Kobe’s Skills On The Court Drove All Parts of His Life

There is way too much to be said about Kobe Bryant and his legacy that we could ever hope to capture in one article. That is why this piece is going to look at Kobe as a player and athlete only, not touching his amazing transition into life as a coach, father, and family man that occurred before his life was cut tragically short at the age of just 41 in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning.

There are many players in the sports we cover that are said to be premier players. Kobe was not just a premier player in his own time; he was one of the premier players in the history of his sport. He was a premier player in the city of Los Angeles, a city where he would be on the Mount Rushmore of sports icons. He was a premier player who transcended his sport and became a household name around the world thanks to 20 seasons of highlights, determination, and excellence.

His legacy is a complicated one, but his playing style is one that we will likely never see again. In this era of load management, no player will eat the minutes that Kobe did throughout his career. This is a player that once played to the point of tearing his Achilles tendon, but still went to the free-throw line to finish his play with two successful shots, such was his will to win and his dedication to making that happen.

Kobe took shots that kids today would be benched for trying. He retired leading the league (historically) in just one single stat. That stat was the number of missed shots over a career. While that should be a negative, it’s not. That’s because the toughness of Kobe made him want to take those shots, knowing that every shot not taken was two (or three) points that would never be made.

You can’t be a shot-selection player and score 60 points in your final game. You can’t be that and put up the second most points ever in a single contest with his 81-point explosion against the Raptors in 2006. You can’t be that and win five NBA titles, be an 18-time All-Star and a 15 time All-NBA selection. You can’t be that and be feared each and every night by every opponent you face.

Kobe had the footwork, the stroke, and the competitive fire to take himself to the very top. That so many of the premier players in the NBA today cite Kobe as their inspiration says more about his legacy than anything that could be put to paper. The world is a worse place without Kobe Bryant in it, but we must push forward and strive for success every day to the best of our ability. After all, that is what Kobe would do.

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Mostert’s Runs Fueled By The Agony of 7 Cuts & No Starts

Not everyone rises to be a premier player in the same way. That is especially true in the NFL, a league where the bust rate of top draft picks and the rise to the top of lower round guys happens more often than the ‘draft gurus’ would ever want you to believe.

These stories, though, remain compelling. That is why the story of San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert will get so much play as we approach Super Bowl LIV where Mostert’s 49ers will face off against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Mostert was the premier player on the field as the 49ers ran all over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game on January 19th.  Mostert, however, was not a highly touted college athlete who was expected to dominate an NFL defense as easily as he did in Santa Clara. This is a player who was cut by no less than six teams in the space of an 18 month span at one point in his career.

Being cut once is enough of an ego check for many to consider their future in the sport. To be cut six times in such a short space of time – Mostert was basically packing his bags every three months – has to be beyond demoralizing. To be able to suck up those cuts, to learn from them, and to come back a better and more determined player, shows everything about the undrafted free agent out of Purdue in 2015.

Players that bounce around the league in such a manner aren’t supposed to do this. Mostert has yet to actually start a game in his NFL career, but in the NFC championship match he rushed for the second most yards in a single game in NFL playoff history. He went for an insane 220 yards and four touchdowns, beating defenders in every way imaginable. It was an astonishing display of talent from a man who could have easily fallen out of the league four or five times in his career already.

This quote from Mostert shows how he uses the past to fuel his future:

“I actually still have the cut dates. And I look at that before every game. I look at the cut dates when I got cut. I’ve been on, like I said, seven different teams. The journey’s been crazy. Not even — not everybody can deal with that type of stress and pain and agony that I went through.”

Everyone can learn from this journey as they are hit with a disappointment – or a string of disappointments – in their life. Be like this premier player and rise above the noise and the negativity of other people’s perception of you to succeed.

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Derek Jeter Finishes His Baseball Career In Cooperstown

Reaching the Hall of Fame in your chosen sport means that you were clearly a premier player during your career. To do so while finishing with 99.7% of the voting in your first year of eligibility – falling just one vote shy of being a unanimous player – means that you are officially a legend of your sport.

That makes Derek Jeter a baseball legend.

Jeter is a player who has been Cooperstown bound from the very beginning. His career would have seen him reach the Hall no matter the team he played for, but to do it all as a New York Yankee just makes his achievements mean a little more. That is the power of playing in the history laden stadium in the Bronx.

His career WAR – a metric that baseball writers and voters are in love with today – is an impressive 72.4. He is not the greatest shortstop of all time – that nod goes to either Honus Wagner or Cal Ripen – but he is a player who has raw numbers that compete with the best. His legacy and his stance as a premier player, however, go far beyond the raw numbers of his career. He is a player that people will argue all day about being overrated or underrated to the point that Jeter is rated just about where he should be, and that is as an icon of the game.

