One might not believe it now from the looks of it, but there was a point in my life when basketball meant everything. I used to practice my jump shot nearly every day – shooting shot after shot, hoping and trying to get better. For years I had been through every kind of up and down you could imagine from getting cut, barely making it onto intercity rosters, having break out games, bad games, good seasons, and so much more in between that I will take with me forever. It was a great ride, an exciting and crucial era of my personal growth that still influences me up to this very moment. But even in my prime, I was never even 0.001% of what Kobe Bryant represented. I know that I’m pointing out the obvious here, yet like many people around the world, Kobe was an inspiration. And I’m not just talking about his scoring ability, his clutchness, or even his work ethic in general. No, I am referring to his “Mamba Mentality” – his passion to succeed, his drive to be the very best, his refusal to be anything except a champion. It’s a focus that goes beyond sports.
Until this day, I can’t begin to count the amount of heated debates that I’ve been involved in about the ye olde question “Who’s better: Kobe or LeBron?” Most of my friends’ side with LeBron as of the past couple years for a number of reasons. It often comes down to measurable things that anyone could Google on their phone like stats (outside of scoring, of course), the competition each player faced, their supporting cast, injuries, or something like that. But as the solo Kobe believer in my immediate circle, as well as amongst others (you just never know when an NBA discussion will take place, at least in my experience), I still honestly would take Kobe over LeBron in a Championship setting. Maybe, to some readers out there, I sound delusional. And that’s fair enough. I welcome you to challenge my viewpoint. But then again, you must understand that I grew up watching Kobe single-handedly take down my Boston Celtics in more than one occasion. I watched one of my all-time favorite players – Ray Allen – play world-class defense and still fall victim to Kobe’s God-like ability to put the ball in the net. In other words, I grew up both loving and despising him as a player. But even then, I’ve always respected the hell out of his mindset. After all, it’s the one edge that he never failed to have over the competition.
Out of the many examples I can list about what Kobe’s “Mamba Mentality” illustrates to me, the one thing that stands out the most is a regular season series he had against the 2009-2010 Raptors’ squad. Yes, I know what you might be thinking – how is that even relevant? Well, as a Montreal teen at that particular time, Raptors games were all I was able to find on television. It was a slow era of Raptors’ history that had Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani as the centerpieces of the roster. Anyway, the point is this – there was a game in that series where Kobe legitimately missed the game winning shot. The ball went in and out, which is a pain that I know every baller in their life has felt. It’s like a horror story – at the start everything is perfect, the ball leaves your hands and just looks unbelievable as it flies in the air. But then, the ball bounces out and it’s over. Maybe, it shouldn’t have mattered to Kobe much. After all, he was a defending champion and a reigning Finals MVP. Why, would one loss to a very sub par Raptors’ team in the middle of the regular season be of any great importance in the long run? Well, in the post-game interview Kobe gave in the locker room, I still remember how upset he was at himself for letting his team down. Better yet, he also promised that it would never happen again. And guess what? The next time he played the Raptors, he lived up to his own expectations and made the buzzer beater. Nowadays, I just don’t see players that challenge themselves to that degree to not only beat the powerhouses of the NBA, but also the under .500 teams that could never compete with Kobe on a realistic level. It says a lot about his character – no matter what opponent he faced, he gave it 110% to secure a win. Maybe, he could’ve taken a load management week or so, and maybe he could’ve played less minutes to give other players on the bench an opportunity to step onto the court. But yet, Kobe’s heart and passion was undeniable – even if it meant going up against a 40-42 Raptors’ squad.
Similarly, I also remember the year that Kobe “guaranteed that the Lakers would make the playoffs”. Again, he really didn’t need to do that – everyone was aware of how good he was, and what he was capable of as an individual player. But as it happened, he legit forced his Laker team into the playoffs, anyway, like he said that he would from the very beginning. Maybe, Kobe wasn’t always the most liked player. Maybe, he wasn’t known for his passing ability, his all-around game, or his great chemistry with other teammates in the locker room. And maybe, I sound like an annoying Kobe fan that keeps going on and on. However, the mentality he possessed really inspired me for as long as I was into basketball (which is 20+ years and counting). It’s a sense of purpose and motivation and persistence that I can’t ever forget.
Now that I reflect on the many years I’ve spent writing my book series, I always tended to find myself digging deeper, continuing to push through struggle, and ultimately taking the base for success that sports taught me into my post-basketball life in general. What’s funny is, I even reference Kobe very briefly in my work (along with Steve Nash since I personally think he’s a Canadian hero). Self-consciously, Kobe’s influence touched my life and played a significant part in my childhood as a young ball player that just wanted to make an inter-city team. But to close this article, I come to understand that the reason why Kobe was a legend is due to the goals that he set for himself. Maybe, that’s why he was sometimes misunderstood when he was a player – he was on an individual journey of personal growth and achievement in a team sport. In retrospect, I believe that we can all learn something from the “Mamba Mentality” and use it in our own endeavors no matter how crazy the dreams we have might sound. Life is too precious, mis amigos.
Thank you for the memories, Kobe – may you, Gigi, and all the other victims of that tragic helicopter crash rest in peace wherever you guys are at this moment.