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The Mamba Mentality: How I Play

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Notes From Black Reads

A magnificent look into basketball and the “Mamba mentality” of the late, great Kobe Bryant. Through his own prowess on the court, Bryant shares how to become a better basketball player. Whether you play basketball or are simply a fan, you will love The Mamba Mentality.

The Mamba Mentality: How I Play is Kobe Bryant’s personal perspective of his life and career on the basketball court and his exceptional, insightful style of playing the game—a fitting legacy from the late Los Angeles Laker superstar.

In the wake of his retirement from professional basketball, Kobe “The Black Mamba” Bryant decided to share his vast knowledge and understanding of the game to take readers on an unprecedented journey to the core of the legendary “Mamba mentality.” Citing an obligation and an opportunity to teach young players, hardcore fans, and devoted students of the game how to play it “the right way,” The Mamba Mentality takes us inside the mind of one of the most intelligent, analytical, and creative basketball players ever.

In his own words, Bryant reveals his famously detailed approach and the steps he took to prepare mentally and physically to not just succeed at the game, but to excel. Readers will learn how Bryant studied an opponent, how he channeled his passion for the game, how he played through injuries. They’ll also get fascinating granular detail as he breaks down specific plays and match-ups from throughout his career.

Bryant’s detailed accounts are paired with stunning photographs by the Hall of Fame photographer Andrew D. Bernstein. Bernstein, long the Lakers and NBA official photographer, captured Bryant’s very first NBA photo in 1996 and his last in 2016—and hundreds of thousands in between, the record of a unique, twenty-year relationship between one athlete and one photographer.

The combination of Bryant’s narrative and Bernstein’s photos make The Mamba Mentality an unprecedented look behind the curtain at the career of one of the world’s most celebrated and fascinating athletes.

ISBN-13: 9780374201234

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: Farrar Straus and Giroux

Publication Date: 10-23-2018

Pages: 208

Product Dimensions: 9.20(w) x 11.10(h) x 0.90(d)

Kobe Bryant (1978-2020) was one of the most accomplished and celebrated athletes of all time. Over the course of his twenty-year career—all played with the Los Angeles Lakers—he won five NBA championships, two Olympic gold medals, eighteen All-Star selections, and four All-Star Game MVP awards, among many other achievements before retiring in 2016. In 2018, Bryant won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film as writer of Dear Basketball, which he also narrated. He was the first African American to win the award as well as the first former professional athlete to be nominated and win an Oscar in any category. As a philanthropist, Bryant founded the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation (KVBFF) and the Kobe Bryant China Fund, organizations dedicated to providing resources for educational, social, and sports programs to improve the lives of children and families in need, and encourage cultural exchanges between Chinese and U. S. middle school children. He was also an official ambassador for After-School All-Stars (ASAS), a nonprofit organization that offers after-school programs to low-income children in more than a dozen U. S. cities. With entrepreneur Jeff Stibel, Bryant co-founded Bryant Stibel, a company designed to offer businesses specializing in technology, media, and data strategies, capital, and operational support. Throughout his post-professional basketball career, Bryant claimed he’d never been beaten one-on-one. Andrew D. Bernstein’s photography has appeared in thousands of newspapers and on magazine covers worldwide. Bernstein is the long-time official photographer for the Los Angeles Lakers and the senior photographer for the NBA. He is the 2018 recipient of the Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame. He regularly appears on ESPN’s SportsCenter and other national television and radio programs.

Read an Excerpt




What I mean by that is: if I wanted to implement something new into my game, I'd see it and try incorporating it immediately. I wasn't scared of missing, looking bad, or being embarrassed. That's because I always kept the end result, the long game, in my mind. I always focused on the fact that I had to try something to get it, and once I got it, I'd have another tool in my arsenal. If the price was a lot of work and a few missed shots, I was OK with that.

