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Understanding the Mamba Mentality that Kobe Bryant personified

Kobe is now a Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer. 

The fact that he was not able to attend his induction is still beyond the realm of comprehension. We all know what happened. We all know why he and his daughter Gianna were not there. Repeating it is pointless.

While it’s still hard to comprehend the event that took place on January 26th, 2020, there’s something else that’s just as hard. And that, too, is relative to Kobe. 

What I’m referring to is the Mamba Mentality.

We’ve seen Bryant title a book after it. And we’ve also seen a bunch of merchandise that bears the phrase. Heck, I wore my official Mamba Mentality hoodie all day Saturday to pay homage to the Black Mamba. 

Still, what is the Mamba Mentality? 

When Bryant first spoke of it, my first thought was, “Finally! Kobe came up with something cool.” He had to redeem his coolness with something significant after his short-lived rap career.  

My second thought was that the Mamba Mentality is about dominating at whatever you do in life. And honestly, that is the gist of it. However, knowing its essence isn’t the same as understanding the entire thought process behind it. 

Only Kobe Bryant can speak to that. 

“Mamba mentality is all about focusing on the process and trusting in the hard work when it matters most,” Bryant said in an Amazon Book Review interview. “It’s the ultimate mantra for the competitive spirit. It started just as a hashtag that came to me one day, and it’s grown into something athletes — and even non-athletes — embrace as a mindset.”

Bryant’s definition of it is the reason Kyrie Irving considers him a philosopher. 

However, Bryant didn’t verbalize something significant. And you’d have to objectively observe Bryant’s career to know what he left out. He left out that you have to keep the Mamba Mentality, even when you’re failing. 

It’s what he did his entire career. 

Each time he failed, he came back better than before. When he missed those four airballs against the Jazz, he then grew into one-half of the NBA’s most dynamic duos with Shaquille O’Neal, eventually winning three straight NBA titles. After his playoff failures in the post-O’neal era, he became a league MVP, winning two more titles alongside Paul Gasol. And finally, when he suffered the worst injury of his career, he scored 60 points in his final NBA game. 

Kobe Bryant always stayed dialed in. 

He never accepted mediocrity or failure at any point in his life. At times, he played mediocrely, or he had to deal with failing results. It happens. However, those were the results, never the effort. And in Bryant’s case, he was able to accept those results because each time he was on the court, he gave it his all. 

He left no stone unturned. Whether it meant stealing moves from his idol Michael Jordan or his peer Dirk Nowitzki, Bryant was relentless. He pulled out all the stops to succeed. While drawing this parallel, I thought I had the Mamba Mentality down to a science. 

Then Vanessa Bryant spoke during Saturday’s ceremony. While speaking about her husband, she recited words that Kobe talked to her, which added another layer to the Mamba Mentality. 

“You once told me, if you’re going to bet on someone, bet on yourself. I’m glad you bet on yourself, you overachiever. You did it,” she said. “You’re in the hall of fame now … you’re an all-time great.”

May 15, 2021; Uncasville, Connecticut, USA; Vanessa Bryant, wife of the late Kobe Bryant, speaks on his behalf during the Class of 2020 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement ceremony at Mohegan Sun Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

As I’m watching the ceremony, her reciting those words from the Black Mamba triggered something in me. Those remarks added the layer of context that I missed when drawing my parallel mentioned above.

Kobe Bryant was the ultimate gambler. And it’s because he always bet on himself. Even with impossible odds, in Bryant’s opinion, he could handle any task. It’s why Vanessa called him an overachiever. He always bet on himself. And judging by the way his career turned out, it wasn’t the wrong decision. 

Dec 18, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Kobe Bryant (center) poses with his family Gianna Bryant, Vanessa Bryant, Bianka Bryant, and Natalia Bryant during a halftime ceremony retiring Kobe Bryant’s two uniform numbers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

So what am I getting at with all of this? Well, it’s simple. 

To understand the Mamba Mentality, you have to understand yourself. You have to understand your limitations while being willing to fight through them. And most importantly, you have to realize that no success comes without a high work ethic and high confidence. You need both to win at anything in life, be it personal or professional. 

Failure to understand this is failing to understand the legend that is Kobe Bryant. 

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