Certain NBA players manage to transcend on-court accomplishments and become part of the sporting landscape. It’s safe to say that Kobe Bryant accomplished that feat. While the LA Lakers guard did build up an incredible resume, his legacy is more than points, wins, and championships. He’s remembered as a fearless competitor who never took a step backward or accepted anything less than his best.
While that ‘Mamba Mentality’ only entered public consciousness in the 2000s, it already existed when Kobe was a teenager. Just ask Rip Hamilton about their time rooming together on the AAU circuit.
Kobe Bryant spent plenty of restless nights rooming with Rip Hamilton
When you think of Kobe Bryant, it’s easy to imagine him simply appearing on the NBA scene as a fully-formed pro. While the guard didn’t go to college, he did spend plenty of time on the court honing his craft before reaching the Association. At least some of those hours in the gym were spent with Rip Hamilton.
“I’ve been knowing him since we were kids,” Hamilton explained in an NBA 75 Stories video honoring Bryant. “Very special human being. Taught me a whole lot, especially from the simple fact of having a killer instinct. Like people seen that, when you hear ‘Mamba Mentality,’ like people hear that late. Kobe, championships, MVPs, and everything like that. No, he had that ‘Mamba Mentality’ at 15, 16 years old.”
The guard saw that reality first-hand, especially when he and Bryant roomed together at AAU tournaments.
“I can remember being in a room late at night cause we were roommates,” Hamilton continued. “And I can remember, we were playing, and Tim Thomas was the number one player in the country at the time. Kobe didn’t want to go to sleep that night. He was restless. He would do this multiple times a night. He would just walk around my bed, cause my bed was here, his bed was here, he would just walk around my bed. And he was like, ‘Hey, man. Rip, tomorrow. They got Tim Thomas as the number one player in the country. I should be the number one player in the country. I’m gonna go out there and show the world.’ He said, ‘Watch this. Wait, wait and see.'”
Hamilton, however, had a different concern.
“I’m like, ‘Bro, got to sleep, man. Like, we got three big games tomorrow,” he concluded. “[Kobe’s] like, ‘Nah, nah. Look, trust me. I’m gonna have my A-game. I’m gonna come out there, and I’m just gonna destroy everybody that’s out on the floor, regardless [of] who’s guarding me.'”
Needless to say, he followed through on that promise.
That story provides a glimpse of Kobe Bryant’s humanity
When we hear stories about Michael Jordan taking things personally or Kobe Bryant snapping into his ‘Mamba Mentality,’ it’s easy to imagine the stars as something out of Terminator. Hearing Rip Hamilton’s story, however, shows a different side of the Lakers’ legend.
While it still hits all the classic cliches — obsession with the upcoming challenge, an insistence on being the best, and the like — hearing that it was based on Tim Thomas’ rating makes things feel a bit more human. We’ve all been there, whether it was during our teenage years or more recently, and felt like someone else was getting the recognition that we deserve.
Does everyone have the killer instinct and raw talent to immediately prove the public perception wrong? Probably not; that’s what made Kobe so special.
Especially after his untimely death, Bryant has become something of a basketball deity, who’s remembered fondly and spoken about in hushed tones. At the core of it, though, he was a human being who wanted to prove himself.
That’s something we can all understand.