of success it was not enough. He continued to push himself and challenge himself. That is a great mentality for an athlete to have. It makes you think, ‘If he has this kind of mentality, why not me, too?’
“I love football and I am driven to improve, but yes, I think it did give me a little extra inspiration.”Martin Rogers is a staff writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Martin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.