As a kid, I would work tirelessly on adding elements to my game. I would see something I liked in person or on film, go practice it immediately, practice it more the next day, and then go out and use it. By the time I reached the league, I had a short learning curve. I could see something, download it, and have it down pat.

From the beginning, I wanted to be the best.

I had a constant craving, a yearning, to improve and be the best. I never needed any external forces to motivate me.

During my rookie year, at first, some scouting reports said I wasn't tough. The first time I went to the basket in games, I'd get hit and the defense would think they had me. I'd come back the very next play and pick up an offensive foul just to send them a message.

I didn't need that extra push to be great, though. From day one, I wanted to dominate. My mindset was: I'm going to figure you out. Whether it was AI, Tracy, Vince — or, if I were coming up today, LeBron, Russ, Steph — my goal was to figure you out. And to do that, to figure those puzzles out, I was willing to do way more than anyone else.

That was the fun part for me.


I started lifting weights at 17, when I got to the NBA. Nothing fancy, just basic, time-tested lifting methods that focused on strengthening one group of muscles at a time. Over the meat of my career, whether we were in season or it was summer, I would lift for 90 minutes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. When I say lift, I mean heavy, hard, can't-feel-your-arms type of lift. After that, I would go into the gym and shoot.

Over the years, my routine might have changed some but my philosophy never did. If something has worked for other greats before you, and if something is working for you, why change it up and embrace some new fad? Stick with what works, even if it's unpopular.


They were always purposeful. They were born from a mix of obsession and real-world responsibilities.

I always felt like if I started my day early, I could train more each day. 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. By starting earlier, I set myself up for an extra workout each day. Over the course of a summer, that's a lot of extra hours in the gym.

At the same time, starting early helped me balance basketball and life. When my kids woke up in the morning I was there, and they wouldn't even know I had just finished at the gym. At night, I'd be able to put them to bed, then go work out again during my own time, not theirs.

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.


From a young age — a very young age — I devoured film and watched everything I could get my hands on. It was always fun to me. Some people, after all, enjoy looking at a watch; others are happier figuring out how the watch works.

It was always fun to watch, study, and ask the most important question: Why?

The biggest element that changed over time, however, was I went from watching what was there to watching for what was missing and should have been there. I went from watching what happened to what could have and should have happened. Film study eventually became imagining alternatives, counters, options, in addition to the finite details of why some actions work and others don't work.


The only way I was able to pick up details on the court, to be aware of the minutiae on the hardwood, was by training my mind to do that off the court and focusing on every detail in my daily life. By reading, by paying attention in class and in practice, by working, I strengthened my focus. By doing all of that, I strengthened my ability to be present and not have a wandering mind.

Just as important as reading was cultivating relationships with the greats who'd come before me. As evidence of this, look at my retirement ceremony and who was there. That will tell you how I managed to get my jerseys up there. You had Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Jerry West, James Worthy. Those guys taught me the lessons that gave me an edge over my competition. That's why I think it's so important to have those mentors, those north stars, who you learn from and look up to.


It varied based on where I thought my head needed to be for that specific game. If I needed to get keyed up, for example, I listened to hard music. If I needed to soothe myself, I might play the same soundtrack I listened to on the bus in high school to put me back in that place.

It's all about putting me in the place I need to be in for that game. Some games required more intensity, so I would need to get my character and mind in an animated zone. Other games, I needed calm. In that situation, I wouldn't listen to music. Sometimes, even, I would sit in total silence.

The key, though, is being aware of how you're feeling and how you need to be feeling. It all starts with awareness.

If you really want to be great at something, you have to truly care about it. If you want to be great in a particular area, you have to obsess over it. A lot of people say they want to be great, but they're not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve greatness. They have other concerns, whether important or not, and they spread themselves out. That's totally fine. After all, greatness is not for everybody.

What I'm saying is greatness isn't easy to achieve. It requires a lot of time, a lot of sacrifices. It requires a lot of tough choices. It requires your loved ones to sacrifice, too, so you have to have an understanding circle of family and friends. People don't always understand just how much effort from how many people goes into one person chasing a dream to be great.

