Kobe Bryant (41), the basketball phenomenon, tragically passed on 26th January 2020 along with his teen daughter and 7 other individuals, in a helicopter crash.
Growing up with a love of sports, I knew of Kobe from the exhilarating games we watched on TV. His career spanned over 20 years playing for his beloved dream team, LA Lakers.
His demonstrated proficiency of the game is what propelled him on to the world stage, but he was also an author, speaker, entrepreneur with various interests including investing, media and inspiring the next generation of young athletes.
What is the Mamba Mentality?
Black Mamba is the alter-ego Kobe adopted in 2003 based on a fierce character in the kung-fu movie ‘Kill Bill’. It was a low point in his career and personal life. The alter-ego allowed him to separate the player from the person off the court. Agility and aggressiveness are the qualities of the black mamba species which made the nickname more endearing to him, parallel to his playing style.
The ‘Mamba Mentality’ phrase began from a hashtag Kobe posted on Twitter and it evolved from that. In his own words, the mamba mentality is about being “on a constant quest to try to be the best version of yourself”, something he practiced from a very young age. In his autobiography, The Mamba Mentality: How I play, he gives an insight into the 5 pillars behind his mindset.
5 Pillars of the Mamba Mentality
As an athlete, he suffered many serious injuries including a ruptured Achilles, fractured knees and a torn shoulder. Such injuries could have ended his career, but he was determined to recover as quickly as possible and get back to playing. As the recovery process contained many phases, he solely focused on one phase at a time to overcome each challenge. A great lesson in tackling challenges is to take one step at a time.
“The greatest fear that you face is yourself,” Kobe famously said. His biggest fear was that everybody would think he’d made the wrong choice by skipping college to join the NBA (National Basketball Association) at 17. Fearlessness is not the absence of fear but pursuing what one wants despite the fear. A willingness to take risks in spite of the probability of failure. This is usually a driving factor in excellence and success.
Kobe Bryant’s name is synonymous with being obsessive. The quest to be the best meant that he trained as much as he could, as often as he could. Five-hours-plus training before the team’s practice sessions were the norm for him. In his first year in the NBA, he missed crucial shots in a major game. Afterwards, he channelled the dejection he felt by spending the whole day on a court making shots.
Kobe was unyielding in his pursuits. His father and uncle were both professional players in the NBA. He talked of a league season where he scored 0 points and feeling that weight of the family history. Moments like that propelled him for the better. He spent time studying photos and videos, dissecting moves and plays then practicing for hours perfecting them.
The desire came from the love of the game. “Dear Basketball”, the Oscar winning animated short film, based on a poem he wrote, depicted his passion beautifully.
“From the moment
I started rolling my Dad’s tube socks
And shooting imaginary
I knew one thing was real…
A love so deep I gave you my all.”
He retired from the game in 2016 but the lessons he learned throughout his career transcended the sport. The same curiosity and persistence he applied in basketball; he did in learning about business. He sought out people he admired to pick their brains for knowledge and inspiration. He was able to connect his two passions, sports and storytelling through Granity Studios, his award-winning multimedia company.
His work ethic exhibited various lean principles used in business such as Poka Yoke and Kaizen. Preparation by studying his opponents moves beforehand, enabled him to anticipate and counter them during the game: minimising the chance of his opponent scoring. The pursuit of incremental continuous improvement in honing one’s craft was at the core of his approach, just like the Kaizen philosophy.
Although his life ended sooner than expected, Kobe’s Bryant’s legacy of agility and aggressiveness in the pursuit of excellence holds many lessons for us today.
The Mamba Mentality: How I play, (2018), K. Bryant & A. Bernstein https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mamba-Mentality-How-Play-ebook/dp/B07DC3WRKT
Kobe Bryant’s Muse, (2015), Documentary/Sport https://www.amazon.com/Kobe-Bryants-Muse-Bryant/dp/B0183794TY
Image by Alexandra Walt, https://www.flickr.com/