It’s a generally accepted fact that giving yourself a nickname is the quickest way to be ruthlessly mocked and never called by that name. Unless, of course, you’re Kobe. In this case, as we’re about to find out, it’s up to you. Being the “Black Mamba” actually extended far beyond being just a sound phrase or marketing ploy for the man. For Kobe Bryant, Mamba Mentality was a philosophy that shaped his entire life.
Inspired by the Kill Bill movies and named after the highly venomous snake, the Black Mamba persona was Kobe’s way of getting into an ultra-competitive mindset, which would lead him to be just a little bit better than the guy next to him on the field.
“You don’t watch David Banner, you watch Hulk. When I step on this ground, I become it. I am that killer serpent. I’m stone cold, man.
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Its fierce competitiveness was virtually unmatched. From the time he confiscated the pairs of his teammates of Kobe shoes because he didn’t think they were worth playing in, for when it came into practice in 2015 “just to say ‘goodbye’ to some of you getting traded,” the Black Mamba notoriously had the same “take it personal” tendencies that Michael Jordan had before him.
However, Kobe Bryant has shown that “Mamba Mentality” actually means more than moments of pettiness. It was about finding passion in your life, setting yourself goals beyond your reach, and then outdoing everyone around you to get what you want. As Kobe himself said:
“You have to dance beautifully in the box you’re comfortable dancing in. My box had to be extremely ambitious in the sport of basketball. Your box is different from mine. Everyone has their own.
“It’s your job to try to perfect it and make it look as good as possible. And if you did that, then you lived a successful life. You lived with Mamba Mentality.
These are some of the times Kobe Bryant defined Mamba Mentality through his actions and the lessons we can learn from being the toughest man to ever pick up a basketball.
Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Mentality
1. When he pissed off Matt Barnes without moving a muscle
Matt Barnes will forever have Kobe Bryant’s name tied to his. Every interviewer wants to ask him about that unique moment from the Orlando Magic game against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 7, 2010. Audacity. Pure lack of awareness. What was Barnes thinking?
After a series of increasingly physical plays between Barnes and Bryant, the former faked a rough pass in the face of the latter. The answer? Absolutely nothing. Even the commentators did not believe it. This guy had tried to intimidate Kobe Bryant and humiliate him in front of millions of viewers, only to have it completely backfire on him.
Mamba Mentality is about standing up for yourself. Don’t let a parasite try to get into your head and make you feel small. A moment of courage will make them look ridiculous for even trying.
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2. When he pissed off his entire high school class with “Kobe’s Prom”
Picture this: It’s the prom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for the Lower Merion Class of 1996. Three hours late to the event, Kobe Bryant — by this point a young NBA prospect — rocks with Grammy-winning pop star and model Brandy Norwood in a white limo against a sea of paparazzi.
His classmates, as you can see in the video, were outraged. This guy hadn’t actually accomplished anything at this point, but he had the nerve to upstage the rest of the people there. “It’s not Kobe prom, it’s Lower Merion prom,” one said. “We’re not the class of Kobe, we’re the class of 96,” said another.
It was definitely Kobe’s ball. It was Kobe’s prom for no other reason than because he had made it his prom. You must fill your shoes before you can walk in them. Kobe Bryant showed us that Mamba Mentality means moving with the supreme confidence that can upset those around you…even before you have the acclaim to back them up.
3. When he fumed as he led 2-0 in the NBA Finals
It’s Game 2 of the 2009 NBA Finals. Kobe Bryant is coming off an electrifying performance at Staples Center – as he was known to do – and led the Los Angeles Lakers two games to zero against the Magic from Orlando. The Lakers were heavily favored to win the series at this point, with the score indicating that was true. If you think this would be considered good news, you haven’t paid attention to it until now.
This is the classic case of the tortoise and the hare. A talented team beaten down by their pride, their lack of concentration or their desire to get the overall job done. This was not going to be Mr. Bryant’s story. When asked if he was happy with the success of the Lakers, he responded with the now iconic:
“What is there to be happy? The work is not finished. Work done? I do not think so…”
The Lakers would eventually beat the Magic 4-1, with Kobe Bryant walking away with the Finals MVP. When you have such a clear goal in your mind, anything short of that goal isn’t worth celebrating. There’s plenty of time for that later. You cannot sleep in a half-built house or eat food that is only half-cooked. The job isn’t done, mate. Back to work.
