When Kobe Bryant announced his first book, “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play”, many were ecstatic that one of the greats in basketball was going to write about his experience in the NBA, as well as his knowledge and understanding of the game of basketball after 20 seasons.
Like Bryant’s “Detail” series on ESPN, where it’s 20 minutes of him doing in-depth game analysis of current NBA players, I was expecting a book enriched in text on Bryant’s psychological strengths and habits, which made him one of the greatest players to ever grace the hardwood floor. Instead, and to my surprise, we are treated to more of a coffee table book filled with photos of Bryant and fellow NBA players. Added text enhances the readers experience to fully immerse themselves in the book. This concept worked out wonderfully.
The book wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for Hall of Fame photographer Andy Bernstein, whose pictures are able to speak for themselves. Bernstein is the longest tenured NBA photographer with the Lakers and Clippers, currently in the midst of his 33rd consecutive season.
From Bryant’s first game donning the purple and gold as an 18 year old fresh out of high school, to his last game where he dropped 60 points in what seemed like a fairy-tale ending, Bernstein was right there court side with his camera, doing what he does best.
Bryant wrote that Bernstein, “… through the years perfected a craftsmanship with his lens that is unparalleled in the industry. One photographer, one athlete, one team, 20 years–without your work, this story could not fully come to life.”
For the first time ever, fans are able to get insight on Bryant’s legendary work ethic and the measures he took to prepare both mentally and physically. Bryant didn’t just want to be your average basketball player, he wanted to excel and be the best to ever lace them up.
Phil Jackson, who helped coach Bryant and the Lakers to five championships in a span of 10 years from 2000 to 2010, has often cited Bryant as one of the most hard-working players in the history of the game.
“If you are going to invest your time in reading this book, be prepared for an adventure in high-level basketball. This is a window into the mind of someone who mastered it,” Jackson wrote. “… Kobe came into the NBA with a desire and talent to become one of the greatest players of all time. He achieved that goal through his dedication and perseverance.”
Bryant inspired countless kids growing up with his flamboyant play-style early on in his career. But as he continued to gain experience and learned to slow the game down to his liking, you could truly see how much work he put into his craft and what he sacrificed to get to a level only very few have gotten to.
The man gave up sleep for greatness and it wasn’t even a guaranteed thing. It was only the potential to be great, but Bryant’s mentality had no boundaries. He knew he could do whatever he put his mind to. People thought Bryant was a great player just from sheer talent alone, but what they failed to see was the work he put into his game behind closed curtains.
“I always felt like if I started my day early, I could train more each day,” wrote Bryant. “If I started at 11, I’d get in a few hours, rest for four hours, and then get back to the gym around 5 to 7. But if I started at 5 AM and went until 7, I could go again from 11 until 2 and 6 until 8… I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my game, but I also wasn’t willing to sacrifice my family time. So I decided to sacrifice sleep, and that was that.”
Bryant’s high pain threshold was also something that boggled the minds of many people. How was he able to play through injuries other players wouldn’t even dare to? More importantly, how was he able to sustain such high level of play for so long?
As many die-hard Lakers fan know, Bryant suffered an avulsion fracture on his right index finger and to make matters worse, this was his shooting hand. The index finger is what’s used to help guide the ball when shooting. Bryant never got surgery on his finger, as it would have been season ending and the Lakers were looking to repeat as champions. Bryant played through the pain.
“From that point forward, we would apply a splint, which was like a hard cast at the bottom and top portion of my finger,” Bryant said. “Then we would wrap it over and over again with a spongy elastic tape. The ball would, physically, still hurt when it hit my finger. But mentally, I knew I had protection absorbing some of the pain and I could play through the rest… My finger, in particular, is still inflexible to this day. But I never let these impediments stop me.”
When you’re young, injuries sustained are able to heal relatively quick. But as you age, your bodies healing time takes longer to recover. Bryant noted in his book that he was guided through his injuries by the likes of physical therapist Judy Seto and long-time athletic trainer Gary Vitti.
When speaking about Seto, Bryant marvelled at her dedication to the craft, writing, “It’s safe to say I would not have been able to play as well or as long without her as my physical therapist. She helped me recover from every single surgery I ever had, and she was always there for me.”
Besides Bryant writing about his much documented work ethic and high pain tolerance, he also delved into the players he went up against in his earlier years such as Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Tim Duncan, to players he faced later on in his career like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and James Harden.
It’s no secret Michael Jordan was someone Bryant idolized as a kid and the player he patterned his game after the most. Anyone and everyone will tell you Bryant is almost an exact replica of Jordan. From his fadeaway jumper to his impeccable footwork, Bryant absorbed the knowledge of past greats like a sponge.
“I asked a ton of questions. I was curious. I wanted to improve, learn, and fill my head with the history of the game,” Bryant said. “A lot of people appreciated my curiosity and passion… Some people, meanwhile, were less understanding and gracious. That was fine with me. My approach was always that I’d rather risk embarrassment now than be embarrassed later, when I’ve won zero titles.”
One thing that caught me by surprise were the amount of minute errors I discovered when reading the book. For example, an excerpt from the book where Bryant talked about Harden says, “James was the reason we lost the series to the Thunder in 2011.”
The Lakers never played the Thunder in the 2011 playoffs as they beat New Orleans in the first round only to get swept by Dallas in the second. The Lakers and Thunder would play in the 2012 playoffs where Bryant and the Lakers would lose to them in the second round after five games.
For general basketball fans, small errors like these would be missed so it is nothing to worry about. But for someone like me who comes from a die-hard Lakers family, these mistakes seem to be noteworthy as I thought Bryant was all about the “detail”.
Nevertheless, anyone who is big on basketball should give this book a read. To any aspiring athletes who want to know what it takes to get to that next level and the trials and tribulations that comes with becoming a generational talent, definitely pick this book up. It’s not everyday you get to go into the mind of one of the greatest and most inspirational athletes of all time. I mean, who hasn’t yelled “Kobe!” when shooting a crumpled piece of paper into a trash can?
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