As a youth, I was obsessed with basketball. It consumed my time and imagination. I would record on VHS many NBA games and watch them over and over… most games I recorded were of the Lakers — more specifically, Kobe Bryant. I studied his moves to try and understand how to execute plays. I watched many of Kobe’s best performances dozens of times throughout my teens. It was educational, but also therapeutic for a kid with a basketball addiction and a busy mind.
Competitive Lessons from Kobe
Kobe was inspiring because even when I was young, I could tell he was an overachiever. Although he was an incredible basketball player, there was something evident in the way he played which indicated his success came from old fashioned hard work and millions of reps.
Kobe was a good jumper, but not unusual for NBA standards. He was thin compared to many other players for much of his career. His hands weren’t all that big (big hands are an advantage in basketball), and his speed was pretty average for a shooting guard. But his tenacity was mind-blowing (it was eventually dubbed the ‘Mamba Mentality’).
A competitive ferocity oozed out of him like nobody else. He genuinely believed he could be the greatest to ever live so long as he worked harder than anyone before him.
Kobe was also a studious professional – analyzing strategy, positioning, and the mechanics of shooting a basic jump shot ad nauseam. Just by watching him play basketball a thousand miles away, Kobe etched in my mind, without me realizing until adulthood, that the little details matter in everything you do.
“At the end of 2003, my game was complete. Shooting, defense, using the dribble, transition, midrange stuff was all there. Then it was about fine-tuning and trying to improve in each area.”
Life Lesson from Kobe
Almost as soon as I began to receive a little bit of notoriety as a high school basketball player, I started to fear failure. I put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself. And that began to change the way I played. I thought because the local paper wrote a few blurbs on me that I was expected to never make a mistake… it was pretty ridiculous, and potentially even a tad self-absorbed. But for that time in my life, it was a real personal challenge. And I think it happens to a lot of people. The moment we start being recognized for our talent(s), fear of failure can kick in. And that’s why Kobe was such a great role model for developing the right competitive mindset.
When Kobe first came into the league, he was expected to be incredible… MJ-esque. You’ll recall he was one of the first high school players to enter the NBA, making him a bit of an enigma. High hopes were placed on him, and a media frenzy followed.
Despite all the fanfare and hype, Kobe was never afraid of making mistakes. And the evidence, especially early in his career, is plentiful. He made embarrassing errors on national TV several times – air balls for game-winning shots, missing a dunk on a breakaway because he added a little too much flair and more.
Kobe would get angry at himself, but he played the game of basketball with a desire to take the tough shots, no matter how low the percentage was that it would go in. He was a model for how not to worry about looking foolish — a critical trait if you want to live your best life.
“Losers visualize the penalties of failure. Winners visualize the rewards of success.”
The Role of the Role Model
I never thought much of role models growing up. I didn’t want to make a demagogue of anyone or place them on a pedestal. However, after Kobe’s tragic passing, I now understand the role a role model is supposed to play in our lives.
As a kid, I thought role models were meant to be the perfect person in the eye of the beholder. And as we all know, there is no such thing as the ideal person, Kobe being no exception. We are flawed creatures, but we all have something inside that could make us a role model in at least one aspect of life. Oddly enough, Kobe became a role model because, at least in part, of his failures and ability to bounce back.
Role models are here to help everyone (child or adult) overcome their own mental and physical hurdles. They have a timeless place in this world and can be NBA stars like Kobe or regular folks like you and me. You never know who is watching you for guidance, inspiration, or education on a nagging issue in their life.
Kobe motivated me to never fear failure, a critical trait of successful entrepreneurship.