When basketball great Kobe Bryant retired last year, he went to Nike chief Mark Parker for a little advice.
“Over the years, our relationship has evolved. Mark has become one of my muses, someone I turn to for leadership. I could reach out to him at 3 a.m. and he would be up,” Bryant said Sunday evening in New York City, as he presented the Nike chairman, president and CEO with the NRF Foundation’s first-ever “The Visionary” Award.
The longtime Swoosh athlete recently asked Parker to talk about his own muses. “When I started to think about what was next after retirement — besides growing a beard — I wanted to understand who inspired Mark,” Bryant recalled. “So I asked him.”
Parker’s office is filled with sculptures and paintings of Abraham Lincoln, someone he has always admired. So Bryant asked the executive to recommend a book about the 16th U.S. President.
But the star was shocked to learn the tome was 944 pages. “I would think that after all these years working at Nike, he would know the last thing an athlete should do is read a 944-page book in a 10-point font,” Bryant quipped.
“When I read it, I saw the connectivity between [Lincoln] and Mark’s leadership style. He bands together people with different points of view to build a stronger team, because maybe an off the wall idea can change the game. You just need to be willing to listen. So for every Mark Parker in the world, there is an Abraham Lincoln. For every Kobe Bryant, there is a Mark Parker.”