For a young boy growing up in Eastern Europe with a huge passion for sports, the National Basketball Association (NBA) was exotic and captivating to me. Kobe Bryant played a major role in making it that way.
I will never forget where I was or what I was doing when I got the news of Bryant’s death, nor will I forget the crushing feeling of finding out that his daughter, Gianna, was with him when it happened. The whole affair felt like a terrible nightmare—one that I, and billions around the world, could not wake up from.
Many exceptional qualities make our favorite athletes great, but there is always one trait that sets them apart.
Kobe’s sheer quality of performance was a step ahead of any competitor, but his talents didn’t come without a certain groundedness, self- improvement, and mental fortitude, known as Kobe’s famous “mamba mentality.”
As a kid, the mamba mentality fascinated me because of its end result—beautiful gameplay. But the more I looked at it, the more I realized the mantra was not about basketball at all. It was about excellence as the ultimate strategy for survival.
It really struck me that if I wanted to be successful in whatever I choose to do in life, I had to be systematic about it.
Kobe practiced longer and harder than anyone so that he could outplay everyone.
“I can’t relate to lazy people. We don’t speak the same language. I don’t understand you. I don’t want to understand you,” Kobe famously said.
I grew up watching Kobe collect five championship rings and be a regular player at the All-Star game. His mentality of chasing perfection and refusing to settle was so rare that the game lost more than just a player with his passing.
I remember seeing him make free throws against the Warriors with a torn Achilles tendon and limp off the court, whereas most players would have needed a stretcher to be taken out of the game. In the eyes of the world, he was getting older, but in the eyes of fans like me, he was getting greater.
His first priority was to dedicate himself to the sport that he loved, but more importantly, to excellence. Kobe refused to indulge in anything that would impede becoming the best basketball player he could be.
In his quest for perfection, Kobe blazed a trail for his peers and future generations that touched on the fundamental aspect of humanity: continuous progress.
Kobe did not invent the mentality of excellence, but he was strong enough to materialize it. It is the oldest trick in the book, as well as the most difficult to attain, because there really is no “trick.”
Kobe’s life proved that his hard work transcended him as a person. His death reminded us that he was still human.
The invaluable lessons that Kobe and many other athletes teach us are the reasons that fans love sports. It is because of this love of sports that millions around the world push themselves every day to become better, faster, and stronger.
It is because of this same love that I cover sports for The Sandspur today.