The Kobe Factor
“I wanted you to know that no matter how hard you work, I am willing to work harder than you.” - Kobe Bryant (to Jay Williams)
A couple weeks back Kobe Bryant, one of his daughters, and seven others were tragically lost in a terrible helicopter incident. It was an event that say to least shook many people, whether your were a basketball fan or not. It was also another harsh reminder that life is precious and can be taken from any of us at any time, and it hammered home the importance once again of enjoying time you have with your loved ones and viewing it as how precious it really is.
The loss of Kobe was obviously a huge impact to many. As the days and weeks unfolded, there was great reflection on what he had accomplished and the impact he had on so many and he will continue to do so through his influence. I for one always admired his work ethic and was really drawn to it when reading the book Relentless by Tim Grover, who personally trained Kobe as well as others including Michael Jordan and Dwayne Wade.
His work ethic was hard to beat, but his killer mindset was legendary. He was famously quoted when asked why others should play with him as saying if you want to win and be first, play with me, if you want second, go elsewhere. His number one goal was to always work to be a better basketball player and master his craft. He did this consistently, nearly everyday for his 20 year career. Anyone can work to apply that same mindset to whatever your "craft" is.
Regardless of what you do, you can learn from this and develop the same mindset to master your craft. He was one of the original 4AM “early risers” to get up early and get in in extra training or development time. His rationale, similar to others, was that if he got up earlier to get in additional training everyday, that would compound over time and make it nearly impossible for others to keep up unless they did the same. Are you willing to do what others aren’t to improve and gain an advantage? This is commitment to personal development at its finest.
He admitted he didn’t have the biggest hops, so he would commit to work on improving it but also being craftier to get shots up or rebounds. He didn’t have the biggest hands, so he worked on building strength in them for better grip and durability. He wasn’t the quickest, so he worked to study angles to improve his jump to spots and acceleration. He found his weaknesses and worked relentlessly to close them. Are you as committed to studying your gaps and working to close them? Are you mastering your craft?
Because it takes humility and mental strength to do it at that level. Kobe talked about ego as well as “getting over yourself” in his book and various video clips. One story was how early in his rookie season, he was shooting air balls more as the season progressed. Upon studying, he came to realize his previous years in high school had maybe 30-35 games whereas the NBA season was now 82 games. His legs weren’t conditioned or strong enough so he committed to working and making them stronger. While doing this he also learned to seek insights from “legends” of the NBA or as he referred to “GOAT mountain”. People like Jordan, Bird, Chamberlin among others. What are your gaps and how can you close them? Do you even have the awareness to recognize your gaps?
It’s the details that matter, and your focus on them that will either separate you form the rest, or keep you in the “crowd”. Kobe’s durability was among the toughest without question. He referred to a game against Toronto in 2000 where his back was hurting and the Raptors along with Vince Carter were on a war path. Some guys might have took the night off. There was no way Kobe would miss the game and he did play, getting the victory. In his words, “he wasn’t ducking” anything and his approach was he never wanted to look back and say, “I wish I would have done more.” His mindset just could not process failure. Because even if he did fail, he learned and then worked to get better. Do you have this mindset in your work or in life?
Are you an obsessive about what you are doing? Post basketball, Kobe got into investing in businesses. I love how he has referred to looking for “obsessives” in the companies he invested in or those that worked for him, it’s breakthrough thinking. If you say you can do a job or task easily, then no that’s not good enough. If you are unsure or uneasy if you can do it , than that’s the space to be in because that will push you beyond what you think or know is possible. This is pushing beyond comfort zones.
He was a great player, great leader, and great investor but also a great father. When he tore his Achilles against the Warriors in 2013, he got up and proceeded to still sink two free throws after being fouled on the play. Sinking those free throws after being injured cemented his toughness. In the locker room after he went in were his kids and he remembered the looks on their faces. He was in pain, he was frustrated as he knew what was going on, but he pulled it together and told them it would be alright. He changed his mindset to view this as just another obstacle, it was not going to stop him, it was not going to define him. He would put in the work to overcome it and come back stronger, which he did. The guts and tenacity on that night as well as the recovery will always be inspirational.
There is a lot to unpack as a leader or change agent, or in general anyone, from what Kobe displayed and has left for us. Whether you are a basketball fan or not, the sport or profession shouldn’t matter. The mindset and work ethic can be applied anywhere as you work to continuously improve yourself, your team, your family, or your organization. If you are committed to mastering your craft, then these lessons and Kobe’s mentality matter. You can learn from it and use it for your growth and development.
There is a plethora of material out there on Kobe and his work ethic. Two great books are his memoir, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play and also the book by Tim Grover, Relentless. We are fortunate to be blessed with the documentation of his thinking and approach to his profession which along with his life and basketball, cement his legacy. And while this post was focused on Kobe, let us not forget that 8 others perished in that crash, including one of his daughters. May they all be resting in peace.