In the words of the late Kobe Bryant, Mamba Mentality is a, “constant quest to try to be better today than you were yesterday.” While work ethic and dedication to your craft are at the core of Kobe’s mantra, Mamba Mentality can also be summarized in one word: obsession.
Bryant was obsessed with becoming the best basketball player he could be and worked to achieve that goal by any means necessary. The drive that possessed him started at a young age, where the teenager did things to gain a competitive edge that his peers considered unorthodox. For an idea of what that looked like, Kobe’s high school teammates shared stories years after Bryant’s historic Los Angeles Lakers career came to a close.
Kobe Bryant’s legendary commitment was evident early on
Well before he was a superstar in the NBA, Kobe was an elite player at Lower Merion High School. Standing at 6-foot-6 and weighing 190 lbs, the 17-year-old senior averaged 30.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 3.8 blocks to lead Lower Merion to a Pennsylvania state title. But behind the scenes, the Mamba outworked everybody.
During his senior year, Bryant would often arrive at 5 a.m. to work out before classes started. Once class and practice finished, he would stay until 7 p.m. and put more shots up. During the off-hours, he would have his teammates play one-on-one … to 100.
“We’d play games of one-on-one to 100,” said ex-teammate Rob Schwartz. “Sometimes he’d score 80 points before I got one basket. I think the best I ever did was to lose 100-12.”
“He was tough,” said Emory Dabney, another old teammate at Lower Merion. “He was loving, but it was tough love. He wanted to get the best out of you. His mentality was, ‘You’re only as strong as your weakest link.'”
Dabney recalls Kobe exhibiting early signs of Mamba Mentality
From his days in high school to when his career ended in 2016, Bryant showed limitless talent and athleticism. But his most impressive characteristic was his insatiable work ethic. (h/t: Three Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Crazy Years of the Lakers Dynasty by Jeff Pearlman)
“People think his athleticism was the most impressive thing — and they’re wrong. It was the drive. He wasn’t psychotic, but he bordered on psychotic.”Emory Dabney
Dabney shared a story in Three Ring Circus about Kobe’s borderline psychotic drive. During the summer, Bryant and Dabney were working out on the track at Saint Joseph’s University during a 95-degree day in August. After the workout, the two teammates moved across the street to play pick-up — but not before Bryant turned up the heat, literally.
“Kobe would get in the car after running and turn the heat up to 90 degrees because he didn’t want his muscles to cool down,” Dabney recalled. “You’d be like, ‘Wow, this is nuts.’ But it separated him from everyone. He didn’t just want it. He wanted it.”
It’s not the first time Bryant kept the muscles warm on a summer day. In a conversation with the New York Post, Dabney said Kobe did something similar on the way to a workout with the Philadelphia 76ers, where he’d be playing future first-round pick, Jerry Stackhouse. Bryant simply told Dabney, who was in the car with him, “I’m about to play Stackhouse. I’ve got to start warm.”
Kobe Bryant’s work ethic paid off
All of the early mornings, late nights, and hot car rides were worth it for Bryant. He was drafted 13th overall in the 1996 NBA Draft, won the Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie, and started the All-Star Game in 1997 as a 19-year-old. His career only improved from there, as the Black Mamba eventually made 18 All-Star teams, 15 All-NBA teams, and 12 All-Defensive teams.
But Kobe’s career is defined by winning, and he did a lot of it. Bryant became a five-time NBA champion with the Lakers and two-time Finals MVP. He also won two gold medals for the United States in 2008 and 2012. Robert Horry, Bryant’s old teammate, said Kobe’s excellence still boiled down to his unmatched dedication to his craft.
“The thing that makes Kobe so great is that he’s a hard worker,” Horry said. “And I hope the young kids would watch him and learn that you can’t get anywhere unless you put in the work, the time, and the effort. And that’s what Kobe does, he brings a lot of the time, and a lot of the effort.“
Pro teammates and high school teammates can agree. Although Kobe worked hard, and a lot of times to the point of obsession, the results speak for themselves.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.