Kobe Bryant Day: What ‘Mamba Mentality’ Meant in His Own Words

On Kobe Bryant Day, we look back at the athlete's philosophy that centered around working hard to fulfill one’s dreams.

Monday, Aug. 24, marks the first official Kobe Bryant Day in Orange County. Bryant’s birthday is Aug. 23, and he wore the number 24, explained Orange County Board Chairwoman Michelle Steel as to why the supervisors settled on Aug. 24 as the date to honor the former Los Angeles Lakers legend. 

While it’s his legendary skills on the basketball court which many remember, the athlete’s inspirational “mamba mentality” clearly had just as much of a lasting and powerful impact.

On Kobe Bryant Day, we look back at the athlete's philosophy that centered around working hard to fulfill one’s dreams and striving to always get better.

"I came up with it during one of our tours," Bryant reportedly explained during his 2016 Mamba Mentality Tour, which aimed to challenge and inspire the upcoming generation of young athletes. "Because I put the kids through so many drills and clinics and I just thought to myself 'mamba mentality.' I actually said it. This is what embodies the brand of what we stand for.”

"To sum up what mamba mentality is, it means to be able to constantly try to be the best version of yourself," added Bryant, who did just that during his 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. "That is what the mentality is. It's a constant quest to try to better today than you were yesterday."

Bryant further explained the mentality during an interview with Amazon Book Review in 2018.

“Mamba mentality is all about focusing on the process and trusting in the hard work when it matters most,” he said. “It’s the ultimate mantra for the competitive spirit.  It started just as a hashtag that came to me one day, and it’s grown into something athletes -- and even non-athletes -- embrace as a mindset.”

“Hard work outweighs talent -- every time,” he added. “Mamba mentality is about 4 a.m. workouts, doing more than the next guy and then trusting in the work you’ve put in when it’s time to perform. Without studying, preparation and practice, you’re leaving the outcome to fate. I don’t do fate.”

Bryant reportedly nicknamed himself the “Black Mamba,” inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 film, Kill Bill, in which the mamba snake was code for a deadly assassin. Adding “mentality” to the end of it, the idea was adopted by players around the world, and saw him become a mentor, idol and inspiration to the next league of NBA stars.

Those who looked up to him or mentioned his mamba mentality over the years included LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Larry Nance Jr., who played alongside Bryant with the L.A. Lakers shortly before Bryant retired. “He just had so much knowledge,” Nance said. “Forget about basketball, Kobe Bryant, the man, was so unbelievably impressive.”

James meanwhile shouted out Bryant and revealed he had written “Mamba for life” on his shoes before passing him and becoming the third highest NBA scorer (with 33,655 points, as opposed to Bryant’s 33,643 points) on Saturday -- less than 24 hours before Bryant’s death.

“You don’t have that much time to play this game. If you’re able to be remembered for the great things that you did, the positive things that you did, making people feel great about what you did, that’s a pretty cool thing,” James said following the weekend’s achievement. “I wrote on my shoes tonight, I think I put ‘Mamba for life, 8, 24 KB,’ because it’s really that mutual.”

In his 2018 book, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play, Bryant shed further light on his conversations with James about the mentality.

“I always aimed to kill the opposition,” wrote Bryant. “The main thing LeBron and I discussed was what constitutes a killer mentality. He watched how I approached every single practice, and I constantly challenged him and the rest of the guys. I remember there was one half when we were messing around. I came into the locker room at half-time and asked the guys -- in a less PG manner -- what in the hell we were doing. In the second half, LeBron responded in a big way. He came out with a truly dominant mindset. And I’ve seen him lead that way ever since.”

Bryant’s last ever tweet was congratulating James on his achievement, and his words on Instagram reflected his mamba mentality message of always striving to work even harder. "On to #2," he wrote. "Keep growing the game and charting the path for the next."

Bryant’s passion for spreading his mamba mentality through the basketball world was heightened during his final years in the NBA, during which his own drive was tested with injuries and surgeries. Upon retiring from the Lakers in 2016, he discussed how his mentality would live on through other players and voiced his desire to continue spreading his message.

Following his retirement, he even opened the Mamba Sports Academy, to help rising NBA players as well as children wanting to get into basketball. Months before his death, the academy hosted the Mamba Sports Pro Invitational, an invite-only camp where rising NBA stars got to mix with the league’s elite and hear from Bryant himself.

"Everything that I've done throughout my career, it doesn't just stay in the history books,” he said during his 2016 Mamba Mentality Tour. “It doesn't just sit on the mantle in the form of trophies and gold medals, it means that the legacy is passed on. The fact that [Kyrie Irving] was thinking about it means that I've done something more than simply win.”

