Ever since the tragic news of the passing of one of the legends of American sport, and truly an icon of global culture, Kobe Bryant, came down on the last Sunday of January, we all went through various stages of grief. It started with disbelief, then utter despair, acceptance, and finally inspiration and reflection on the enormous legacy, one that transcends far beyond the court and far beyond Los Angeles, that the Mamba leaves behind.
I grew up in the sweet spot of Kobe’s career, so it’s hard not get reflective on the man that made Mamba Mentality an idea, the figure that defined determination for a generation. So as I think back on the mark Kobe left and the inspiration his memory will continue to exude, these are the special traits that I feel he personified unlike any other and that we can all take into our lives for the rest of our days.
No one embodied the spirit of competition more than Kobe Bryant. Maybe Michael Jordan, but while wanted to beat you, to demolish his opponent wasn’t necessarily so cutthroat. He simply competed to be the best. He embraced the challenge, seemed to thrive when his opponents were worthy adversaries. Yes, he wanted badly to win, but he worked so hard and gave it his all because he expected to be the best, he worked for it, he expected nothing less from himself, his teammates, and his rivals.
It’s great to celebrate the wins, to bask in the glory of victory. But too much basking leads to complacency and complacency is the enemy of lasting greatness. We are better off to focus on less on simply destroying opponents, and more about setting the bar so high that no one else can work or compete hard enough to reach it.
When I close my eyes and picture Kobe, I see the smile, I see the shots, but I the most powerful image that sticks with me is the scowl. You know, that look of sheer drive accented by gritted teeth and clenched jaw. Pure Mamba. He didn’t know any other way to play, and he thrived because of it. Anything he did, whether in practice, in the game, and in his post-career life as an Oscar-winning creator — everything Kobe did he did all the way.
We can take that same level of intensity and effort into everything we do, from work to life in general. In the social media and sports game, we often talk about doing a few things exceptionally instead of trying to hit every platform possible and settling for mediocrity as a result. Strive for greatness in everything you do, grit your teeth when it gets hard, because greatness isn’t easy. Embrace your own Mamba Mentality.
The word may have existed in the NBA before, but Kobe solidified the word ‘three-peat’ as a permanent part of the lexicon. The man was named to the NBA All-Star team 18 times and he continued to work his ass off til that final game when he put up 60. What else is there to describe an individual that won back-to-titles and had enough rings for a Thanos-like full-fingered hand but an incredible hunger? Heck, the hunger didn’t abate when his playing career ended, he mastered his next endeavor, achieving the highest honor seemingly overnight. He attacked every project, workout, every day, every game, every season with a voracious will and spirit.
It’s amazing what one can accomplish when hungry enough for it. We can all conjure our inner Kobe and not rest when the figurative mountaintop is reached, when a momentary reward is achieved, but instead look for the next peak to strive for, the next challenge that’ll drive us.
When the clock was winding down and the Lakers needed a bucket, everyone in the whole darn world knew who was going to have the ball, knew who would be taking that last shot. Kobe was clutch. But while he made so many memorable winning shots over the years, he also missed a helluva lot of them, too. Hit or miss, Kobe’s belief never wavered, there was no one he trusted more to take and sink that clutch shot. It takes an incredible sense of belief to face those moments with no fear. It takes trust that, because of the union of talent and uncommon hard work, that he’d earned the right to that faith.
Life is full of moments of uncertainty, times when the belief in ourselves erodes. Don’t let it happen, be like Kobe. Shooting a figurative air ball just means you have to continue to work hard to the point that there is no lingering doubt that next one will be a swish. No one makes every shot, no one goes through life without being forced to confront moments that challenge us, that knock us down, and that threaten that belief. But we can overcome it; there’s something special and empowering knowing one has the innate confidence to take the ball when lesser souls would back down.
The early morning workouts, the hours of practice and shooting, the offseason months spent sweating — the tales of Kobe’s unending work are a part of his epic. He famously went overseas to seek new ways to recover. And he found it difficult to understand why everyone else didn’t prepare the way he did. Through the twilight of his playing career, too, he was even preparing for life after basketball. And it showed, as he was continuing to build his brand and his businesses and projects before his life was cut way too short. Kobe always worked so hard to prepare, but nothing could’ve prepared us to face the tragedy of losing the legend too early.
It’s great to have goals, to define what one hopes to achieve. But any goals worth achieving, any sense of greatness worth achieving requires a heck of a lot of hard work and preparation. It’s always a grind, it’s everyday effort. Kobe knew what he wanted to achieve tomorrow and worked and studied and prepared to get it.
In the statement made by Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA regarding Kobe’s passing, they mentioned his accomplishments, his spirit, and many of the traits that made him an inspiration to millions, but the most salient point the statement made about Kobe, in my reading, was praising how giving he was with his wisdom. He inspired a generation, but he also wanted to teach and mentor that next generation, too, along with his teammates and peers. It’s been cool to hear the stories of the time and advice Kobe has given over the years; he recognized the value of what he had to give, and he gave generously.
It’s a high level of humanity to pass knowledge on to another. It’s how the generations that come after us end up better, end up achieving things beyond imagination, and it’s a way we can give back in this life. It’s a great achievement to acquire skill, to reach mastery, to gain wisdom; but it’s so much powerful, so compounding when it’s passed on to others. Kobe understood he could leave the game, leave everyone he met better than he found it. He did. And while he had so much still left to give, he left an awful lot behind.