“I heard the ball bouncing. No lights were on. Practice was at about 11, it was probably about 9, 9:30. And I go out to the court and I look, and there’s Kobe Bryant. He’s out there shooting in the dark. And I stood there for probably about ten seconds, and I said, ‘This kid is gonna be great.'” Byron Scott, teammate and coach to Kobe Bryant.
It was obvious from the time he was a teenager that Kobe Bryant was going to be a generational talent. When Scott found him practicing two hours before team practice, he caught a glimpse of the dedication, grit and tenacity that would later become folklore to the rest of us.
Scott was a 36-year-old veteran on the Los Angeles Lakers when they traded for the 18-year-old Bryant. That 18-year-old would later go on to win MVP, five championships, and finish third all-time in points scored. Scott was right, that kid became great. One of the greatest.
While Kobe Bryant was an amazing basketball player — hands down one of the best of all time — we can learn more from him than jump shots and rebounding.
Lessons from Kobe Bryant
- A relentless desire for self improvement. In an era where non-fiction tops bestseller lists and every second YouTube ad is a “self-made millionaire” standing in front of a lambo, it can be difficult to sort the reals from the fakes. Kobe Bryant was a real.
- Perseverance. In 2015, Kobe Bryant injured his right shoulder on a dunk in the third quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans. He sat out most of the fourth quarter, but with five minutes remaining and the Lakers down 13, Bryant checked back into the game, and began shooting left-handed.
- He was obsessive. Whether it was working out and perfecting a particular shot, or calling and texting business leaders at 3 AM to delve deep on something, Kobe Bryant was absolutely obsessed with the task at hand.
- Incredible work ethic. Tales of Kobe Bryant’s work ethic have become folklore, to athletes and business folks alike. This is the most obvious reason for his success. Every teammate, opponent and coach remarked on Kobe Bryant’s work ethic. According to a Team USA trainer, Kobe once held a workout from 4:15 a.m. to 11 a.m., refusing to leave the gym until he made 800 shots. This wasn’t unusual. He used to show up to practice at 5 am and leave at 7 am, in high school. Remember, high school is generally the time most people become the laziest, worst versions of themselves.
- He was never too good for anyone. When he was in high school, Kobe Bryant played benchwarmers one-on-one to 100 points. In Kobe’s worst game, he still won 100-12. The guy was born a legend. In 2008, Sports Illustrated reported that Kobe kept random players after practice so that he could try out new moves on them, similar to what he did to benchwarmers in high school. He didn’t need to play the best to be the best.
- He was the first to show up. Former NBA player and Lakers teammate John Celestand said Kobe was always the first player in the gym, even when he was hurt. Celestand wrote that during the 1999-2000 season, Kobe broke his wrist. Celestand thought that with Kobe injured, he would beat him to the gym in the morning, particularly because Bryant lived over 30 minutes away from the practice facility. Instead, when he got to the gym in the morning, “Kobe was already in a full sweat with a cast on his right arm and dribbling and shooting with his left.” He didn’t have off days. He showed up every single day, for decades.
- He tried small things to make big changes. He had Nike shave a few millimeters off the bottom of his shoes in 2008 to get “a hundredth of a second better reaction time.”
- He was proactive. He iced his knees for 20 minutes three times per day and did acupuncture in an effort to stave off injury. It didn’t always work, but Kobe Bryant did all he could to protect his main asset — his body.
- He learned from himself. According to ESPN’s Jackie McMullan in 2010, “He often corrals teammates, fires up the laptop, and shows them precisely how they can carve out easier shots for themselves.” People have told me this is how you become a good presenter, but watching video of yourself isn’t easy. Although if I was Kobe Bryant, I might enjoy it more.
- He pushed hard, even on game days. Among a dozen other drills, Bryant does suicide push-ups on game day. At the top of the pushup, he’d launch himself off the mat so hard that both his feet came off the ground and his hands would slap his pecs. He’d do three sets of seven of these. I dare you to try one.
- He wasn’t afraid to ask for help. Bryant told Bloomberg, “I’ll just cold call people and pick their brain about stuff. Some of the questions that I’ll ask will seem really, really simple and stupid, quite honestly, for them. But if I don’t know, I don’t know. You have to ask. I’ll just do that. I’ll just ask questions and I want to know more about how they build their businesses and how they run their companies and how they see the world.” There are stories of him texting business people at 2 am, 3 am, 4 am, asking questions after doing hours of research late into the night.
- He trained intensely. The numbers he put up over the years represent Kobe Bryant’s daily workout plan, which consisted of doing six hours a day, six days a week for six months in the offseason. The six hours of training consisted of two hours of running, two hours of basketball and two hours of weightlifting.
- He did what his team needed. There are many ways to win. Throughout his career, Kobe Bryant rotated through different roles, from point guard to shooting guard to forward. He did what his team needed him to do to win. He could be the most prolific shooter on the floor, the most intense defender. If the defense gave him room, he’d put up a three. If they pressed up on him, he’d drive.
- He took ownership of his team. There were reports of Kobe reaching out to outstanding players for meals or chats in attempts to persuade them to join the Lakers.
- He used failure as inspiration. When Kobe first entered the league, he had a lot of haters. Here was this kid straight out of high school, proclaiming to be the next Michael Jordan. And he faltered in the beginning. He was an 18-year old kid playing a game of strength with grown men. But he turned it around and quickly became a success. Later in his career, he did the same. In 2008, the Lakers fell to the Celtics in six games. The following season, Kobe led the team to clinch the championship against the Orlando Magic.
- He always showed good sportsmanship. We’re used to seeing athletes throw tantrums on the court, but Kobe was never one to lose his cool. What happens on court stays on court.
I want to be as passionate as Kobe Bryant was about basketball about anything. Kobe propelled the sport to new levels and challenged the status quo. He drove everyone around him to be better. Forget the death of Kobe Bryant and remember the life of the Black Mamba. This man can make us better. RIP Kobe, Gigi and the others on board Sikorsky S-76.