News, Culture & Society

PIERS MORGAN: Kobe Bryant’s greatest life lessons

I don’t shock easily, a symptom of running a daily newspaper for ten years.

In the editor’s chair, you get used to unpredictable stuff happening, of all variety, and slightly immune to its impact.

But when the news broke yesterday that Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash, I sprang out of my chair like I’d been electrocuted.

‘NO!’ I shouted.

Seconds later, my three sons lit up our WhatsApp group chat with similar reactions. We’d watched Kobe play for the LA Lakers many times as a family together, the boys wearing his jersey.

‘Oh my God!’ said Stanley, 22.

‘Horrific!’ said Bertie, 19.

‘So sad, gutted,’ said Spencer, 26.

Kobe was just 41 and one of the greatest basketball players in history. But he was so much more than just a guy who shot hoops for a living. Kobe is pictured in 2016

I don’t shock easily, a symptom of running a daily newspaper for ten years. But when the news broke yesterday that Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash, I sprang out of my chair like I’d been electrocuted. Kobe is pictured in 2007

I don’t shock easily, a symptom of running a daily newspaper for ten years. But when the news broke yesterday that Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash, I sprang out of my chair like I’d been electrocuted. Kobe is pictured in 2007

Social media spontaneously erupted too with similar exclamations from world leaders, sporting legends, movie stars, top media personalities and myriad members of the public from all corners of the globe – everyone experiencing the same feeling of stunned disbelief and horror.

There are very few people whose sudden tragic death can spark such an instant outpouring of devastation, and love.

Elvis Presley, Princess Diana, JFK, Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Whitney Houston are six names that immediately spring to mind….and now Kobe Bryant joins the list of iconic names taken too soon, too tragically.

All were flawed human beings, some more than others – and I’ll let others dwell on Kobe’s, as some so distastefully rushed to do within hours of his death – yet all transcended their chosen paths in life to represent something far more meaningful to hundreds of millions of people.

Kobe was just 41 and one of the greatest basketball players in history.

But he was so much more than just a guy who shot hoops for a living.

How many other sports stars have won an Oscar for a poem they wrote about their sport on their retirement? Kobe did, writing and producing an animated short film based on the poem, entitled Dear Basketball.

‘Basketball players are supposed to show up and dribble,’ he told the Academy Awards audience as he accepted his gong. ‘but I’m glad we do a little bit more than that.’

Kobe Bryant did much more than dribble.

After a scandal-hit period of his life in the early 2000s – he was accused of rape and although no criminal case followed, he privately settled a civil action pursued by his accuser and admitted they had a different view of whether their liaison had been consensual – he invented an alter ego for himself, Black Mamba, the name of one of the world’s most deadly snakes that strikes with 99% accuracy at maximum speed in rapid succession, and also the name of the assassin in Quentin Tarantino’s film Kill Bill.

He used it on the court, to separate his professional personality from his personal problems, and it spurred him to even greater heights of aggression, determination, ruthlessness and success.

‘Mamba out,’ Kobe said on his retirement from the game in 2017.

How many other sports stars have won an Oscar for a poem they wrote about their sport on their retirement? Kobe did, writing and producing an animated short film based on the poem, entitled Dear Basketball. Kobe is pictured with his Oscar in 2018

How many other sports stars have won an Oscar for a poem they wrote about their sport on their retirement? Kobe did, writing and producing an animated short film based on the poem, entitled Dear Basketball. Kobe is pictured with his Oscar in 2018

And now the man who created Mamba is dead.

But his Mamba spirit should live on.

Here are ten life lessons from Kobe that can help YOU have a bit of Mamba about you:

1) If you want to be a winner, have a winning mentality. Kobe never compromised, and loved to steer teammates into the same mindset. He told a story about his great friend and fellow basketball great LeBron James that says it all about his refusal to accept mediocrity or slackness. ‘I always aimed to kill the opposition,’ he said. ‘LeBron and I discussed was what constitutes a killer mentality. He watched how I approached every single practice, and I constantly challenged him and the rest of the guys. I remember one half when we were messing around. I came into the locker room at half-time and I said to the guys – in a less PG manner – what in the hell we were doing? LeBron responded in a big way, he came out with a truly dominant mindset. And I’ve seen him lead that way ever since.’