There's a fine balance between obsessing about your craft and being there for your family. It's akin to walking a tightrope. Your legs are shaky and you're trying to find your center. Whenever you lean too far in one direction, you correct your course and end up overleaning in the other direction. So, you correct by leaning the other way again. That's the dance.

You can't achieve greatness by walking a straight line.

Respect to those who do achieve greatness, and respect to those who are chasing that elusive feeling.


I would start off short and work on my touch. Always. Always. Always. Get my muscle memory firing. Then, I'd move back, work for a bit, move back again, and repeat the same process. After that, I'd start working on situational looks that I was going to get that night. I'd walk my body through the scouting report, and remind it of things it had done thousands and thousands of times before.

I never had a set routine, an ironclad formula that I practiced night after night. I listened to my body and let it inform my warmup, because there are always variables. If I felt the need to shoot extra jumpers, I'd shoot more. If I felt the need to meditate, I'd meditate. If I felt the need to stretch for a longer duration, I'd stretch. And if I felt the need to rest, I'd sleep. I always listened to my body. That's the best advice I can give: listen to your body, and warm up with purpose.

It's just me and the basket, the court and my imagination, dreams. There's something about being in a big arena when no one else is there. It gives me a sense of nirvana and also prepares me for the game. When I jogged out of the tunnel and the fans were screaming and it's loud, the noise didn't impact me. Mentally, I was able to remember the stillness of the earlier moment and carry that with me.


If you want to be a great basketball player, you have to be in great shape. Everyone talks about the fancy workouts and training sessions, but I also worked relentlessly to make sure that my legs and lungs were always at peak performance.

My cardio workouts centered around recovery — that is, the time it takes to recover in between sprints. The reason I placed an acute focus on that element is because basketball dictates short bursts where you run as fast as you can, then have a moment to recover, then burst again. I wanted to make sure that I would always be ready for the next burst of action.

Specifically, I did a lot of timed work on the track where I would incrementally decrease the amount of time between each set until, after a full off-season, my recovery time would be almost nil.


I was curious. I wanted to improve, learn, and fill my head with the history of the game. No matter who I was with — a coach, hall of famer, teammate — and no matter the situation — game, practice, vacation — I would fire away with question after question.

A lot of people appreciated my curiosity and passion. They appreciated that I wasn't just asking to ask, I was genuinely thirsty to hear their answers and glean new info. Some people, meanwhile, were less understanding and gracious. That was fine with me. My approach always was that I'd rather risk embarrassment now than be embarrassed later, when I've won zero titles.


I never thought about my daily preparation. It wasn't a matter of whether it was an option or not. It was, if I want to play, this is what I have to do, so I'd just show up and do it.

My routine was grueling. It involved early mornings and late nights. It involved stretching, lifting, training, hooping, recovery, and film study. It involved putting in a lot of work and hours. It's — no lie — tiring. For that reason, a lot of players pare down their lifting and training during the season. They try conserving their energy. Not me, though. I found that, yes, this work might be strenuous on the day-to-day, but it left me stronger and more prepared during the dog days of the season and the playoffs.

Sometimes, as part of that, I'd be so tired I'd need a quick nap at some point during the day. Whether before practice or a Finals game, on the bus or trainer's table, five hours before tip or 60 minutes, if I was tired I would doze off. I always found that short 15-minute catnaps gave me all the energy I'd need for peak performance.


While you're playing the game, there are no distractions. Right after the buzzer sounds, a lot of people shower and change as quickly as they can. For me, though, there was more work to be done.

Ice, the old reliable, was the status quo for me after every game, every practice. I'd always ice with two bags on the front and back of my knees and on my shoulder, and both feet in an ice bucket for 20 minutes. This would help bring down the inflammation and kick off my wind-down of this session and jumpstart my gear-up for the next.


