Kobe Bryant was one of the great ones. And what’s telling about Kobe is that his legacy is more than just basketball. When people talk about him, it’s not just: Hey, remember that 80-point game? It’s also: He was such a great father.
In January, one year after his death, we saw players and broadcasters honour Bryant’s memory. We saw highlight reels, saw clips of Kobe with the Larry O’Brien trophy, and saw footage of him with his daughter Gianna. Those parts of Kobe will always be front and center. But let’s not forget how he got there; how he became the player – and the man – that the basketball world so admired.
Some of that is contained within the pages of The Mamba Mentality, Bryant’s account of how he played – and prepared for – the game of basketball. But in a 2019 interview with Patrick Bet-David, he talks candidly about his journey to the NBA, and about how his approach to the game was present even at 13 years old.
“When I’d play, I’d play to my weaknesses,” Kobe says about playing summer ball as a teenager. “When you’re playing in competition situations, you’re only playing to your strengths. Why? Because you want to win … I would work on the things during those [summer] games that I was weak at.”
He also talks about failure: about throwing up four airballs, as a rookie, in Game 6 of a series against the Utah Jazz. He says that he turned his attention almost immediately to why he missed those shots, namely that he was one year removed from high school, and from playing just 35 games in a season. He didn’t have the legs – and didn’t have the stamina – to compete at a high level over 82 games and two playoff series.
“I gotta get stronger, I gotta train differently,” Bryant recognized. “I look at it with rationale. Okay, well, the reason why I shot airballs is ’cause my legs aren’t there. Well, next year they’ll be there.”
That commitment to self-evaluation, and to fixing the holes in his game, led him to five NBA titles. But in 2013, Kobe faced a challenge he wasn’t sure he wanted to overcome. In a game against Golden State, he tore his achilles. He was 34. He had those five titles under his belt, and it looked unlikely that he’d get a shot at another one. Maybe it was time to hang ’em up.
Of course, just eight months later (and four months ahead of schedule) Kobe was back on a basketball court. And he says the decision to fight his way back was a decision he made for his kids.
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“As a parent, you gotta set the example,” he explains to Bet-David. “This is another obstacle. This obstacle cannot define me. It’s not going to cripple me. It’s not going to be responsible for me stepping away from the game that I love. I’m going to step away on my own terms.”
Bryant did step away on his own terms. And as much as he inspired his daughters, his story – and his Mamba Mentality – have helped inspire the great young players in the game today.