2) Keep learning, keep improving and pay attention. Kobe saw life as an evolving lesson. ‘Everything I saw, heard, read, or felt was viewed through the lens of growing as a basketball player,’ he said. ‘This perspective makes me curious about everything, makes everything interesting, and means that life is a living library where all I need to do is pay attention.’ Kobe was renowned for constantly asking other legendary players like Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson for advice, and greats from other fields like Michael Jackson or Tiger Woods. He constantly strived for improvement, even when he’d made $1 billion and won everything in the game.

3) Work hard. Kobe abhorred shirkers. ‘I can’t relate to lazy people,’ he said. ‘We don’t speak the same language. I don’t understand you. I don’t want to understand you.’ Kobe was ferocious when it came to work ethic. He’d practice the same shot 1,000 times, regularly work out in the middle of the night, train harder than anyone else, and do whatever it took to win. And he expected the same attitude from his teammates. ‘I have nothing in common with lazy people who blame others for their lack of success,’ he explained. ‘Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses. Dedication sees dreams come true.’

4) Live through pain, don’t let it defeat you. Kobe suffered for his art more than most. ‘I’ve played with IVs before,’ he said, ‘during and after games. I’ve played with a broken hand, a sprained ankle, a torn shoulder, a fractured tooth, a severed lip, and a knee the size of a softball. But pain doesn’t tell you when you ought to stop. Pain is the little voice inside your head that tries to hold you back because it knows if you continue you will change.’ It was very telling that when Lakers fan Tiger Woods paid tribute to his friend yesterday, he cited the time Kobe once played on with a ruptured achilles. ‘That’s tough,’ said a man who knows about playing through agony.

Kobe never compromised, and loved to steer teammates into the same mindset. He told a story about his great friend and fellow basketball great LeBron James (pictured together in 2011) that says it all about his refusal to accept mediocrity or slackness. ‘I always aimed to kill the opposition,’ he said. ‘LeBron and I discussed was what constitutes a killer mentality. He watched how I approached every single practice, and I constantly challenged him and the rest of the guys. I remember one half when we were messing around. I came into the locker room at half-time and I said to the guys – in a less PG manner – what in the hell we were doing? LeBron responded in a big way, he came out with a truly dominant mindset. And I’ve seen him lead that way ever since’

Kobe never compromised, and loved to steer teammates into the same mindset. He told a story about his great friend and fellow basketball great LeBron James (pictured together in 2011) that says it all about his refusal to accept mediocrity or slackness. ‘I always aimed to kill the opposition,’ he said. ‘LeBron and I discussed was what constitutes a killer mentality. He watched how I approached every single practice, and I constantly challenged him and the rest of the guys. I remember one half when we were messing around. I came into the locker room at half-time and I said to the guys – in a less PG manner – what in the hell we were doing? LeBron responded in a big way, he came out with a truly dominant mindset. And I’ve seen him lead that way ever since’

5) Huge success only comes with huge sacrifice. ‘If you want to be great at something, there’s a choice you have to make,’ he said. ‘There are inherent sacrifices that come along with that. Family time, hanging out with friends, being a great friend, being a great son, nephew, whatever the case may be. Be willing to sacrifice anything but compromise nothing in your quest to be the best.’ I’ve been told the same thing by two all-time greats from other sports – the swimmer Michael Phelps and the soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo. Being the greatest means making greater sacrifices than everyone else.

