The Mamba Mentality: What Kobe Bryant Taught Me About Writing (and Life)
Last Sunday, January 26, 2020, the world came to a screeching halt following the news that NBA legend Kobe Bryant was killed. He was 41 years old. As a longtime basketball fan, this is still a shocking and tragic and surreal sentence to write. What’s even sadder about Kobe’s death is that his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who was destined to become a basketball star in her own right, was also killed, along with six other passengers — Gianna’s teammates, their parents, an assistant coach and the pilot.
Kobe Bryant is the reason I started following basketball. I must have been 14 or 15 when he first leaped into my consciousness. I was watching some random late-night film on Channel 5 when they cut to one of those quick news roundups — and there he was, in the famous purple and gold Lakers uniform, putting on a show against the Knicks at New York City’s world-famous Madison Square Garden — the Mecca of basketball — slam-dunking his way to becoming the youngest NBA player in history to reach 20,000 points.
I’m still not entirely sure why Channel 5 thought that was big news for a British audience, but I was hooked like a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar post move.
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Although I was too young to experience the first half of Kobe’s career, during which he won three consecutive NBA championships as part of a dominant Lakers team that also boasted Shaquille O’Neal, watching the latter half of his career — the “Black Mamba” era — lead you to believe that he was indestructible. He had the confidence of a Love Island contestant who joins halfway through the series, the competitiveness of a PPC manager bidding on the keyword “insurance,” and the toughness of The Terminator.
I mean, the guy literally tore his Achilles clean off during a game, stayed on the court to hit two free throws (successfully, obviously) and then hobbled off into the locker room by himself without any help. Kobe’s determination and durability makes his death all the more difficult to process. How does a guy who spent his entire life refusing to lose die just like that?
You’re probably thinking, what does Kobe Bryant have to do with content writing? On the surface, not a lot. Yet the manner in which Kobe approached the game of basketball has inspired the way I’ve approached my craft of writing. And I believe the principles by which Kobe Bryant lived is an example that we can all follow in order to be happy, successful and become the best versions of ourselves.
R.I.P. Kobe Bryant.
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- Work hard
“I can’t relate to lazy people. We don’t speak the same language. I don’t understand you. I don’t want to understand you.”
“I have nothing in common with lazy people who blame others for their lack of success. Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses.
- Follow your passion
“If you really want to be great at something you have to truly care about it. If you want to be great in a particular area, you have to obsess over it.”
“You don’t want to jump into something if you’re not passionate about it.”
- Don’t be afraid to fail
“I’ve practiced and practiced and played so many times. There’s nothing truly to be afraid of, when you think about it. I’ve failed before, and I woke up the next morning, and I’m OK.”
“I wasn’t scared of missing, looking bad, or being embarrassed. That’s because I always kept the end result, the long game, in my mind. I always focused on the fact that I had to try something to get it, and once I got it, I’d have another tool in my arsenal. If the price was a lot of work and a few missed shots, I was OK with that.”
- Study the greats
“I want to learn how to become the best basketball player in the world. And if I’m going to learn that, I gotta learn from the best. Kids go to school to be doctors or lawyers, so forth and so on and that’s where they study. My place to study is from the best.”
“As a kid, I would work tirelessly on adding elements to my game. I would see something I liked in person or on film, go practice it immediately, practice it more the next day, and then go out and use it. By the time I reached the league, I had a short learning curve. I could see something, download it, and have it down pat.”
- Enjoy the journey
“Those times when you get up early and you work hard, those times when you stay up late and you work hard, those times when you don’t feel like working, you’re too tired, you don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream. That’s the dream. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. And if you guys can understand that, then what you’ll see happen is you won’t accomplish your dreams, your dreams won’t come true; something greater will.”
- Be a team player
“The important thing is that your teammates have to know you’re pulling for them and you really want them to be successful.”
- Branch out
While some athletes struggle to adjust to retirement, Kobe was a perfect example of how to pivot (pardon the pun) to new challenges. After hanging up his basketball shoes, he added author, filmmaker, businessman and, like many other superstar athletes, philanthropist to his name.
In 2018, just a few short years after retiring from basketball, he won an Oscar for an animated short film he wrote and narrated called Dear Basketball, becoming both the first African-American to win Best Animated Short Film and the first professional athlete to win (or be nominated for) an Oscar.
In fact, Kobe was something of a writer himself; after retiring, he wrote a book called The Mamba Mentality: How I Play and co-authored a children’s book called The Wizenard Series.
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- Pay it forward
“Invest in [your family and friends’] future, don’t just give. Use your success, wealth and influence to put them in the best position to realize their own dreams and find their true purpose. Put them through school, set them up with job interviews and help them become leaders in their own right. Hold them to the same level of hard work and dedication that it took for you to get to where you are now, and where you will eventually go.”
“The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great at whatever they want to do.”
- Life is short. Enjoy it!
“Life is too short to get bogged down and be discouraged. You have to keep moving. You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smiles and just keep on rolling.”