Kobe Bryant Inspired an Unknown NBA Journeyman Into a Budding Star

In 2015, UNLV power forward Christian Wood was ready to grab his future by the horns. A life dedicated, up to that point, to becoming an NBA superstar was within his grasp. Then, within a few short months, everything fell apart.

In the face of the disaster that befell his career and life prospects, Wood didn’t give up. He dedicated himself to the grind. He used his emotions as fuel for his fight to be recognized in the NBA. Now, under a $41 million contract with the Houston Rockets, he is finally where he belongs. He credits all of his success to the late Kobe Bryant.

Christian Wood went from a first round projection to going undrafted

Wood came up through college ball as a potential first-round pick for the NBA. He was one of the best shot blockers due for the 2015 NBA draft. He had a strong perimeter jump shot, right when the NBA seemed to shift toward that skill as more valuable than ever.

But once he was up for the draft, his lanky frame became an issue. He still looked like a lanky college player, who could potentially wilt against the rigors of NBA-level play as Bleacher Report projected at the time.

Wood’s draft prospects fell to the second round, which did not phase him. Then, as that 2015 draft night dragged on, the grim realization dawned on him. He wasn’t going to be drafted.

His girlfriend promptly broke up with him. The life he thought he’d have ended right there. Or it would have, if Wood’s mental fortitude didn’t carry him straight into the NBA anyway.

Christian Wood is having a breakout season with the Houston Rockets

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Wood pulled himself up out of that slumped draft night repose, and made his case for a spot on a team. The Philadelphia 76ers signed him first. He became a journeyman, with few minutes to his name, bouncing from team to team. In 2017, he signed up to play in the Chinese Basketball Association, where he was waived.

He sold himself as NBA material nonetheless, and finally found minutes with an ailing Detroit Pistons. With actual playing time, he showed himself to be far better than his limited appearances implied. That got the Houston Rockets, facing down the impending loss of James Harden, interested in an affordable rising star.

According to Basketball Reference, Wood is already justifying his $41 million, five-year contract with the Rockets. Averaging 27 points per game, he’s helping keep the Rockets afloat during a difficult transition. His cynical girlfriend might be thinking twice about abandoning her one-time partner.

How Kobe Bryant and the “Mamba Mentality” figured into Wood’s current success

A Sports Illustrated profile reveals the mentality that guided Wood through his years in the basketball wilderness. It was the Mamba Mentality, Bryant’s respected, singularly-focused approach to the game and life.

The plan, outlined by Bryant: to focus on the process of developing skill, elevating one’s self into the best possible version through hard work and letting the cards fall where they may, rather than ruminating on one’s physical or mental limitations.

For Wood, that meant targeting each solvable limitation his body had. He built muscle onto his naturally skinny frame. He focused on improving his natural basketball tendencies — shot-blocking, perimeter shooting — instead of assuming those attributes were not in need of improvement.

In two minutes on Inside the NBA, Wood called out the Mamba mindset as the driving force behind his seemingly out-of-nowhere success. In a Kobe-esque bit of swagger, he even called out Shaq for not knowing who he was. He called the big man a “casual” for not taking notice before. Mamba out.