By: Taylor Summers
“These young guys are playing checkers. I’m out there playing chess.” Kobe Bryant
Eighteen years ago, on April 20th, 1999, I watched this basketball game. I was in fourth grade, a young kid in the beginning stages of my constant, infinite quest, when I witnessed a watershed, yet subtle moment of my life. My parents had divorced two years prior, and I was looking for external guidance, for someone that would teach me something different, to help me when things looked bleak.
I never would have imagined it being a man with a sweet afro, docking a purple and gold jersey, tipping in an incredible buzzer-beater from out of nowhere to send the game into overtime. (They ended up winning, too.) With the game being on the west-coast, followed by an hour of post-game coverage, I didn’t fall asleep until well past midnight. It was, by my standards, one of my earliest (and fewest) acts of rebellion.
But I didn’t care. I didn’t know it at the time, but this game, along with my infatuation with Kobe, would shape my mindset on the game of life for years to come.
This is where my passion and the love of the game of basketball originated from. I loved everything about it. The smell of the ball. The smell of brand new sneakers, squeaking up-and-down the court. The sound the ball makes when it hits the ground. The ball going through the net. And that I didn’t need anyone; I could play by myself if I wanted to. All of those things, I loved. Just like Kobe did.
A classmate gave me a Lakers pencil a few days later. Without hesitation, I treasured it as it were the key to everything. To this day, it still remains in my possession, perched on my dresser, collecting dust but never sharpened.
I suppose this is where my obsessive-compulsive behavior formed, too. 🙂
However, it never translated into results early on. Sure, I made good grades. I hung out with the well-behaved kids. I did all of my chores. On paper, I did everything right.
But what I didn’t possess was a competitive drive. I played sports throughout middle school and high school (including basketball), but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the box scores. I was a shy, timid, reserved child, conceding any attempt to make an imprint not only in athletics, but in all aspects of my adolescent life. (For example, I remember pretending to be sick one day just so I could avoid playing in a basketball game later that night.)
I was afraid of failure. I lacked confidence. I allowed the internal and external forces of pressure to hinder me from doing anything worthwhile. For what it was worth, both in a literal and metaphorical sense, I was comfortable always standing on the sidelines.
Looking back at those times, the same emotions still arise today, especially when I let myself down. Anger, resentment, frustration, sadness. Why do I always self-sabotage myself? The world is an oyster, but I trapped myself inside the shell. I had turned into my Lakers pencil: never sharpened, collecting dust, sitting on the shelf with the other unused toys.
Thankfully, life isn’t linear. Throughout the ebb and flow of life, we as humans can use these emotions from our shortcomings as weapons, as a form of offense. Stephen King, another one of my heroes, recently instilled another one of his golden nuggets into my realm with his novel, “Finders Keepers”, where he emblazoned this ideal through the main antagonist, Morris Bellamy:
“He walks briskly again, no more strolling. As if he knows where he is, where’s he’s going, and has every right to be here…His life had taken a long, long detour, but he’s almost back on the mainline.”
Kobe speaks about the same things in this video. (Seriously, if you’re looking for something inspiring, check this one out. Kanye West’s “Blood On The Leaves” is perfectly placed to pump you up at the beginning, too.)
Confidence comes from preparation. You have to practice, you have to train, as much as you can, as often as you can. There’s a choice that we have to make as people. If you want to be great at something, you have to sacrifice things: down time, hanging out with your friends, taking it easy. It’s a matter of what’s important to you. Not only do you have to want it more than the next person, you have to do whatever it takes to make it happen.
And as the years go on, the separation that you have with your peers and competitors will grow larger and larger. By year five or six, it doesn’t matter what type of work they do in the summer. They are never going to catch up…because they will be five years behind.
That’s why Kobe was so successful. When the game was on the line, he never felt any pressure. Because whatever the situation was, he had already done it 1,000 times before.
He made a wonderful analogy that resonated with me deeply:
“You have to dance beautifully in the box that you are comfortable dancing in.”
Everybody’s box is different. But it doesn’t mean yours isn’t as beautiful as the next person’s. For Kobe, his box was to be extremely ambitious within the sport of basketball. For me, it’s to engulf in everything creative. And for you, it’s whatever you want it to be, too.
Everybody has their own. It’s your job to try to perfect your craft, whatever that may be, and make it as beautiful of a canvas that you can make it. And if you have done that, then you have lived a successful life.
You have lived with Mamba Mentality.
That simply means trying “to be the best version of yourself”. Like Kobe, I never feel good about myself if I’m not doing everything that I could to be the best version of myself. Sure, it takes talent and natural ability to succeed at certain things in life, especially for professional athletes. But for him, he didn’t realize it was work until his first year in the NBA. And now that he was surrounded by other professionals, he assumed that basketball was going to be everything to them. He thought they were all obsessed like he was: training, playing, pushing your mind, body, and soul to the brink of exhaustion every single day, like he was the 12th man on the roster fighting for his life.
But it wasn’t.
He ended the video with some humble reminders about how our goals change as we get older. We start out saying things like “I want to be the best ever” or “I want to be great”. But we learn over time how superficial and empty that sounds. The ultimate championship, he says, is how are you inspiring others to find themselves? How do you use your passion to inspire others to live their passion? Then how can they pass that on to the next person? Once you have that, then you live it to the best of your ability.
THAT is true success. (You know, just like the “Kobe System“. Right, Kanye?)
There’s another great article that I discovered earlier this year by Brett Hagler, CEO and co-founder at New Story, titled, “Because of 4AM?” Kobe alludes to the Mamba Mentality in that “we’re not on this stage just because of talent or ability. We’re up here because of 4AM. We’re up here because of two-a-days or five-a-days. We’re up here because we had a dream and let nothing stand in our way. If anything tried to bring us down, we used it to make us stronger.”
I rediscovered a coin that my father, who passed away last year, had given me many years ago. It said “Whatever It Takes”. Like Kobe’s subtle, but thought provoking three-word phrase, “you have to fall in love with doing things that others won’t to accomplish what others can’t”. In order to take yourself to the next level, you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. If you have wild dreams and aspirations, floating around in your mind, you have to grasp them and land the plane. If you want to leave behind a legacy like one else before, you have to be willing to make the choices and decisions that others are unwilling to take.
In a way, I think Kobe had just as much to do with putting this coin back into my life as my dad did. And now I carry it with me everywhere I go. It’s a reminder that not everyone will understand what you’re doing, that you’re crazy, that you’re not normal. But keep going anyway. We all have doubters, insecurities, and fear of failure. But you don’t deny or capitulate to them. Instead, you embrace them all.
I revere Kobe Bryant. Not just for what he did for the game of basketball, but for everything in my life. (I also felt morally inclined to thank him via Twitter about it, too.)
He challenged me to push myself, giving me confidence along the way.
He showed me how to play chess instead of checkers.
He taught me how to dance in my own beautiful box.
He finally got me off the sidelines and into the game.
Thank you, Kobe, for unleashing my inner Mamba. The one I had inside me the entire time.