The last game I ever watched Kobe Bryant play was his final one. In his final game, Kobe scored 60 points and had 19,000 Los Angeles Lakers fans out of their seats witnessing something great. With Kobe outscoring the Utah Jazz in the fourth quarter 23-21, he scored 17 consecutive points for his team. With 31 seconds left and trailing by one point, Kobe dribbled the ball upcourt and pulled up inside the 3 point line to give the Lakers the lead and hit the game-winner. This was quintessential Kobe. At 37 years of age, still doing what he did early in his career is something to be admired. The hard work, the dedication, and the ‘Mamba Mentality’ which he adopted, was still paying off.
There was ‘on-court Kobe’ and there was ‘off-court Kobe’. On the court, Kobe had an alter ego who he named ‘The Black Mamba’, inspired by the deadly assassin in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 film Kill Bill. The black mamba adopted a mindset called ‘Mamba Mentality’. Kobe explains that the Mamba Mentality is the constant quest to find answers. It’s the curiosity to want to be better and figure things out. You’re showing up each day competing, not worrying about the result, or what people may say. There’s no worry in disappointing others and you’re just focused on being in the moment. This is the type of mindset that helped Kobe win 5x NBA Championships with the Lakers.
In an interview with the NBA, Kobe stated, “Mamba mentality is a way of life, it’s not an attitude. It’s the simplest form of trying to be better at whatever you’re doing”. Although very few of us can adopt the consistency of Kobe Bryant, we can look at two lessons the mamba mentality teaches us and how we can aspire to achieve great things in our lives under Kobe’s mindset.
Lesson 1: Follow Your Passion
The Mamba Mentality teaches us to follow our passion. When Kobe retired, he had time to reflect and ask himself “What do I enjoy doing?”. The transition from basketball led him to become a storyteller and producing films. In 2018, Kobe won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film titled ‘Dear Basketball’. Storytelling was something Kobe was interested in since. After basketball, he followed through with that passion and the rewards came.
When we follow what we’re passionate about, we enjoy what we do every day. It’s the type of feeling where you wake up each morning excited about what you’re doing. Some of the hardest decisions to make are when we’re stuck in a job or doing something we don’t enjoy. When those decisions are made based on what you enjoy doing, it’s a liberating thing to experience where you will find that the rewards will come, but with hard work.
Lesson 2: Work Ethic
The Mamba Mentality teaches us that we can follow our passion, but proving our value needs to be established. Kobe proved his value through hard work. He learned and absorbed information which was his basis on outworking his potential. His incredible competitive nature and work ethic existed not only in games but in practice.
Here’s a story…
Ex-basketballer Jay Williams, who played for the Chicago Bulls shared a story on witnessing Kobe’s extreme work ethic. Williams was always trying to outwork his opponents, so he went to the Staples Centre the evening before his game against the Lakers. He wanted to make 400 shots and once completed, head into the sauna and get some rest. When he got to the court, he saw Kobe already working out by himself. Williams described Kobe as having ‘death sweats’, looking like someone who has already been working out for a couple of hours. An hour and a half later, once Williams hit 400 shots, he sat down on the bench and took his shoes off. He heard the basketball still bouncing and looked up, seeing Kobe still practicing.
Williams sat and watched to see how much longer Kobe stayed on the court. It was another 25 minutes later until he was finally done. The next evening, Kobe dropped 40 points against Chicago and led Williams to ask Kobe about his work ethic. Williams asked “Hey Kobe, why were you in the gym for so long?”. Kobe replied, “Because I saw you come in and I wanted you to know that it doesn’t matter how hard you work, that I’m willing to work harder than you”. There are many stories of Kobe Bryant maintaining this type of work ethic in his life on and off the court. The mamba mentality is to continually work and outwork others with purpose.
The key to getting better isn’t just practicing, It’s practicing with purpose. Kobe shows up every day and practices with intent. Not leaving the gym until 800 shots were made was standard for him. The deliberate focus of developing the skill in making buckets. However long it took him didn’t matter, because time wasn’t in the equation. When most of us talk about working hard, we usually refer to how long we worked hard for. “I worked for 12 hours today”, or “I was at the gym for two hours”. Top performers in their fields are committed to deliberate practice. The top musicians, athletes, and CEOs don’t just work a lot, they work on a specific set of skills. The time it takes to develop those skills should not be in the front of your mind, it should be how you are going to practice your skills and how can they be measured.
As Many As Necessary
Although fluent already in three different languages, Kobe would be the type to learn a new language out of interest in trash-talking his opponents. Learning different words and sentences to throw other players off was all part of the Mamba Mentality. Learning new languages wasn’t what made Kobe Bryant the cerebral person he is, there were many aspects. For instance, Kobe would reference Mozart when shooting hoops. In an interview with GQ Magazine, he was quoted saying “I’ve shot too much from the time I was eight years old. But ’too much’ is a matter of perspective. Some people thought Mozart had too many notes in his compositions. Let me put it this way: I entertain people who say I shoot too much. I find it very interesting.”
When referring back to Mozart, Kobe responded to critics by saying there were neither too many notes or too few. There were simply as many as necessary. What this teaches us is to have our perspective on what it takes to be great in the areas we want to be great in. It all comes back to the Mamba Mentality of showing up every day, not worrying about results and just being in the moment.
Implement Mamba Mentality Into Your Life
Kobe was always willing to share his mentality with everyone. Teams, individuals and organisations were all susceptible to his wisdom and philosophy to achieve great things. How can we look to apply this mentality in our own life? Asking ourselves questions and being honest about where we want to get to is crucial in following our passion and executing the work ethic required.
When we have the point of view to get better, the world becomes our library. Whether we want to become an entrepreneur, a better musician or athlete, the world is giving us that information and tools to get there. Because we know what we’re looking for, we seek and learn.
It’s heartbreaking that Kobe left this world so young, but one of the proper ways to honour our dead heroes is to take aspects of their character and integrate them into our lives. The world stopped when Kobe passed away, but his legacy will live through all those who are inspired by his dedication to being great.