On January 26, 2020, the basketball world mourned the shocking loss of an NBA legend after Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other people were killed when the helicopter they were riding in crashed into a California hillside.
Bryant spent close to half of his life playing for the Lakers over the course of a 20-year career where the Hall of Famer racked up five titles, secured two scoring championships, and was selected to the All-Star Team 18 seasons in a row. He may have been taken from us far too soon, but the many things he was able to achieve before passing away at the age of 41 ensure he’ll never be forgotten.
The superstar’s legacy is largely defined by the “Mamba Mentality” that made him one of the fiercest competitors to ever step foot onto the hardwood. That mindset was the end product of his decision to adopt an alter-ego he dubbed “The Black Mamba,” which was the personality he invented in an attempt to separate his personal life from his mission on the hardwood.
Bryant once summed up the mission in question by saying he went into every game intent on “destroying everybody that steps onto the court,” and based on his impressive résumé, he was able to achieve that goal more often than not.
There are countless anecdotes you can point to in order to highlight that reality, but there are some that stick out a bit more than the rest.
These essential Kobe Bryant stories perfectly sum up the essence of the “Mamba Mentality”
The workout routine that will tire you out just by reading about it
Part of the reason Kobe was able to achieve as much as he did was the virtually unparalleled work ethic that helped him not only rise above the rest of his peers but cement himself as one of the best basketball players to ever live.
Nothing sums up Bryant’s tendency to go about and beyond like listening to another NBA player breathlessly describe the brutal exercise regimen that’s enough to make a normal person break into a sweat while trying to suppress the urge to dry heave into the nearest trashcan while listening to them recount it.
Caron Butler was lucky (or, depending on how you look at things, unlucky) enough to experience some of Kobe’s workouts—which the superstar referred to as “blackouts”—firsthand. It’s one thing to put up hundreds of shots before spending a couple of hours in the weight room, but it’s another to finish up, grab lunch, and then do it all again.
The game where Demar DeRozan learned why Kobe was one of the last people you wanted to try to psych out
Bryant didn’t take any shortcuts when it came to mastering the physical aspect of the game he devoted his life to, and he also understood the importance of gaining a psychological edge over his opponents.
Demar DeRozan discovered that the hard way during a game against the Lakers where he opted to lace up a pair of Jordans instead of facing off against Kobe wearing a pair of his opponent’s signature Nikes. However, that was the first and last time he made that mistake based on the reaction he got:
“He said, ‘What the f—k you got those on for?’ He was mad at me for doing that and he ended up hitting the game-winner on us that night, too. Talking trash the whole night and everything.
Ever since then, I ain’t never put another pair of Jordans on.”
That’s certainly one way to cultivate brand loyalty.
When Luke Walton got a lesson he never forgot after showing up to practice smelling like booze
When you play for the Lakers, it can be difficult to resist the urge to take advantage of everything Los Angeles has to offer.
Luke Walton once admitted he was unable to stop himself from hitting the town one night during his rookie year when he partied to the point where he still smelled like alcohol when he rolled into practice the following day.
It’s safe to say Kobe was less than thrilled with that development based on the approach he harnessed to make sure he wouldn’t make the same mistake again:
“Kobe informed the rest of the team that no one was allowed to help me on defense, and that I had to guard him the entire practice. I was laughing at first like, ‘Oh, this is funny,’ but in Kobe’s mind, in his eyes, it was like, ‘No, I see and smell weakness. I’m going to destroy you today.’
He taught me that lesson. He probably scored 70-something in practice that day.”
Tough love doesn’t get much tougher than that.
The very unconventional strategy Kobe used to stay locked in even when he wasn’t playing
Bryant may have adopted “The Black Mamba” mindset to prevent his career from bleeding into his personal life, but there’s plenty of evidence that suggests that was easier said than done.
That includes a story his former trainer Tim Grover shared about grabbing dinner with Kobe at a restaurant where he reserved a couple of seats for some nonexistent guest:
“He says, ‘I need a table for four.’ I’m like, ‘It’s just the two of us.’
I said, ‘Kobe, who are those seats for.’ He says, ‘Wherever I go, everybody that tries to hide their skeletons; I bring everything and all of them with me. The good, the bad, the indifferent. Those seats are for those individuals, because they make me who I am.'”
It’s only crazy if it doesn’t work.
High schoolers weren’t even safe from Kobe’s wrath
The idea of “playing down” to match an inferior level of competition can be a slippery slope. You might be able to conserve some energy by not trying your hardest in situations that don’t require your maximum effort, but you also risk breeding laziness and complacency that could come back to bite you in the long run.
It’s safe to say Bryant wasn’t taking any chances on that front based on what Matt Barnes had to say about the time he was invited to play at the basketball camp Kobe ran in Santa Barbara:
“I’m thinking I’m just going up there to talk and hang out. We’re out there playing, I think, two-on-two with some teenage kids, and bro, when I tell you Kobe was playing harder than s—t.
Blocking shots, dunking, made one kid fall, and I’m like, ‘Damn, Kobe, these are f—king kids.’ And he’s like, ‘So?’”
Better safe than sorry.
Why Bryant “scared the living sh-t” out of Stephen A. Smith
If you’re familiar with Stephen A. Smith, you’re likely aware the boisterous talking head is more than happy to speak his mind and rarely takes the potential backlash into consideration before serving up one of his signature hot takes.
However, during a conversation with Howard Stern, he admitted Bryant (who he considered a close friend) had an uncanny ability to strike fear into his heart thanks to his tendency to call out the ESPN personality when he felt he’d been disrespected.
Smith recalled a voicemail he once received from Kobe to illustrate why that was the case, as he said he once received the following message after rubbing the guard the wrong way:
‘You know who this is motherf—ker. Get your a– up. Pick up the f—king phone and call me back. That bulls–t you just said. And don’t keep me waiting for so long either. Your a— better not go on the air and say some other s—t before you talk to me.’
It’s safe to say you did not want to get on his bad side.
Kobe was intent on making life hell for his opponents until the very end
One of the things that made Bryant so scary was his ability to routinely put on an absolute clinic with the help of the lights-out shooting skills that allowed him to post some truly staggering numbers—like his legendary 81-point performance against the Raptors in 2006.
It’s only fitting that he went out with a bang in his final NBA game. While the Lakers posted a disappointing 17-65 record during his last season in the NBA, “disappointing” is the last word you can use to describe the swan song where he posted 60 points to lead Los Angeles to a 101-96 victory over the Jazz.
Bryant undoubtedly lived up to his reputation as a bit of a ball hog over the course of a contest where he threw up a total of 50 shots, and he was not shy about reminding Julius Randle the night was all about him when his teammate tried to box him out of the spotlight on one play:
“He took the ball out. He inbounded to me and I was like, ‘Yo I’m shooting this time.’
And he was like, ‘You want everybody in this arena to boo you? Go ahead. You better throw me the damn ball.’”