6 Important Lessons I Learned From Kobe Bryant
On Sunday, January 26th, Hall-of-Fame basketball player and iconic leader Kobe Bryant died at 41. The tragic helicopter crash that took his and eight other lives shows just how fragile life really is — one moment we’re here, and the next we’re gone. Here are six valuable lessons I’ve learned from him over the years:
1. Relentless work ethic
Kobe was famous for his relentless work ethic and his intolerance of those who did not share it. He once said, "I have nothing in common with lazy people who blame others for their lack of success. Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses."
He was always willing to put in the hours because he didn’t want to get beat by the competition and never made excuses. He played a game left-handed when an injured shoulder kept him from shooting with his right. He played a game with a 102-degree fever and famously stayed in the game to make his free throws after tearing his Achilles.
That’s the type of work ethic that begins separating you from the rest of the crowd. When you’re willing to work on your craft or business and put in the hours when everyone else is sleeping, you start pulling away from the pack.
2. Becoming obsessive
Kobe didn't just invest his time and sweat into basketball — he dedicated himself in every way to becoming one of the best. "If you want to be great in a particular area," he once said, "you have to obsess over it. A lot of people say they want to be great, but they're not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve greatness. They have other concerns, whether important or not, and they spread themselves out."
There was no hiding Kobe's deep love for basketball, and that’s exactly the mentality you must have if you want to become the best in your niche. Embrace your passion, your obsession, and use it to reach heights others can't.
Fall in love with the process of what you do. If you’re only in it for the money, fame or accolades, you’re not going to make it very far.
3. Leaders create leaders
“I liked challenging people and making them uncomfortable," Kobe once said. "That’s what leads to introspection and that’s what leads to improvement. You could say I dared people to be their best selves.”
On the court, Kobe was a powerful-if-controversial leader for his team. He always aggressively pushed his teammates to be their best, and while some have called Kobe a bully, the former Laker explained his strategy in his book, Mamba Mentality: “I varied my approach from player to player. I still challenged everyone and made them uncomfortable, I just did it in a way that was tailored to them. To learn what would work and for who, I started doing homework and watched how they behaved. I learned their histories and listened to what their goals were. I learned what made them feel secure and where their greatest doubts lay. Once I understood them, I could help bring the best out of them by touching the right nerve at the right time.”
4. Embracing new skills
One of the questions Kobe often asked himself after retiring in 2016 was, “What do I enjoy doing?” When he found the answer — storytelling — he pushed and founded multimedia production company Granity Studios.
In 2018, Kobe won an Academy Award, a Sports Emmy and an Annie Award for his short animated film Dear Basketball. He was proud of being the first African American to win an award in that category and believed there needed to be more diversity.
Kobe said then, “I remain focused on changing the world in positive ways through diverse stories, characters and leadership in order to inspire the next generation.”
5. The Mamba Mindset
At 13 years old, Kobe decided he was going to be one of the best basketball players who ever played. Everything else had to be pushed to the side.
In an interview, Kobe says he was inspired by great players like Michael Jordan and Magic Jordan. He'd watch their amazing feats and ask himself, "Can I get to that level?"
His answer: "I don't know, but let's find out."
He believed that if others could do something, then he could too. When you follow in the footsteps of successful people, you can get similar or even better results. Whether you're building a business, becoming a great athlete, learning a new skill or adopting a new habit, modeling your actions and habits after someone who’s already successful saves you the most time and money in the long run.
6. How to handle pressure
In both business and life, you’re going to have to make vital decisions when you’re under pressure. Sometimes, the decision you make may not be the right one but that’s where we learn the most. This is what Kobe experienced in his first year in the NBA.
When Kobe was just 18 years old, he attempted a shot in the final seconds of an important playoff game against the Utah Jazz. He took the shot with confidence but instead of making the game-winning basket, he shot an airball. The Lakers eventually lost in overtime.
But, that apparent failure became a turning point for Kobe, who would spend the entire off-season working on his shot “until the sun came up.” Kobe didn't consider himself a failure, even though he failed. Instead, he used that moment as feedback to work on what he needed to improve. He once said, "Everything negative — pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise," and he used that mentality to rebound from an early setback.
Kobe went on to make 36 game-winning shots in his 20-year career. His last game-winning shot (in the final game he ever played) came against the Utah Jazz. Even under heavy pressure, Kobe wasn’t afraid to rise to the occasion.