Note to Reader: I wrote the following article a few weeks ago and had it scheduled to post at a later date. In view of Kobe’s tragic passing, I think it makes more sense to publish it sooner rather than later. (Sadly, I had to go back and change some of the verbs from present to past tense.) As seemingly senseless as Kobe’s death was and the death of all 9 members aboard the helicopter–including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna–if there is any silver lining, it is what happened in the aftermath. We got to witness people all walks of life come together, honor his legacy, and strive to do a better job in the future of cherishing what truly matters in life.
A lot of the same skills are needed to be successful in any area of life. Take the sports world as an example. Nothing is ever achieved without work ethic, leadership, discipline, and self-belief. Few people amassed as much hardware as Kobe Bryant did in his career, who was known for bringing his A-game on a nightly basis. He earned the nickname “The Black Mamba” for his aggressive, take-no-prisoners mentality. Off the court, Kobe is a lot more philosophical. After his retirement in 2016, Kobe made inroads in business and entertainment. Bryant founded and operated as the CEO of Kobe Inc, a distributor of Kobe-branded products. In 2018, he won Best Animated Short Film at the Oscars for “Dear Basketball.” In it, he expressed his lifelong love for the game that made him a household name around the world.
I’ve transcribed a YouTube clip in which Kobe shares the factors he believes were responsible for his success. He talks about the unconditional love of his father, a second-to-none work ethic, and the resolve to learn from both victory and defeat.
Interviewer: What’s your definition of greatness?
Kobe: I think the definition of greatness is to inspire the people next to you. My parents were great. Growing up, they instilled in me the importance of imagination. Of curiosity. And understanding that if you want to accomplish something, I’m not just going to sit here and say “Yes, you can do whatever you want.” Yes, you can, but you have to also put in the work to get there. You grew up as a kid thinking all things are possible if you put in the work to do it. You grew up having that fundamental belief.
My father was really influential at a really critical time where I had a summer where I played basketball when I was like 10 or 11 years old. And here I come, playing, and I don’t score one point in the entire summer. I scored not a free throw, nothing. Not a lucky shot, not a break-away lay-up. Zero points. I remember crying about it, being upset about it. My father gave me a hug and said, “Listen, whether you score 0 or you score 60, I’m going to love you no matter what.” That is the most important thing that you can say to a child. That gives me all the confidence in the world to fail. But to h*ll with that. I’m scoring 60.
From there I Just went to work. I stayed with it. I just kept practicing and practicing and practicing. I think that’s when the idea of understanding a long-term view became important because I wasn’t going to catch these things in a week. I wasn’t going to catch them in a year. So that’s when I sat down and I said “OK, this is going to take some thought.” I started creating a menu of things. When I came back the next summer, I was a little bit better. Open shots–not miss open shots. To be able to shoot it with speed because those kids were so much more athletic.
It’s a simple thing of math. If you want to be a great player. If you play every single day 2-3 hours, every single day. Over the course of a year, how much better are you getting? If you’re obsessively training 2-3 hours every single day over a year, over two years, you make quantum leaps. Get up every single day, do the work. They’re looking at me like “This kid is soft. He’s from the suburbs of Philadelphia.” They felt like they could try to be physical and try to intimidate me and do all this other stuff, which they couldn’t. Now I’m saying “OK, you’re trying to attack me, how am I going to attack you.” One of the things that I would do when everybody would be at the cafeteria eating and doing all this other stuff, I would just go back to the gym. Yeah, I may be from the suburbs, but you’re not going to outwork me.
I look at things at their smallest because a lot of times the game starts moving really fast. But if you train yourself to watch hours and hours of film, the game is not moving that fast anymore. It’s an obsessiveness that comes along with it. You want things to be as perfect as they can be, understanding that nothing is ever perfect, but the challenge is to try to get them as perfect as they can be.
So how can we teach our children what it means to work hard? Well, you do it through training. So when I get up in the morning, my daughter goes with me. At 4 AM my 15-year old comes with me. It becomes a daddy-daughter thing. Through that process, she understands the value of hard work. So it’s through those behaviors that I find the motivation to do it.
Interviewer: What does losing feel like to you?
Kobe: It’s exciting because it means you have different ways to get better. There are certain things you can figure out, that you can take advantage of. Certain weaknesses that were exposed. There are answers there if you just look at ’em. It’s a constant process. It’s exciting when you win. It’s exciting when you lose because the process should be exactly the same. The hardest thing is to face that stuff. I think it’s the fear of starting anew. You play for 20 years–I played for 20 years–you reached a certain level, “OK, wait a minute. I have to start again at the base of a mountain. And try to climb to the top of this mountain.” First of all, what mountain am I climbing? I don’t even know what the h*ll I’m going to be doing.
The thing that helped me was hurting my Achilles because that forced me to sit there and say the day could be today that your career is over. The first question I asked [after retirement]– which is the wrong question–is what’s the biggest industry I can get into? I said OK, stop thinking about it that way, you’re thinking of it the wrong way. Why did you start playing basketball? Because I loved it. What do you love to do? I love to tell stories. Alright, let’s do that. I think stories are what moves the world. Nothing in this world moves without story. I think that is the root of everything and if we’re going to try to make the world a better place, story is the right place to start.
A quote from one of my English teachers at Lower Merion High School named Mr. Fisk. He had a great quote that said “Rest at the end, not in the middle.” That’s something I always live by. I’m not going to rest, I’m going to keep on pushing now. There are a lot of answers that I don’t have. Even questions that I don’t have. But I’m just going to keep going and I’ll figure these things out as I go. You just continue to build that way. So I try to live by that all the time.