Millions of athletes say they want to be the best in the world. Many don’t declare it, but it’s embedded into their thinking and doing what they do, part of their self-talk.
But there have only been a couple who have not only had the courage to declare it but spend decades in the relentless pursuit of bringing it to life.
This is mastery — and when I think of Kobe Bryant, this is the word that comes to mind: someone who went “all in” on their craft and declaration to be the best in the world.
The truth is:
Most people, including me, will never “get” just how great he was because we don’t understand that level of elite performance.
But as someone who is obsessed with de-constructing greatness, who reads 900-page biographies from Walt Disney to Bruce Springsteen, Marlon Brando, Edison, the Roosevelts, Branson, Churchill, and everything in between, Kobe is an all-timer.
And I wanted to share some of the biggest lessons I learned from observing his greatness from afar.
Be Unapologetically Yourself Even if It Divides People
Kobe knew who he was, what he wanted, and was unapologetic in the pursuit of it.
This meant he drove the wrong people away —and was beloved by the right people. You can’t choose to be the best in the world and have everyone like you along the way.
The Process Is Everything—Nothing Else Matters
Lots of people say “they love” the process, but they do it with their teeth clenched, waiting for the moment it’s over.
Not Kobe: he literally loved shooting hoops at 4:00 AM in a dark room as much as Game 7 of the playoffs. He lived for those moments as much as the champagne-soaked ones. He lived for the process, and you can too.
Raise Your Standards and You Won’t Feel “Pressure”
No one had higher standards for themselves than Kobe. This is why he said he never felt “pressure”: his standard always exceeded those on the outside.
When we have personal standards and live up to them, we can sleep quietly at night. We can release the trolls, critics, and haters that come along the way.
Details and Fundamentals Matter More As You Grow
As people experience success and growth, they stop doing the little things.
They let things slide because they know they can “wing” some of it. They stop obsessing over details and the basics: what separates Kobe is he focused on the details more as he grew, not less.
When You’re Clear on Your Mission, You Can Make Fast Decisions
Kobe was clear on his mission: be the best ever.
And because of his, he’d get invited to Las Vegas to party with teammates as a 21 or 22-year-old and say no easily, because he was clear.
He chose film study over entertainment. But when you’re not clear, it’s hard to say “no”, and you let distractions win.
Character Is How You Show Up for Yourself When No One Is Watching
Lots of people can show up when there’s a big crowd, a stage, and the lights are on — the red carpet is out, there are 30,000 followers.
As a speaker myself, I am most proud of the time I showed up to an event with 3 people and gave it my all, even more than the time I had 650 people.
The question is:
Can you show up in a dark room, on a Tuesday morning when no one is around, and no one cares, except you?
Desire, When Channeled to One Place, Is Literally Unstoppable
Kobe was talented in more than basketball — we can see that from his Emmy and Oscar upon retiring.
He could have started this during his NBA career but didn’t. He knew that he had to channel his desire into one thing and one thing only. He was focused on one thing.
We Can All Harness Some Mamba Energy
I’ll admit: this has been a tough one. Personally, since I barely watch sports anymore, I was more excited to see Kobe’s second half as a creator, author, and media visionary.
Now we don’t get the chance. But all of us can harness a little MAMBA energy in our day to day, to channel our own inner greatness to create something magical.
Whether that’s our businesses, our craft, or our families, we can all learn a lot from Kobe’s example of dedication.
What was your greatest lesson from one of the world’s best? Post it in the comments below — I’d love to hear it.