7 Times Kobe Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality” Proved Just How Elite He Was
— Updated on 21 February 2022

7 Times Kobe Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality” Proved Just How Elite He Was

— Updated on 21 February 2022

It’s a generally accepted fact of life that assigning yourself a nickname is the quickest way to be mercilessly mocked and never called that name. Unless, of course, you’re Kobe. In that case, as we are about to find out, you get to call the shots. Being the “Black Mamba” actually extended far beyond just being a cool soundbite or marketing ploy for the man. For Kobe Bryant, Mamba Mentality was a philosophy that shaped his entire life.

Inspired by the Kill Bill films and named after the highly venomous snake, the Black Mamba persona was Kobe’s way of stepping into an ultra-competitive mindset, which would drive him to be just that bit better than the guy next to him on the court.

“You’re not watching David Banner, you’re watching the Hulk. When I step on that court, I become that. I am that killer snake. I’m stone cold, man.”

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His ferocious competitiveness was virtually unmatched. From the time he confiscated his teammates’ pairs of Kobe shoes because he didn’t think they were worthy of playing in them, to the time he came into practice in 2015 “just to say ‘bye’ to some of you bums who are getting traded,” the Black Mamba notoriously had the same tendencies of “taking it personally” that Michael Jordan had before him.

However, Kobe Bryant showed that “Mamba Mentality” actually meant a lot more than moments of pettiness. It was about finding passion in your life, setting goals outside your reach, then outworking everyone around you to get what you want. As Kobe himself said:

“You have to dance beautifully in the box that you’re comfortable dancing in. My box was to be extremely ambitious within the sport of basketball. Your box is different than mine. Everybody has their own.”

“It’s your job to try to perfect it and make it as beautiful of a canvas as you can make it. And if you have done that, then you have lived a successful life. You have lived with Mamba Mentality.”

These are some of the times that Kobe Bryant defined Mamba Mentality through his actions, and the lessons we can take from the toughest man to ever pick up a basketball.

The Mamba Mentality of Kobe Bryant

1. When he psyched-out Matt Barnes without moving a muscle

Matt Barnes will have forever have Kobe Bryant’s name tied to his. Every single interviewer wants to ask him about this one moment from the Orlando Magic game against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 7, 2010. The audacity. The sheer lack of awareness. What the hell was Barnes thinking?

After a series of increasingly physical plays between Barnes and Bryant, the former pump-faked a hard pass into the latter’s face. The response? Absolutely nothing. Even the commentators couldn’t 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.

Mamba Mentality includes standing up for yourself. Don’t let some pest try and get in your head and make you feel small. A moment of courage will make them look silly 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 prom night in Philadelphia, PA for the Lower Merion Class of ’96. Three hours late to the event, Kobe Bryant – at this point a young NBA prospect – rocks up with Grammy award-winning pop star and model Brandy Norwood in a white limousine to a sea of paparazzi.

His classmates, as you can see from the video, were outraged. This guy hadn’t actually accomplished anything at this stage, yet he had the nerve to upstage the rest of the people in attendance. “This isn’t Kobe’s prom, it’s Lower Merion’s prom,” said one of them. “We aren’t the Class of Kobe, we are the Class of ’96,” said another.

It was definitely Kobe’s prom. It was Kobe’s prom for no other reason than because he made it his prom. You need to 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… before you even have the accolades to back them up.

3. When he was fuming despite being up 2-0 in the NBA Finals

It’s Game 2 of the NBA Finals in 2009. Kobe Bryant just put on an electrifying performance in the Staples Centre – as he was known to do – and had the Los Angeles Lakers up two games to zero against the Orlando Magic. The Lakers were heavily favoured to win the series at that stage, with the score indicating this to be true. If you think this would be taken good news, you haven’t been paying attention so far.

It’s the classic case of the tortoise and the hare. A talented side being brought down by their hubris, lack of focus or will to achieve the overall job at hand. This was not going to be the story for Mr Bryant. When asked if he was happy about the success the Lakers were enjoying, he replied with the now-iconic:

“What’s there to be happy about? Job’s not finished. Job finished? I don’t think so.”

The Lakers would end up beating the Magic 4-1, with Kobe Bryant walking away with Finals MVP. When you have a goal that is so clear in your mind, anything short of that goal is not worth celebrating. There is plenty of time for that later. You can’t sleep in a house half-built, or eat food that is only half cooked. The job’s not finished, buddy. Back to work.

4. When he reminded us what it means to be a team player

One of the biggest criticisms of Kobe throughout his career was his apparent lack of desire to pass the ball. Under the impression that selflessness would be the thing that translated to winning basketball, Shaq claims to have passed on the famous adage that “there is no ‘I’ in ‘team'” to a rookie Kobe Bryant.

In response to this same sentiment, Michael Jordan replied with “There is an ‘I’ in ‘win’.” Great minds think alike. All Kobe could notice was an ‘M-E’ in that motherfucker. Know what you’re worth. Others can get your rebound.

5. When injury was never an excuse

Kobe Bryant was known for not letting the little stuff – 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.

Among just wanting to win, he also never wanted to disappoint the fans in the nosebleeds that had saved money to come and watch him play, just like he did with Michael Jordan. The current Lakers – and certain Australian players that are now playing for the Brooklyn Nets – could learn a thing or two from this man’s drive. 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 mid-game. Kobe responded by claiming to “love it”, then donning a black face mask and torching the Miami Heat a few days later. Anyone can complain about being hurt, but the real ones will use it as a source of 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 sport. After they won three championships together, a lot of bad blood was exchanged with the pair 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 that is known for apologising. Giving himself names like the Big Aristotle, Superman and Shaq Daddy, he had been bullish pretty much his entire career. That’s why it was so shocking when they sat down for a 1-on-1 interview in 2018 and Shaq admitted to Kobe the moment where he had realised the error in his ways.

The 2009 NBA All-Star Game was Shaq’s last appearance as an All-Star. At this stage, he had pretty much won the 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 for one last time and were voted Co-MVPs for the game. Here, Kobe extended Shaq an olive branch when he let him take home the trophy to give to his son.

Competitiveness should not be petty. 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 by taking the high road.

7. When the old dog showed us he still had it

There is no shortage of remarkable Kobe Bryant games to choose from. Whether it be the 81 points he scored at the only game his grandma came to see (the second-most in NBA history) or the devastating game-winners against Portland in 2006 and the Heat in 2009. I’ve decided to go for more of a fan favourite here, but I promise that there is a reason behind this.

After sustaining 20 years worth of injuries, Kobe Bryant played his last game against the Utah Jazz in 2016. Despite the Golden State Warriors playing for the record of 73 regular-season wins at the same time, the world watched as Kobe scored 60 points in his farewell game.

Just look at the crowd in attendance. 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 towards the end of the game as his daughters call out his name. Somewhat hilariously, the last thing Kobe Bryant ever did on the court was score an assist.

I suppose that Mamba Mentality Lesson #7 is around this idea of finding your passion. While we can’t always be happy, we do often get to choose our pain. If you can find something that you are willing to give thousands of gruelling hours to, then you have won. It was during 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 Academy Award-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 how to live with heart.

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