Last month one of the best NBA players ever, called it a career. Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers played his 1,346th and final game, and he scored 60 points in his farewell performance.
Over his 20 NBA seasons, Bryant made 11,719 baskets and was selected to 18 consecutive All-Star Games. He led the Lakers to five NBA championships and earned two gold medals as a US Olympian. His work ethic is relentless, even legendary.
John Celestand, a rookie point guard from Villanova, who joined the Lakers in their ’99-’00 championship season, witnessed Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality” first hand:
“The first time I began to understand why he (Kobe) was the best was in the pre-season. In a game against the Wizards, Kobe broke the wrist on his shooting hand. He was always the first person to practice every day, arriving at least an hour and a half early,” Celestand said. “This would infuriate me because I wanted to be the first person to practice, just as I had always been at Villanova and Piscataway High in New Jersey. To add insult to injury, I lived only 10 minutes from the practice facility — while Kobe was at least 35 minutes away.
“I am ashamed to say that I was excited the day after his injury because I knew that there was no way that No. 8 (as former Laker point guard Tyronn Lue called him) would be the first to practice, if he would even be there at all.
“As I walked through the training room, I became stricken with fear when I heard a ball bouncing. No, no, it couldn’t be! Yes it could. Kobe was already in a full sweat with a cast on his right arm and dribbling and shooting with his left.”
Celestand went on to say that Kobe challenged him to a game of HORSE that morning and nearly beat him, left-handed.
So, does being obsessive and working tirelessly (as Kobe did) on your craft guarantee good results? Well… probably. Does it also mean you won’t experience failure? Absolutely not.
If you’re bold enough to try anything, you’re going to experience failure at some point. It’s a given.
Kobe Bryant missed 26,200 shots in his career. That’s an NBA record that will probably never be broken. And in spite of having the kind of swagger that kids dream about, over his last 10 seasons, Bryant only made 27% of his game-winning shot attempts.
In a 2014 postgame interview, Bryant was asked if he’s ever been afraid of taking a shot in a big moment.
“…I don’t mean to sound cavalier when I say that, but never. It’s basketball. I’ve practiced and practiced and played so many times. There’s nothing truly to be afraid of, when you think about it.”
“I’ve failed before, and I woke up the next morning, and I’m OK,” he said. “People say bad things about you in the paper on Monday, and then on Wednesday, you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’ve seen that cycle, so why would I be nervous about it happening?”
The thing I admire most about Kobe Bryant isn’t the accomplishments, the championships, the career earnings… it’s his mental focus, his discipline and his perspective on fear of failure. This guy is the walking definition of the phrase “go big or go home.”
Leadership, and life in general, isn’t for the faint of heart. Sometimes you have to put yourself in situations that aren’t particularly comfortable and that don’t feel all that safe and secure – situations where your only alternative is to act. And not just to make do, and not just to get by.
I’m talking about jumping in feet first, determined to make the most of the situation you’re faced with – and even to turn a rocky one to your advantage. That’s what living is all about: successes and failures.
Don’t shy away from either.