Certain days, my whole lower body felt stiff. On those occasions, when my body was seemingly locked up from the waist down, I would use the full body tub to mimic the contrast therapy I always underwent on my ankles (see opposite). Again, it's important to listen to your body and let it dictate your daily prep. Bath time had a bonus benefit: I'd use the quiet break to catch up on reading, always studying to improve my game.


Contrast therapy has been around forever, but I was put on to it back in high school. After that, I was religious about partaking in it before every game to either help loosen up my joints, or numb certain body parts. Over time, I developed a very particular routine. I would start with four minutes of cold — I mean cold — water and switch to three minutes of hot. Then, I would go with three minutes of cold, two minutes of hot. The sequence would continue, two cold, one hot, before ending with one minute in the cold water. This was only one small part of my process to prepare for battle.


Pain in one area of your body often stems from an imbalance somewhere else. With that in mind, it's important to treat the root cause and not the effect.

I always made sure my ankles were activated and moving. If your ankles are stiff, that can create problems in the knees, hips, back, and all the way up. So, I'd spend a lot of time before games working on my ankles — the core of the problem — so that I wouldn't exacerbate the symptoms.


I would begin stretching a couple of hours before games. Then, as the game got closer and closer, I would start doing more active, more range-of-motion things to get ready. This, in particular, was a big part of getting prepared and activated during my last year. We would make sure my shoulder was sitting back correctly and it wasn't rotating forward.


As a kid, I didn't have to do all of the stretching and warming up. I would go out, get my shots up, put in work, and then I'd have some time to myself. Sometimes, I would even just chill and watch some TV. I could have gotten up, right there and then, and windmilled. As I aged, I was meticulous about listening to my body and adjusting accordingly.


My broken finger would get tight. A torn tendon in my pinky finger never recovered. Due to all that, I would try to warm my hands up and do hand-strengthening exercises. Before games I would get an oversized ball and stretch my hands around and squeeze it, just to wake up the tendons and muscles in my hand. My finger, in particular, is still inflexible to this day. But I never let these impediments stop me.


I always tried to train and prepare intelligently, but as I got older my pre- and post-game routine evolved. When you're younger, you work on explosive things and as you get older your focus shifts to preventive measures. That's all par for the course. The only aspect that can't change, though, is that obsession. You have to enter every activity, every single time, with a want and need to do it to the best of your ability.


When Shaq and I played together, generally, we'd get taped at the same time. That would give us an opportunity to joke and goof around or to talk crap. For Shaq and me, as anchors of the team, this would help get us up and ready for the game.

More than that, this would set the tone for the team. The energy of the club is all sitting right there. This was our moment to smile and laugh. As the game drew closer, we got serious. That dichotomy, that changing of airs, was important for our teammates to see and understand.


When I was a rookie, Judy Seto was a young up-and-comer. One time, after I tweaked an ankle, she was assigned to me. It immediately became apparent to me that she was as obsessive about training as I was about basketball, and we formed an immediate and unbreakable bond. Over the years, we both continued to learn and grow in our individual crafts. In doing so, we were able to push each other to be our best.

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. Literally. Whether it was a family vacation to Italy or a Nike trip to China, Judy came with me. She was that indispensable.

In my later years, her table would always be full and players would be waiting. When I came in the room, though, I'd jokingly question what they were doing there and claim my spot at her table. Sorry, guys.


First of all, Gary was an Italian craftsman with tape. He just made art out of tape jobs. You can tell when people love what they do, and he loved his craft. No matter where the tape was going — finger, ankle — he made it look beautiful. If the tape had bubbles or bumps, Gary would unwrap it and start again. Everything had to be smooth, had to be perfect. He was a master, and I gave him a lot of opportunities to practice.

He's not the only trainer who was vital to my well-being. Judy Seto (see previous page) was critical, as was my neuromuscular therapist, Barrence Baytos. I had a great team of people around me.


Excerpted from "The Mamba Mentality"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Kobe Inc..
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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