Kobe Bryant’s superpower
Kobe Bryant was the rarest of athletes. The man could fly. He could score at will. He could electrify a building of 19,000 fans. The man was larger than life.
But even more remarkable than what Kobe did was how he did it. Kobe Bryant represented a relentless pursuit of excellence.
As chronicled in the recent documentary about his life, Kobe talked about his isolation as a child in Italy, and later as a teenager in Philadelphia. He converted despair into a form of raw determination, which has been unmatched in professional sports. He became the Mamba.
Us fans in Los Angeles knew when the Mamba was about to do something magical. His eyes would light up with an aura of invincibility, as if nothing could get in his way. He could do anything on a basketball court—defend, penetrate left or right, put his back to the basket and hit his signature fadeaway. He was unstoppable.
Even more impressive than what he could do with a basketball was the effect he had on his teammates. Kobe had the ability to will a team to victory. He carried people on his back. He cared about details and demanded accountability. Grit was Kobe’s superpower. He won five championships and two Olympic gold medals.
Last week, Guy Raz—host of the podcast “How I Built This”—was interviewed by Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. Fallon asked Raz about the common thread among the most successful entrepreneurs. Raz referenced their ability to overcome rejection with an unwillingness to quit, even when their families and investors told them they had no chance to succeed.
Kobe Bryant was an icon who transcended sports. In retirement, Kobe reinvented himself as an investor and producer, even winning an Oscar. He once said he had “nothing in common with lazy people.” Gotham Chopra, who collaborated with Kobe on the documentary “Kobe Bryant’s Muse,” referenced how Kobe pushed him to deliver an award-winning product. The man never stopped working, even after he had nothing to prove.
There is a lesson we can all take from Kobe’s life: Raw determination can overcome all obstacles. The swagger that Kobe had on the court was earned, because he knew he had the goods to back it up. One could confuse swagger with arrogance, except in Kobe’s case, his work ethic was illustrative of a man who never thought he was good enough.
In his last game, hobbled by a debilitating leg injury and the rust of an aging basketball player, he scored 60 points to put an exclamation point on a legendary career. Kobe lit up the crowd at Staples Center that night, the way only a superstar could. You got the sense that even the other team was rooting for him.
Kobe faced his detractors, and he earned criticism for things he did on and off the court. But no one can argue the impact he had on the sport. He died in a helicopter crash while taking his daughter, Gianna, to a basketball tournament. Tragically, her life was taken too soon, before her talents could be unveiled for the world to see. In the many video clips shown during the last 24 hours, we’ve witnessed the love Kobe had for basketball and for his family. It is love that creates greatness in all of us. I know that for me, this loss will ignite a spark to work a little harder to achieve excellence and spread the love.
As Kobe left the court after that last magical game, we said “Mamba out.” Never question the heart of a champion.