Game Change Nation

The Mamba Mentality

The extraordinary competitiveness that stirred within Kobe Bryant resulted in him winning five NBA championships, two Olympic gold medals, two NBA Finals MVP awards, one regular season MVP, two NBA scoring championships, and eighteen NBA All-Star appearances. It is a basketball resume only matched by a very small few.

When Kobe Bryant tragically died in a helicopter crash there were scores of mentions in the media about the Mamba Mentality. But what exactly is the Mamba Mentality and how was it showcased by Kobe throughout his basketball career? 

Let’s start at the end.  

On the night his numbers (8 and 24) were retired by the Lakers, Kobe said something that was very telling about the Mamba Mentality. “Those times when you get up early and you work hard. Those times 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.”

Living the dream.

The process is the dream. Ask yourself a simple question. Do you think Kobe loved basketball? I think we all know that the answer is an easy yes. A lot of us would consider it a dream to play a sport we love. However, it’s easy to love being on the court during a game, but to be the best, are you willing to do all the other stuff that makes you the best? The things we love to do often have other responsibilities or exercises that must be completed, which, quite frankly, we don’t always enjoy. Those are the sacrifices we must make to live our dream.    

It is clear that Kobe loved basketball, but when he talked about doing the hard work, he acknowledged that there were times when he felt tired or didn’t really want to push himself, but he did it anyway. Why? Because he loved basketball so much that he had a respect for the craft and that respect grew into a love for perfecting the craft because participating in that journey made it possible for him to do the thing he loved so much – playing basketball. And he knew that if he trusted the process, good things would follow. That is the dream.    

Now, let’s go to the start.

Kobe’s rookie season did not conclude in the way he hoped. The Lakers were on the road in a deciding playoff game against the Utah Jazz. As the clock was ticking down, the ball kept coming to Kobe, and it did not go well. He shot four airballs in the last five minutes of the game and the Lakers were bounced out of the playoffs. 

The Lakers boarded their team plane and arrived late at night in Los Angeles. Time to lick their wounds and get some sleep. Not Kobe. After landing at the airport, Kobe went straight to Palisades High where someone opened the gym for him. While the rest of his teammates (and most Angelinos) were sleeping, Kobe took jump shot after jump shot, practicing all through the night and into the morning.  

This was Day 1 of the offseason for Kobe and he spent the rest of those months repeating the same routine he performed that evening. Go to the gym and put up the shots. After Kobe became a star in the league, and no longer just a rookie trying to make his mark, the routine did not waver. Go to the gym and put up the shots.

Kobe trusted the process because the process got him there and kept him there. Too many other people want to take shortcuts or get instant gratification. They’re looking for the lottery prize. They make weekly trips to their local convenience store to buy a ticket. They want to get rich quickly and achieve their dream overnight without putting in the work. That is the fantasy they have been sold. Approximately 1 in 300 million people win the Powerball or Mega Millions lottery. Do you like those odds?

Dream big, take the time to do the work, and trust the process. 

Throughout your journey, there will be times when you fall short, and times when you fail. You may not shoot four airballs in front of 18,000 people, with millions more watching on TV, but you will have your stumbles. These are the times when self-doubt might start to creep in. We all have it and, for some, it can become paralyzing. The best response to a crisis of confidence is to go back to the basics and keep doing the work. If you stick to your plan and keep getting better, your day will come.

Kobe didn’t beat himself up after missing those shots. He just went back to the gym and took more shots, like he always had before. Kobe’s confidence came from knowing that all the work he had previously done made him a good player and that the bad performance was just a blip on the screen. This is why he refused to give in to what seemed like a humiliating performance. Even though he was only 18 years old, he already knew to trust the process. 

Respect the craft.

Kobe understood that playing in the NBA is a privilege, not a right. One of the challenges that modern society faces is an entitlement mentality where people feel like they are owed something rather than having gratitude for being given the opportunity to earn it. Not everybody has that opportunity and it should be respected.  

Respecting the craft means that the thing you love doing is so important to you that you would be embarrassed to put out a product that didn’t reflect your best work. There is an honor to know that your craft, one of the things that makes you special, came about because you were willing to do the work to be the best you can be at it. That is the Mamba Mentality.

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