I wasn’t a fan of Kobe Bryant. I considered Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers the archenemies of my beloved Boston Celtics but I was definitely an admirer. Kobe broke my heart over and over again during the late 2000’s every time he would beat the Green and White. I recall in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, Kobe would lead the Lakers from a 13-point third quarter deficit to win his fifth championship — the first time the Lakers beat Boston in a Game 7. That was also the first time I was in awe of his grit and passion for the game we all love.
Bryant has done it all. Five championships, 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, 18-time All-Star, 12-time All-Defensive Team, 2-time NBA Finals MVP, 2008 MVP and the list goes on.
Beyond his accomplishments, the one thing that everyone admired and respected was his near maniacal love for the game. Bryant’s work ethic and focus was legendary. He was the first in the gym and the last out. While others would go out and party, Bryant would be found watching tape of his opponents. He studied you so he could destroy you on the court. Many players have been “posterized” by Kobe’s dunks and drives to the basket. Just ask Yao Ming.
Bryant’s legend only he grew when he would play through injuries (e.g. broken fingers) that would sideline other players. He loved staying in the court to compete. Sometimes, he would even refuse his coaches who wanted to sit him down to rest.
His nickname the “Black Mamba” was appropriate. The black Mamba is an extremely venomous snake that strikes ferociously and decisively. Kobe was a merciless competitor, an athletic wunderkind, and a difficult opponent and teammate. It was this Mamba mentality — fearlessness — that influenced an entire generation of stars to pattern their game after Kobe’s.
You can see glimpses of Kobe’s game in many of today’s stars. LeBron James’ explosive drives to the rim, DeMar DeRozan’s mid-range game, Kawhi Leonard’s inside game, and even first-time All-Star Jayson Tatum’s moves.
The fact that he named himself after a poisonous snake meant Bryant never wanted to be loved. He wanted to be feared and respected. While most NBA stars basked in the adulation, Bryant’s game was fueled by the boos and negativity thrown his way by fans, players, and even teammates. He demanded much from you when you were playing in his team while torturing opponents.
In a review of his book Mamba Mentality, Kobe quipped “Mamba mentality is all about focusing on the process and trusting in the hard work when it matters most. It’s the ultimate mantra for the competitive spirit. Hard work outweighs talent — every time. Mamba mentality is about 4 a.m. workouts, doing more than the next guy and then trusting in the work you’ve put in when it’s time to perform. Without studying, preparation and practice, you’re leaving the outcome to fate. I don’t do fate.”
It’s ironic that fate took away Kobe Bryant from the world. He still had so much to give. We still had so much to learn. He will be missed.