Filipinos are arguably some of the biggest basketball fans in the world, and with the recently concluded FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers and the ongoing NBA Conference Finals, the Filipino basketball fandom are once again cheering and going wild from the sidelines. These sporting events have provided hoops fans like me with momentary escape from the stresses of everyday life. Watching our hardcourt heroes play in professional and international competitions during this difficult time somehow gives us not only entertainment and somehow a sense of normalcy, but also a source of hope, inspiration, and pride.
But what is important to point out is that basketball is not simply a game to any of us, as it is also deeply ingrained in our society and culture. It is part of our consciousness even to those Filipinos who are not that into basketball. In fact, when the young Gilas Pilipinas won against South Korea in the recent FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers, it was news of national importance. If it weren’t for the quarantine restrictions, I am sure many young hoopers would imitate Gilas cadet SJ Belangel’s game-winner over South Korea in their neighborhood courts.
Belangel’s name might be relatively unknown or new except to avid Philippine basketball followers. But NBA legends like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Lebron James have certainly become household names. So when Kobe passed away on January 26, 2020, it sent shockwaves to the Filipino casual and avid fans alike because everyone seemed to know who he was, or at least have heard of him more than a couple of times.
Most people knew Kobe as a basketball player but like any human being, he was more than just that. He was a fierce competitor on and off the court. And even though he’s not with us anymore, his legacy continues, especially to us who grew up watching him. He was our generation’s Michael Jordan.
That said, Kobe was one of my childhood heroes. As I got older, I witnessed him garner championships, accolades, and, later on in his career, even an Oscar. He was an overachiever in his chosen paths. And although his life was tragically cut short at 41, he left us with tons of highlight reels, wisdom, and insights. He lived a full life.
One of his last projects was The Mamba Mentality: How I Play. Beyond the game, it brings us inside Kobe’s mind—how he dealt with challenges and how he managed to achieve his successes. Any reader, whether a hoop fan or otherwise, can pick up something noteworthy from the stories of high-level motivation and philosophy of the Mamba Mentality.
Living your passion
“Find your passion” seems to be the most abused piece of advice. “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” as Mark Twain said. And it is aspirational indeed, isn’t it? Kobe had a similar approach. He cultivated his interests in sports, specifically basketball, and worked hard when he realized his love for the game. He focused all his energy and dedicated his life to it. (Related: “Dear Basketball“)
And that’s half of the equation. It’s a great thing to find what we love and get paid doing it, but we still have to remember that our commitment to our passion must be sustained. We need to do the work, we need to improve our craft and skills every day. Kobe didn’t just settle on finding his passion, after all. He had goals and he achieved them, helping other people as well along the way.
Training the mind
Contrary to the obvious, basketball is not just about running, jumping, and putting the ball on the rim. Apart from its physicality, basketball requires mental training and exercise. Hence, being physically gifted is one. At the same time, having the right mentality is important.
Kobe did not achieve success solely because he was athletic or because he was 6-foot-6. There were a lot of stronger, taller, bigger, and more athletic adversaries throughout Kobe’s 20-year career. What set him apart was his mindset. He trained his mind to make adjustments, bounce back from losses or injuries, and not dwell too much on the negative. At times, he even played through his injuries. He managed to pull through the physical pain because of his will and determination to not just to merely perform, but perform his best.
“Everything negative—pressures, challenges—is all an opportunity for me to rise.”Kobe Bryant
That encapsulates Kobe’s tenacity.
Asking questions and learning from others
We often see legends like Jordan, Kobe, or Lebron as the epitome of basketball greatness, and we might think, “well, they were born like that, all of that was built-in.” That’s not completely true. While they may have been afforded with the genes and are physically gifted, legends are not born because they are made.
The true greats are also the greatest learners of the game. They put a conscious effort to learn more than just what meets the eye. In the book, Kobe narrated how he picked the brains of the NBA greats who came before him. He did not let go of the opportunity to learn from the best firsthand. He asked them a lot of questions about the nuances, the nitty-gritty, and the details of the game that other players tend to ignore or fail to notice. He was not afraid to make mistakes either. He would even ask coaches about offense, defense, and all that stuff. He knew no limits in terms of learning and growing. He had no fear.
But Kobe did not become the superstar that he was overnight. He also had his fair share of failures and disappointments. He had his fair share of immaturity. But that did not stop him from improving. He kept digging deeper into his craft. He always added something to his game and addressed his weaknesses as time went by.
One who had the most influence in his game and success was legendary coach Phil Jackson, who also wrote the introduction of the book. Jackson, with his unorthodox coaching style, showed Kobe how to compete at the highest level. He refined Kobe’s approach to the game by teaching him the importance of preparation, attention to little yet important details of the game, and film study among other things. More importantly, Jackson instilled in Kobe the importance of team play and trusting his teammates, which eventually resulted in five NBA championships.
Many other people helped Kobe in his quest to be the greatest of all time. He couldn’t have done it all alone. In the book, he acknowledges the important people who contributed to his successes through thick and thin, such as his trainers and doctors, his opponents, and everyone else whom the fans seldom see in the limelight.
This example reminds everyone that we have to be surrounded with the right personnel who are as dedicated or even more to their craft for us to achieve our desired results. Basketball is a team sport, after all and, indeed, Kobe couldn’t have lasted 20 years in the NBA if it weren’t for his teammates, coaches, staff, and rivals.
Back to basics
We knew what Kobe was capable of on the court—he could do all the flashy plays, grandiose shots, high-flying exploits, and all that. But he could do all those things because he had a superb foundation. He was obsessed with the fundamentals. He perfected and had been perfecting the basics until he retired. He did not get tired of doing the most basic basketball drills. He still did all of those regardless of what he had already accomplished. Preparation, routine, repetition, name it. Kobe’s work ethic was off the charts.
That is the most valuable lesson I learned from Kobe: to never get bored of the basics. That also applies to any craft or profession. Basic does not mean easy, and sometimes it may be boring or tedious, but it is necessary. It is the key.
What really is the Mamba Mentality? There’s no better person to explain that other than the Mamba himself. According to Kobe, the Mamba mentality means to be able to constantly try to be the best version of yourself. It is a constant quest to try to be better today than you were yesterday.
Furthermore, Kobe’s definition of greatness was not his five championships, individual accolades, or trophies. For him, greatness is the ability to inspire people next to you. It should not be something that lives and dies with one person. It’s how one can inspire a person to then in turn inspire another person and so on. It’s bringing out the best in and out of you, and inspiring others to do the same. He has done that for me, and that’s why I continue to look up to what he has achieved.
Kobe, forever a legend, you are dearly missed. ☁️