Jeter was a 14-time MLB All-Star. He was the 1996 AL Rookie of the Year and he won the World Series with the Yankees five times. He finished his career sixth all-time in hits with 3,465, which makes sense as he was a contact hitter known for his ability to find gaps in the infield with his smooth stroke of the bat.

He played with the Yankees for 20 seasons and seemed to love every single minute of being a professional athlete. His postseason numbers were even better as he put together a .306/.374/.465 slash line.

Jeter was also a player who seemed to make big plays when needed. They are the plays that you remember and that will continue to be a part of telling the story of the Yankees for generations to come. When you add in the principles of the man, his leadership, character, and consistency, you have everything you would want in a premier player and newly minted Hall of Famer.

 

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Nakken Becomes First Woman On An MLB Coaching Staff

We call a lot of plays we see on the field, diamond, or court historic or iconic. That is why it’s important we recognize when something happens outside of the playing arena that ticks both those boxes in a way that a single play rarely does.   Such was the case in the first couple of weeks of this decade when the San Francisco Giants and their manager Gabe Kapler hired Alyssa Nakken as the first woman on a major-league coaching staff in MLB history.

Nakken is no stranger to the rigors of big league baseball. Over the last few years she has worked on health and wellness initiatives with the Giants and she has clearly been successful in the role. So successful, in fact, that she will now be forever remembered alongside some of the other trailblazers in the history of the league thanks to her promotion to a coaching role.

Nakken played first base at Sacremento State and was a premier player for the team. What really set Nakken apart though was her mind for the game – and for sports in general – with it being of no surprise to former teammates that she has elevated herself through the Giants organization since first joining as an intern in 2014.

While some people might question the hire, Nakken has been moved into this position on merit alone. There is no “Rooney Rule” style process for a hire like this, it was just Kapler seeing that Nakken had talents that were above her former role, and him moving to hire the right person – male or female – to help make the Giants a better team from 2020 onwards.

“Simply, I think she’s going to be a great coach,” Kapler said. “Merit and the ability to be a great coach trumps all.”

Switching from a premier player to a premier coach isn’t easy for anyone, let alone someone who is a female in a male dominated organizational role when you look league wide. Thankfully for Nakken she won’t have to travel far to find a woman in a similar situation. Katie Sowers is the San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant and has proven to be a stunningly successful hire for the team.  Therefore, Nakken may have a ready-made soundboard for advice should she need it.

It will be fascinating to see if this hire leads to other teams looking in different areas for coaches that can bring something different to the table. If any sport needed a breath of fresh air in the ranks it was baseball, so best of luck to Nakken as she starts her journey to the top of the sport.

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The Cousins No One Talks About

It is about time we start to properly appreciate Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins. This should be the thought in the head of every NFL fan who sat through one of the closest and craziest Wildcard Weekends in league history.

Cousins – he of seemingly no suitors and no fame at various points in his career – led the upstart Vikings to a stunning win over the heavily favored New Orleans Saints and QB Drew Brees, a player who spent most of 2019 breaking every passing record in the book.  Yet, despite the presence of Brees on the field – and despite a certain Tom Brady also appearing during Wildcard Weekend – it was Cousins who made the single best throw of the Saturday/Sunday quadruple header.

It is in the fourth quarter and overtime where the greats make their names. That was the case on Sunday when Cousins dropped back into the pocket and launched a rainbow of a pass downfield to WR Adam Thielen streaking inside the Saints 10-yard line. Cousins knew he couldn’t let Brees touch the ball again. He knew that one mistake would end the Vikings season despite the sterling work of RB Dalvin Cook to get them to this point. He knew his throw had to be perfect.

And it was.

The ball seemed to drop almost vertically out of the sky as Thielen made an over the shoulder catch and tumbled to the turf completing a 43-yard pass and instantly silencing the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.  One play later – a Cousins touch pass to a leaping Kyle Rudolph in the back corner of the Saints end zone – the game was complete and Cousins had led his team to a win few thought possible with a play that fewer knew he had the ability and passing range to make.

Cousins won this game despite a litany of statistics that suggested he couldn’t. He was 0-15 against teams with a .700 winning percentage. He was 0-10 with the Vikings against 10-win teams. He was 2-10 against playoff teams and just 3-11-1 against teams with winning records. The theory was that Cousins simply didn’t have what it took to win the big one – or even a minor one – against a good team.

That narrative has now changed. No matter what the Vikings do from this point forward this postseason, Cousins has that monkey off of his back. He is turning into the premier player that the Vikings hoped for when they signed him to a fully guaranteed $84 million contract in 2018.  He is now one step closer to leading the team to where they want to be and he will be playing with a renewed level of confidence and attitude thanks to his massive throw – and gutsy performance – in New Orleans.

