Kobe Bryant was unequivocally one of the most competitive athletes to ever play the game of basketball.
His drive to succeed was as vast as his skill-set on the court. Though incredibly athletic, Bryant relied instead upon mental acuity and an innate passion for the sport. The fiercely vocal and sometimes brash individual made it a point to out-work opponents — both on the basketball court and in the gym. As a result, fans all across the NBA were gifted the opportunity to see an All-Time great.
Throughout Bryant’s career, the term “likable” wouldn’t necessarily be applicable as it pertained to his style on the court. His dogged pursuit of greatness did come at the cost of personal relationships with teammates. His standards were immensely high — which in turn did rub teammates the wrong way when he outwardly voiced his displeasure on a poorly-set screen, or a blown defensive assignment. He was never ‘buddy-buddy’ with players off the court — though he did have special relationships with a select few (such as Caron Butler, Pau Gasol, Ronny Turiaf, and Derek Fisher).
Russell Westbrook getting lessons from Kobe Bryant. 🐐 pic.twitter.com/Czy90dbSdA
— NBA SKITS (@NBA_Skits) October 26, 2016
In a culture of copycatting and homogeneity, Kobe was a rare breed. He was his own man…functioning by his own set of rules. It’s what helped in making him an authentic individual. Whether you liked his persona or not, one can’t question Bryant’s love for the game.
As he transitions away from the court, he’s since taken on a new role: Mentor. Yes, Bryant — who often isolated himself in a world of self-dedication — is now giving back to the basketball community.
Over the last year, four All-Star players — Gordon Hayward, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook — have sought Bryant’s tutelage. It’d be easy for the 18-time All-Star to turn down the request. For the first time in over 20 years, Bryant is now given the freedom to relax and essentially do anything he wants (which includes hanging out with his wife and three children).
However, Bryant has consistently spoken about how much the game of basketball has done for his life. He patterned much of his game after both Michael Jordan and Mike D’Antoni. He feels as if it’s only fitting to bestow the knowledge he’s accrued throughout his illustrious career.
Very recently, we’ve seen Bryant utilize Instagram as a mechanism for motivation. On Kobe Bryant Day (August 24th), Bryant took to the social media platform — issuing five challenges to major figures within the sports realm. The list included Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan, Richard Sherman, Allyson Felix, and Kendrick Lamar.
All of the challenges were aiming to work on personal improvement — both individually and for the community.
Since posting these messages, countless athletes and fans have reached out via Twitter in order to receive their “goal” to work on. This includes the likes of John Wall and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Bryant challenged Wall to become an All-NBA First Team defender, whilst pushing Antetokounmpo to become the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2017-18.
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) August 28, 2017
The #MambaMentality is something Bryant is preaching universally. It doesn’t mean one has to become an All-Star basketball player, nor a professional athlete. Rather, it’s a mindset — where the ideals of hard work and mental fortitude are promoted.
It’d be easy for Bryant to float along during his retirement — making the occasional media appearance here and there. However, it’s clear that he’s got bigger plans in mind…which includes relishing the opportunity to truly make an impact on the game for years to come — even after his playing career has since finished.
Image Source: Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports