Monday, March 28, 2011

What I learned from Kobe Bryant

A few weeks ago I was listening in on ESPN radio and none other than the Black Mamba himself, Kobe Bryant, happened to be on. The show’s host had invited him on the air for an interview. Immediately, curiosity set in and I turned up the volume. Now, I should be honest here. Nothing against Kobe, but I’m not a huge fan. I always recognize and respect basketball talent, but that doesn’t mean I cheer for the person. Part of this has to do with being a Blazers fan growing up and always wishing the Blazers could have taken it to the Lakers when it really counted. Alas, this never happened. My bitterness, though, has receded over the years. I’ve been healed. It was good money spent on therapy.

Anyways, the interview with Kobe was fascinating. Kobe shared some of his thoughts on the NBA and on how the Lakers were doing so far this year. He answered some critical questions by the host and with an air of confidence, assured the listeners that the Lakers would be doing just fine come play offs. I have to say, I completely believed him. One thing I noticed from the interview was that Kobe never took the focus off of himself. When asked about the Heat, he brought it back to himself. When questioned if the Spurs would upset the Lakers, again, without hesitation, he brought the issue back to his setting and his life. This move wasn’t done out of arrogance or some deep seeded narcissism; rather, I realized, it was done out of confidence in his pursuit of excellence.

Kobe believes his success is not contingent upon what other people do around him. That is why on the air he didn’t get rattled by criticism or even react to the mentioning of the successes of other players and teams. It just didn’t matter because he was confident in his job and his skills. One line from the interview that really stood out to me was when Kobe said, “I know I have to put the work in.” Putting the work in, as Kobe explained, is about doing what you know you need to do in order to be the best you can be. “Putting the work in” is not about comparing oneself to others or living in a state of reaction, based upon what’s happening around you. On the contrary, it’s about focusing on oneself.  Besides, as Kobe mentioned, the only real improvement I can make is to improve myself.

Many of us find heroes or successful people we want to emulate. We see the good they produce—the books they write, the movies they make, the songs the compose—and we want to be like them. We see loving families and notice strong friendships between people.  It looks attractive and we want that for our lives too. The only problem is, that most of us don’t want to do what they did to get there. We want the success, but lack the work ethic and discipline to achieve it. Reading a good story is always fun. Writing the story, on the other hand, rarely ever is. We all want to tell good stories, but first we have to be willing to write them.

Perhaps this is the reason why there is only one Kobe Bryant.


  1. Is it Don Miller who has talked about how final outcomes are always highly visible, even when the work necessary to accomplish them is often invisible to others? And how this gives us, as onlookers, the false idea that grand outcomes can be achieved almost effortlessly. Those with an internal locus of control (a willingness to focus on what they can change, which is usually things about me) are happier, and higher acheivers. This is as opposed to those with an external locus of control (people who focus on often unchangeable variables external to the self), who believe they don't yet have what they want because no one handed it to them. Life is hard, there are things you can't change AND you can still do great things in spite of all that IF you are willing to work hard. Really really hard.

    In a culture which values leisure (as opposed to hard work) and letting others be responsible for our own happiness (as opposed to personal responsibility), hard work and discipline carry a distasteful or even a frankly negative connotation. Kobe is no moral saint (Pate: do a post about how most of the "Saints" started out by not being particularly "saintly," eg Augustine), but he works much harder than many people. That is dedication to which I can aspire.

  2. While studying for my first psych test, my roommate corrected my spelling of "locus" in my lecture notes. Two things resulted: 1) I began using my textbook; and 2) I realized my prof was not obsessed with locusts controlling people's lives.
    It's so great to find admirable qualities in people. As that old song goes, "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative" -- a lighter take on "hate what is evil, cling to what is good" (Rom. 12:9). Hard work and discipline are truly admirable and praiseworthy... so "think on these things" (Phil. 4:8)
    My work ethic can definitely use some influence from Kobe.