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Premier Players of The NFL That Dominated The Decade

As we settle in to 2020 it is important to remember what came before. The 2010-19 stretch in the NFL saw some amazing players – and amazing performances – as the league became more and more about an offensive arms race.  Here are the five premier players of the NFL that excelled the most in the last decade:

5.  Aaron Donald – DT – L.A. Rams

Donald has taken on the mantle as the best defensive player in the league from a man further down this list. He is an unstoppable force on the inside, a player who requires double and triple teams on every snap just to keep him contained. He was named first-team All-Pro five times this decade and given that he was still a college player for the first three years of the 2010s that is quite the record.

4.  Rob Gronkowski – TE – New England Patriots

Gronkowski was a player good enough that announcers called him by his nickname as opposed to his given name. Gronk was the biggest matchup nightmare of the decade, a giant human with enough speed to score long touchdowns while being almost unstoppable in the red zone. He scored 79 touchdowns in 115 games and the only thing that stopped him shattering record for a tight end was his inability to keep that massive frame healthy. The Patriots simply don’t look the same without him.

3.  J.J. Watt – DE –  Houston Texans

Watt is a premier player who was voted as a first-team All-Pro at his position in half of the decade’s ten seasons. He was an absolute monster at the turn of the decade when he was named as the Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL in 2012, 2014, and 2015. He picked up 96 sacks over the course of the decade and that is a number that would have been greatly increased had the second half of the 10 year period not seen Watt battling a series of injures.

2.  Joe Thomas – OT – Cleveland Browns

Thomas is a player underappreciated even on lists like this because he played his entire career for a franchise stuck in reverse. He was voted to the Pro Bowl every year he played during the decade – 2010 to 2016 – before he retired prior to the 2017 season. He was a five-time first-team All-Pro this decade and he played a total of 10,363 consecutive snaps, a monumental achievement for an offensive lineman. One of the greatest to ever play his position, Thomas is a worthy inclusion on this list.

1.  Tom Brady – QB – New England Patriots

Love him or hate him it is hard to deny that Tom Brady was the best NFL premier player of the decade. He made nine Pro Bowls during this stretch of his career, being named First-team All-Pro twice, winning a pair of MVP awards and winning the Lombardi trophy with the Patriots on three occasions. The crazy part about this is that Brady achieved all this at an ever increasing age that was supposed to be past his prime. Brady rejuvenated himself in his 30s and he continues to play at a high level now in his 40s and entering a new decade in the league.

Fans Vote Jackson The Premier Player of Pro Football

Sports fans voted Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson the recipient of the 2019 Premier Player of Professional Football award.

Lamar Jackson took the NFL by storm in his second year as a professional football player. The 6-foot-2, 212 pound player out of Pompano Beach, Florida, was selected with the final pick in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Ravens.  He was seen as a low-risk pick by a team with Joe Flacco working as the starting quarterback, but an intriguing prospect out of Louisville who had passed for over 9,000 yards and rushed for over 4,100 yards in three years with the Cardinals.

Jackson found time in 16 games in his rookie NFL season, starting seven of them as he took over from the injured Flacco.  Jackson rolled the Ravens into the playoffs and became the youngest quarterback to ever start a playoff game when they took on the Chargers in the Wild Card Round. While the Ravens would ultimately lose that game, the team had found a quarterback perfect for the changing dynamics of a modern NFL offense.

The Ravens made the decision to move on from Flacco and a new offensive system was built that would allow the athletic and improvisational Jackson to flourish.  Playing just 15 games this season – Jackson and other key starters sat for the Week 17 contest because a playoff spot was secure – the second-year pro passed for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns. Jackson added 1,206 yards on the ground and another seven scores. This made Jackson the first player to throw 30+ touchdowns and rush for over 1,000 yards in a single season.

Jackson’s most impressive stat on the season though might be his six interceptions thrown. While the NFL is more about passing the ball than ever, it is still almost impossible to win when the ball is turned over. Jackson was a 66.1% passer in 2019, but his misses rarely result in the ball being picked off. When he missed a pass he always seems to miss it well, with his ability to tuck the ball and run giving him an option against the pass rush that few quarterbacks can match.

That Jackson is achieving such a high level of play at his age and experience level is remarkable. He is actually younger than the 2019 Premier Player of College Football award winner Joe Burrow, yet Jackson is making these plays against the best of the best in the world.  The sky is the limit for Jackson as he marches into the new decade as the best professional football player on the planet per fans.

“Fans are such a big part of the games, so we wanted to come up with an award that they can be a big part of too,” says Carnell Moore, founder of Premier Players.  All the athletes on the ballot are Premier Players, but we let the fans decide who gets the trophy.”

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