In modern basketball, few names loom larger than Kobe Bryant. While it’s been a few years since we’ve seen the Lakers legend hit the hardwood, no fan can forget his ‘Mamba Mentality.’ With those two words, Bryant was able to strike fear in the heart of any defender who stood in his way.
One of those defenders was Shane Battier. The NBA veteran, however, knew better than trying to stop Bryant using conventional means; with that in mind, he tried to use Kobe’s own Mamba Mentality against him.
Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Mentality became the stuff of legends
Among longtime basketball fans, Michael Jordan’s will to win has become part of basketball lore; he could use a simple “good game” as bulletin board material. Kobe Bryant, for better or worse, had a similar competitive edge.
During his time with the Lakers, Bryant created his “Black Mamba” persona and “Mamba Mentality.” While the term means different things to different people, everyone can agree on the fundamental points.
At its core, Mamba Mentality boils down to putting in the hard work to pursue greatness. During his time on the Lakers, for example, Kobe would do whatever it took to win; from studying the refereeing handbook to literally practicing without a basketball, nothing was too extreme for Bryant.
“Mamba mentality is all about focusing on the process and trusting in the hard work when it matters most,” the Lakers legend explained to Amazon Book Review. “It’s the ultimate mantra for the competitive spirit.”
Shane Battier was an intelligent player and a tough defender
On paper, Shane Battier’s NBA career shouldn’t even be in the same sentence as Kobe Bryant’s. During his time on the hardwood, however, the two men had their fair share of battles.
While he was a star at Duke University, Battier couldn’t dominate at the NBA level. For all of his flaws, though, the forward was an incredibly intelligent player and a lockdown defender.
After a disappointing spell with the Grizzlies, Battier joined the Houston Rockets, where he became, as Michael Lewis wrote in the New York Times Magazine, “the no-stats All-Star.” There, he made a name for himself by pouring over scouring data and using that knowledge to lock down Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili, and the Western Conference’s other top threats.
For all of his defensive battles and NBA exploits—he went on to win two championships as a role player on the Miami Heat—Battier relished his duels with Kobe Bryant. As they say, game recognizes game.
“He made me feel the most alive I ever did on the basketball court,” Battier told Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal in February 2020. “I knew I had to be at my absolute best. If I wasn’t, I was in serious trouble. Even when I was, I was in serious trouble.”
Shane Battier tried to use Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Mentality against him
As any NBA fan can tell you, defending Kobe could be an impossible task. Shane Battier, however, resorted to an unconventional tactic. At one point, he simply tried to block Bryant’s vision during jump shots, rather than defending the shot itself. While Battier knew he would stop the Lakers star from scoring, he wanted to turn Mamba Mentality into a disadvantage.
“The funny story about the hand to the face, and Kobe… said ‘that didn’t work, I had so much muscle memory I saw right through it,’ [but] the reason why I did that was not to make him miss,” Battier explained on “The Brodie and The Beard” podcast, according to Silver Screen and Roll. “That wasn’t my aim, which he thought it was. It was to try to get him to prove that method didn’t work. And by trying to prove that method didn’t work, the only way he could do that is take his worst shot, the long-dribble jumper, and so that’s all I cared about.”
Yes, you read that correctly. Battier knew that putting a hand in Bryant’s face wouldn’t actually throw off his shot. At the same time, though, the crafty defender knew that Bryant would give into his competitive urges and keep taking jumpers to prove a point.
“Whether he made it or missed the shot I didn’t care,” Battier continued, “but I knew he was doing the thing that was most beneficial for me and the most harmful for his efficiency by taking that shot, so that was the game within the game within the game within the game that Kobe and I played with each other, and it just was the ultimate chess match.”
Did it work? Not exactly, but, when you’re going up against an NBA legend, you need to think outside the box.