Pujols and Bryant Share a Special Bond

Albert Pujols is the face of baseball today, much like Kobe Bryant is in the game of basketball.

Sometimes, it’s hard to realize you are witnessing history. It often takes years for it all to sink in. We are prisoners of the moment in sports. This guy is the greatest ever. That team is the best I ever saw. It’s easy to lose perspective on the past and the present. As prisoners of the moment, we get lost in the moment. But the moment is fleeting. It passes us by and it’s hard to grasp what we just saw.

The fans of the Magic and Bird era were mesmerized by the performance. It was Showtime. It was “Beat L.A.” It was Kevin McHale laying out Kurt Rambis in 1984. It was the city slicker vs. kid from French Lick. It was simply magical. We all know that now. But did the crazed fans at the Forum stop and say, “Wow. We’re witnessing something special. This is part of history.” Or did they taunt Bird & Co. and the rest of Boston? I would think the answer is the latter.

The same can be said of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and the rest of the baseball legends. Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Babe Ruth. Everyone knew they were great. But it’s hard to see the historical implications when you see them everyday. You start to expect greatness, rather than enjoy it. We all do it.

Kobe doesn’t score 30 and it’s shocking. LeBron doesn’t stuff the stat sheet and it’s the leading debate on ESPN all day. Peyton throws an interception and all of the sudden he’s a choke artist.

The moment is a powerful thing. It is also a dangerous thing. If we don’t stop to enjoy the greatness once in a while, we’re going to miss it. Sure, there will be documentaries and stories to remember it all, but there will be a day Kobe doesn’t lace ‘em up. And then it will hit us: “He was something special.”

Until then, Kobe is still amazing us everyday. He’s playing with a broken finger and still hitting clutch shots. Albert Pujols had front row seats to see Kobe’s latest exploits on the court in Miami last night. He and his son along with some teammates made the trip from training camp to check out Dwayne Wade and Kobe. They didn’t disappoint. Kobe hit a jumper over Wade with three seconds left to send it into overtime. The Heat went on to win the game, thanks largely in part to Wade’s 27 points and 14 assists. Kobe finished with 39. Pujols had a great time. But it’s not the ending that made the night memorable for him.

What Pujols will remember happened long before the game, before the crowds arrived. He watched Kobe work out before the game. He was impressed by the intensity of Bryant’s preparation well before game time. He said Kobe took 300-400 shots during his workout. It was quite a sight for baseball’s best. While he was mesmerized by basketball’s best, he should realize many leave with the same sentiments after watching No. 5 take batting practice. It’s quite a show. Yet he heaped praise on the leader of the defending champions.

Pujols was also impressed by Bryant as a person. Kobe took the time to sit and talk with Pujols for an extended conversation. They talked about success and preparation – topics that they are both experts on. Albert said they plan to keep in touch. Maybe Kobe will turn up at a Cardinals game this season, who knows.

The meeting was a reminder that we are in a special era of athletes. Kobe and Albert are widely regarded as the best in their sport. Bryant is among the best ever, just under Jordan and some others. But he still has time to make a stronger case at the age of 31. Pujols is on track to be the best ever statistically. Add Roger Federer to the list of legends at work. He has a record 16 Grand Slams and has plenty of gas left in the tank. Many, including John McEnroe, recognize Federer as the greatest tennis player of all-time. Peyton Manning was touted as the greatest quarterback in history all season until his blunder in the Super Bowl. Still, he is a one-of-a-kind player that prepares in the same way Bryant, Pujols, and Federer do. And yes, Tiger Woods is in the pantheon of today’s athletes/future legends. While his recent actions have tainted his image, no one is better on the golf course. We will witness history when he breaks Nicklaus’ record. We just don’t know when.

The Mount Rushmore of today’s era could easily one day be the Mount Rushmore of all-time. They all have work to do, but they are all within striking distance of the so-called greatest in their sports. Only time will tell. It is time that we all must enjoy. This intersection of greatness may never happen again.

So, Cards fans, remember: Albert won’t be around forever, enjoy it while it lasts.

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