It wasn’t just basketballers who benefited from Bryant’s words, with other athletes, including many in the NFL world, also mentioning Bryant’s role model status over the years.

“Kobe’s impact transcends the game of basketball. It transcends life,” New Orleans Saints All-Pro linebacker Demario Davis said to USA Today Sports. “Mamba mentality is more of an approach than anything else. It’s about attacking what’s in front of you with passion and purpose, without fear and doubt and without an ounce of quit. No matter what it is, good/bad; success/failure that’s your approach. That’s what it means to have mamba mentality. That’s what I learned from him.”

“Mamba mentality gave people hope -- hope that if you stay focused and work hard enough, your goals are attainable, and not to let anyone stop you,” added Ravens quarterback Robert Griffin III.

However, Bryant frequently noted that the mentality was for anyone, not just athletes.

“The mamba mentality is a mindset that extends way beyond basketball or sports,” he told Amazon Book Review. “It’s simple, if you have a goal or a dream, you need to apply the mamba mentality to achieve it.  Everything worth achieving needs total focus and dedication.”

“It’s all about focus,” he added in a clip posted on Twitter. “I don’t care who you are, where you’re from -- it doesn’t matter. It’s having a focus and having a purpose. You wake up every single day to get better today than you were yesterday. Doesn’t matter what you are -- basketball player, hockey player, golf player, painter, writer, doesn’t matter.”

The wide reach of his mamba mentality was evident in the tributes which flowed from well beyond the sports world, following news of Bryant’s passing. Politicians like Barack Obama, musicians like Justin Bieber, socialites like Kylie Jenner and actors like Robert Downey, Jr. all honored the late star on social media.

"We met when we were both teenagers and bonded over our drive and process. I was in awe of what you could do with a basketball and knew your talent went beyond your physical gifts and stretched to your mentality," pop star Justin Timberlake wrote about the impact mamba mentality had played in his life. "A mentality that I would take with me throughout my whole career and still use every day. As the years went by, I watched you do things that seemed humanly unimaginable. And, through ups and downs, championships and injuries, you still remained with an unwavering resolve about your mentality to remain fierce to competition."

While the far-reaching power of Bryant’s words can’t be denied, it was in his own home that he likely hoped the mantra would be most cherished and adopted. The star and his wife, Vanessa Bryant, had four daughters -- Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3 and Capri, 7 months. The couple’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, tragically died with him in the Calabasas, California, helicopter crash, along with seven other victims.

Bryant discussed his hopes to pass his work ethic onto the girls during his jersey retirement night in December 2017.

“You guys know that if you do the work, you work hard enough, dreams come true,” he said to Natalia, Capri and Gianna in a clip of the event posted on Twitter. “You all know that, we all know that. But hopefully what you get tonight is the understanding that those times when you get up early and you work hard, those times you stay up late and you work hard, those times when you don't feel like working -- you're too tired, you don't want to push yourself -- but you do it anyway … that is actually the dream.”

“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” he continued. “And, if you guys can understand that, what you’ll see happen is that you don’t accomplish your dreams. Your dreams won’t come true. Something greater will and if you guys can understand that, then I’m doing my job as a father. Thank you guys so much and mamba out.”

While putting his mentality onto paper with, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play, Bryant opened up further about his craft, his career and how he juggled fatherhood by sacrificing sleep to fit his workouts in. He also shared the seeds that founded his passion for basketball -- which would eventually bloom into his passion for spreading his positive and inspirational message.

“I remember when, as a kid, I got my first real basketball,” he wrote. “I loved the feel of it in my hands. I was so enamored with the ball that I didn’t actually want to bounce it or use it, because I didn’t want to ruin the pebbled leather grains or the perfect grooves. I didn’t want to ruin the feel. I loved the sound of it, too. The tap, tap, tap of when a ball bounces on the hardwood. The crispness and clarity. The predictability. The sound of life and light. Those are some of the elements that I loved about the ball, about the game. They were at the core and root of my process and craft. They were the reasons I went through all that I went through, put in all that I put in, dug as deep as I dug. It all came back to that special tap, tap, tap that I first grew infatuated with as a boy.”

In his Amazon Book Review interview, Bryant shared his hopes for the next generation to learn from the inspirational mentality which that early passion ignited. “It feels great to see the book finally finished, but the greatest part is that I hope it teaches the next generation about what it means to really go after something -- I mean, obsessively go after it,” he said. “I believe the images will resonate with fans who followed my career, and I hope the words inspire a young girl or boy to achieve future greatness.”

Bryant died on Jan. 26 at age 41 in a helicopter crash that also killed his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.