4. When he reminded us what it means to be a team player
One of Kobe’s biggest criticisms throughout his career was his apparent lack of desire to pass the ball. Under the impression that selflessness would be the thing that would result in a basketball victory, Shaq claims to have passed on the famous adage that “there is no ‘I’ in the ‘team'” to a rookie Kobe Bryant.
In response to that same sentiment, Michael Jordan responded with, “There is an ‘I’ in ‘win’.” Great minds think alike. All Kobe could notice was an “ME” in that motherfucker. Know what you are worth. Others can get your bounce.
5. When an injury was never an excuse
Kobe Bryant was known for not letting the little things — such as career-ending injuries — get in the way of playing basketball. He played through injured Achilles tendons, broken fingers and a torn rotator cuff, to name a few.
Between just wanting to win, he also never wanted to disappoint the nosebleed fans who had saved up the money to come see him play, just like he did with Michael Jordan. The current Lakers – and some Australian players who now play for the Brooklyn Nets – could learn a thing or two from this man’s conduct. You just couldn’t stop him from playing his heart out.
In the video above, Dwyane Wade recounts a time when he broke Kobe’s nose in the middle of a game. Kobe responded by claiming to “love” him, then donning a black face mask and burning down the Miami Heat a few days later. Anyone can complain about being hurt, but the real ones will use that as motivation.
6. When a small gesture to Shaq’s son went a long way
Shaquille O’Neil and Kobe Bryant had one of the most legendary friendships and rivalries in all of sports. After winning three championships together, a lot of bad blood was exchanged with the pair, with each publicly saying things about their relationship that would cast a negative light on the dynasty they had built together.
Shaq is not a man known for apologizing. Calling himself names like Big Aristotle, Superman and Shaq Daddy, he had been optimistic for most of his career. That’s why it was so shocking when they sat down for a one-on-one interview in 2018 and Shaq admitted to Kobe the moment he realized the error in his ways.
The 2009 NBA All-Star Game was Shaq’s last appearance as an All-Star. By this point he had pretty much won a divorce from the Lakers, having won a championship with Dwyane Wade’s Miami Heat in 2006. Here he and Kobe were able to play as teammates again one last time and have were voted co-MVP for the game. Here, Kobe handed Shaq an olive branch when he let him take the trophy to give to his son.
Competitiveness should not be mean. Mamba Mentality is an idea that demands the best version of yourself, it’s not always about exacting your revenge. Sometimes the way to really own your opponents is to take the high road.
7. When the old dog showed us he still had it
There’s no shortage of Kobe Bryant’s notable plays. Whether it was the 81 points he scored in the only game his grandmother came to see (the second most in NBA history) or the devastating winners against Portland in 2006 and the Heat in 2009. I decided to go further from a fan favorite here, but I promise there’s a reason behind it.
After suffering 20 years of injuries, Kobe Bryant played his last game against the Utah Jazz in 2016. Although the Golden State Warriors earned the record 73 regular season wins at the same time, the world saw Kobe score 60 points in his farewell game.
Just look at the crowd present. Kanye West, Jay-Z, Jack Nicholson, David Beckham, Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg, to name a few. On his last legs, you can even briefly see the Black Mamba crack a rare smile near the end of the game as his daughters call out his name. Somewhat hilariously, the last thing Kobe Bryant ever did on the pitch was score an assist.
I guess Mamba Mentality lesson #7 revolves around this idea of finding your passion. Although we can’t always be happy, we often choose our pain. If you can find something you’re willing to put in thousands of grueling hours to, then you’ve won. It was in this game that the 18-year-old kid who came into the NBA wanting nothing more than to be like Mike was able to show us that he had given us so much more.
As he said in his Oscar-winning short film Dear basketball, “You asked for my hustle…I gave you my heart.” With these moments of Mamba Mentality, Kobe Bryant taught us to live with the heart.