One of the greatest players ever, Kobe Bryant has captured basketball aficionados imagination like no one for many years. Five NBA titles, 18-time All Star, 15-time member of All-NBA team, 12-time member of the All-Defensive team, two times NBA Finals MVP, two Olympic Gold medals, only player in NBA history with more than 30,000 points and 6,000 assists, youngest player to score 30,000 points, only player in NBA history to score at least 600 points in the postseason for three consecutive years, and several more resplendent achievements make Bryant a true legend. On his birthday today, however, it’s not just his achievements that inspire. What’s truly exemplary is how Bryant has strived and persevered through everything in life and emerged a true champion.
Kobe Bryant’s Childhood
Bryant was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Joe Bryant and Pamela Cox Bryant in 1978. His father was an NBA player, but moved to Italy in 1984 along with the family. Bryant grew up in Italy and learned to speak fluent Italian while taking baby steps towards his basketball career. The Bryant family returned to Philadelphia in 1991 and Kobe joined the Lower Merion High School basketball team. With spectacular display of skills and wide acclaims all through high school, Bryant joined the NBA in 1996.
Starting His NBA Career and Early Success
Bryant showed the sparks of his brilliance in the limited chances he got to play as a rookie. With each game, he kept on steadily improving and he soon became indispensable for the Lakers. While already receiving praise from everyone for his amazing game, success wasn’t that easy to come by for Bryant. The Lakers had to wait till 2000 when the collective brilliance of Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal won them the championship title. And the title remained with the Lakers in 2001 and 2002 as well. During these years, Bryant broke many records, establishing him as a top player. At the age of 23, Bryant was the youngest player to win three NBA titles.
In 2001, he married Vanessa Laine, a dancer. His parents strongly opposed his marriage, as Vanessa wasn’t African American. This led to a huge rift between Bryant and his parents for many years.
Controversies and Setbacks
During the 2003-04 season, Bryant suffered his biggest career setback. A hotel worker in Colorado charged him with sexual assault. While Bryant maintained the encounter was consensual, the damage to his reputation was irreparable. He had to miss games to appear in court. The case was eventually dismissed after he settled the lawsuit out of court. However, the damage was done. He lost out on endorsements, reputation, and more. Bryant missing the games damaged the Lakers’ chances, and eventually, the Detroit Pistons trounced Lakers 4-1 in the NBA Finals. During these years, he and Shaquille O’Neal were also involved in the famous Shaq-Kobe feud. Marked by both players often taking potshots at each other, it was probably the reason behind the Lakers downward spiral.
The following season in 2004-05 brought even more problems for Bryant. Already reeling under the pressure of his maligned reputation, the Lakers’ former coach Phil Jackson dropped a bomb. Jackson, while chronicling the tumultuous season of 2003-04, termed Bryant as “uncoachable” and “a stubborn, hard-headed learner.” The new Lakers coach, Rudy Tomjanovich, left the team mid-season, making the team performance dip significantly. To further aggravate the problems, Bryant was part of a couple of public feuds. Suddenly, things had taken a wrong turn, and Bryant was under constant heat from every corner.
Striving Hard to Emerge Champion Again
Bryant refused to buckle under pressure. With his every move closely scrutinized, Bryant showed what perseverance and hard work means. He adopted an insane work regimen, dedicating himself completely to making the Lakers champions again. But success and failure went hand-in-hand for Bryant. In 2006, he had to face backlash for a game that the Lakers lost to the Phoenix Suns—Bryant only took three shots in the second half of the game, leading to accusation of him quitting on the team and his inability to lead. During 2006 and 2007, Bryant was again in unfavorable light due to some on-court fouls and controversies, but he kept an unwavering focus on his goal. In 2006, he scored an unbelievable 81 points during 122-104 victory against the Toronto Raptors.
It was a testing period for Bryant, but he kept his chin high and constantly delivered results. Eventually, his hard work paid off with the Lakers emerging champions again in 2009 and 2010. Bryant played an important part in the victories and that duly earned him the NBA Finals MVP awards.
Injuries and Retirement
With Bryant again at the top of his game and the accompanying accolades and fame, setbacks were around the corner. Bryant started having serious knee, ankle, and wrist injuries, and he diligently tried to take care of his injuries, often playing through the pain to push his team forward. Eventually, in 2016, constant niggles and injuries and average game performances made Bryant announce his retirement. That brought curtains down on one of the most illustrious and inspiring NBA players ever.
How Kobe Bryant Strived for Excellence Every Single Day
Champions never rest on their laurels, and Bryant is no different. He is known for his unwavering commitment to excellence fueled by hard work and a religious work ethic. When you are already a top player with great wealth and fame, it’s natural to take things a bit easy. Not so for Bryant.
He was always the first player in the gym, even when injured, strictly following his exercise regimen. Bryant gave up his favorite foods (including sugar and pizza) to be in good shape and health. He used to get most of his nutrients from food instead of relying on artificial supplements.
He once asked Nike to remove a few millimeters off his shoes. This was done to have a slightly-better-but-vital reaction time—one hundredth of a second. This clearly shows his attention to minute details and how he engaged every possible resource to realize his goals.
Winners never stop learning. Bryant would cold call business leaders to learn their secrets to success. It clearly shows Bryant’s unflinching desire to excel even if it comes to a behavior bordering on weird.
Bryant used to watch himself and his team’s play during halftime to assess how to improve. Working hard both on-the-court and off-the-court is a step towards greatness.
This quote about himself pretty much sums up his belief. “To think of me as a person that’s overachieved, that would mean a lot to me. That means I put a lot of work in and squeezed every ounce of juice out of this orange that I could.”
Bryant’s rise from a humble background to becoming an all-time NBA star is a remarkable story of living the spirit of Strive. Braving injuries, controversies, and setbacks, Bryant displayed perseverance, hard work, and self-belief to emerge a true winner in life. His spirit of Strive is indeed exemplary. How are you striving? Sign up to be notified when the Strive book becomes available.