Perhaps scientists should look into whether being globally reviled serves as fuel for aging athletes. The empirical evidence is uncanny.
At 35 and 36 years old, respectively, Kobe Bryant and Floyd Mayweather are performing at levels that really shouldn’t be possible in their sports. Michael Jordan‘s last season as a top-five NBA player came when he was 34. Muhammad Ali was never the same after the “Thrilla in Manila,” when he was 35.
Age, like Mayweather, is undefeated.
Yet at relatively advanced ages, Bryant remains one of the league’s best players and Mayweather is still the undisputed super welterweight champion. The connection is not lost on Bryant, who is currently rehabilitating from a torn Achilles and promises to still be an elite player when he returns.
“Maybe I won’t have as much explosion,” Bryant told Sports Illustrated. “Maybe I’ll be slower, maybe I’ll lose quickness. But I have other options. It’s like Floyd Mayweather in the ring. There’s a reason he’s still at the top after all these years. He’s the most fundamentally sound boxer of all time. He can fight myriad styles at myriad tempos. He can throw fast punches or off-speed punches, and he can throw them from odd angles.”
First off: Bonus points to Bryant for using the correct grammatical form for “myriad” and not the ever-popular “a myriad of” construction.
Secondly, the comparison is surprisingly apt. Fans often mistake the accomplishments of both Bryant and Mayweather as products of their jaw-dropping athleticism and quickness, when what truly separates them from the other elite athletes in their class is their attention to technical detail. Nobody since Jordan has had better footwork than Bryant. Nobody. We’re told by boxing aficionados that Mayweather’s technique is just as flawless.
In addition, both have had their non-sports issues that make it impossible for a large portion of the fan base to ever root for them. One does not have to nominate them for World’s Greatest Person, though, to marvel at the unusual accomplishments they continue to achieve in their lines of work at ages when most other people have been retired — either by choice or by work.
Maybe there is something to the hatred that Bryant and Mayweather soak up and use to power their muscles even while the years sap their strength. Maybe their detractors are all that keeps them going. If so, watch out for LeBron James, who will still be piling up MVP awards when he is 65.