6) Never admit defeat, especially to yourself. Kobe’s will-to-win was incredibly intense (‘He burned so competitively hot,’ said Tiger yesterday) and driven by a visceral hatred of losing. ‘My brain cannot process failure,’ he said. ‘It will not process failure. Because if I sit there and have to face myself and tell myself, “You’re a failure”…I think that’s almost worse than death. The moment you give up is the moment you let someone else win.’ Not that he never suffered from self-doubt. ‘I have insecurity,’ he said. ‘You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it.’

7) Don’t lose your edge. Kobe was as desperate to win at the end of his career as he was at the start. ‘I had a different drive,’ he said. ‘The kind that made people uneasy. Some people wanted me to come back down to earth, to come down to their level, to relax. But I couldn’t. It wasn’t in my DNA. Because to go where others have never gone, you have to do what others have never done. We don’t quit, we don’t cower, we don’t run. We endure and conquer.’

8) Never hate your haters, feed off them. Kobe took a uniquely positive view of those who sought to abuse, scorn or mock him. ‘Learn to love the hate,’ he said. ‘Embrace it. Enjoy it. You’ve earned it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and everyone should have one about you. Haters are a good problem to have. Nobody hates the good ones. They hate the great ones.’ So true. You can’t please everyone all the time, so why waste energy trying? Just be the best you can be, and let others less gifted spew their verdict – good, bad or ugly. His thick skin and resilience were astounding.

Yet in the end, what mattered most to Kobe Bryant was his family (pictured together in 2018). ‘Being a father is the thing I am most proud of in this world,’ he said recently. ‘It’s my greatest accomplishment. I’ve learned so much but perhaps the most profound thing has been the fierce, unconditional love you have for your children when you become a parent. There’s nothing more powerful in this world’

Yet in the end, what mattered most to Kobe Bryant was his family (pictured together in 2018). ‘Being a father is the thing I am most proud of in this world,’ he said recently. ‘It’s my greatest accomplishment. I’ve learned so much but perhaps the most profound thing has been the fierce, unconditional love you have for your children when you become a parent. There’s nothing more powerful in this world’

One of his girls, Gianna (pictured together in 2016), aged just 13 and a talented young basketball player herself, died in the crash with him and the video clips of them hanging out together are now gut-wrenching to watch. My heart breaks for Vanessa Bryant and their three other girls

One of his girls, Gianna (pictured together in 2016), aged just 13 and a talented young basketball player herself, died in the crash with him and the video clips of them hanging out together are now gut-wrenching to watch. My heart breaks for Vanessa Bryant and their three other girls

9) Conquer your fear. ‘The last time I was intimidated was when I was 6 years old in karate class,’ he said. ‘I was an orange belt and the instructor ordered me to fight a black belt who was a couple of years older and a lot bigger. I was scared sh*tless, terrified. And he kicked my a**. But then I realized he didn’t kick my a** as bad as I thought he was going to and that there was nothing really to be afraid of. That was the time I realized intimidation didn’t really exist if you’re in the right frame of mind.’ Kobe’s phenomenal success came because he never feared anyone again.

10) Leaders can’t win popularity contests. ‘If you’re going to be a leader,’ he said, ‘you’re not going to please everybody. You’ve got to hold people accountable, even if you have that moment of being uncomfortable.’ Kobe didn’t mind speaking his mind to effect improvement or change if others were underperforming. Yet ultimately, it was always for their own good. ‘The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great at whatever they want to do,’ he said.

So that’s how to be a Mamba.

Yet in the end, what mattered most to Kobe Bryant was his family.

‘Being a father is the thing I am most proud of in this world,’ he said recently. ‘It’s my greatest accomplishment. I’ve learned so much but perhaps the most profound thing has been the fierce, unconditional love you have for your children when you become a parent. There’s nothing more powerful in this world.’

One of his girls, Gianna, aged just 13 and a talented young basketball player herself, died in the crash with him and the video clips of them hanging out together are now gut-wrenching to watch.

My heart breaks for Vanessa Bryant and their three other girls.

RIP Kobe – the way the world is mourning your death says it all about your impact on the world.

 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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