The eloquent Kobe Bryant left his fans with many life lessons in his short life. Photograph from REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini/File Photo
Culture Spotlight

Kobe Bryant in his own words: Life lessons from an eloquent sports superstar

From dealing with pain to leaving a legacy, here are some of the wisest words from one of basketball’s greatest.
Jacs T. Sampayan | Jan 27 2020

Today, the world woke up to news of a sports icon’s tragic passing.

A Sikorsky S-76 helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven other people crashed in Calabasas, California, killing everyone on board. Many personalities from the world of basketball, from Bryant’s high school coach to National Basketball Association (NBA) commissioner Adam Silver to even Michael Jordan expressed their shock and disbelief in losing the man his fans called The Black Mamba with such reverent affection. “He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force,” says Jordan.

Bryant retired from the NBA in 2016, leaving behind one of the best records in recent memory. 

Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant goes up for a dunk against the New York Knicks during their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, December 16, 2008. Photograph by REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

After a prolific high school basketball career, he went straight for the globally-recognized league in 1996. In the player draft, he got traded to the LA Lakers and never left, picking up five championships, two finals MVPs, and one season MVP among many other league accolades in his two-decade tenure there. These, along with two gold medals for Team USA’s dominating campaigns in two separate Olympics.

Outside of the court, his life was both chaotic and colorful. There was his publicly-known strained relationship with his parents as well as a sexual assault allegation in 2008. The 41-year-old was an active philanthropist, lending his name to after-school programs and investing in educational, health, and veterans programs over the years. Apart from his extensive endorsements, the practicing Catholic was also a rapper, an author, and sports venture capitalist.

In his short life, he presented himself as an astute and eloquent man who, yes, has been through a lot and has made mistakes, but has certainly learned from them. “Everything I saw, heard, read, or felt was viewed through the lens of growing as a basketball player,” he once wrote in The Players Tribune. “This perspective makes me curious about everything, makes everything interesting, and means that life is a living library where all I need to do is pay attention.”

Here are some choice observations from his library of life:

On being an inspiration 

“Use your success, wealth and influence to put them in the best position to realize their own dreams and find their true purpose.”

“If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will do it for you.”

 

On one’s personal threshold 

“Pain doesn’t tell you when you ought to stop. Pain is the little voice in your head that tries to hold you back because it knows if you continue you will change.”

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) waves to the crowd as he walks on the court before a game against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center, Los Angeles, California U.S., April 13, 2016. Photograph by Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

On sacrifice

“If you want to be great at something, there’s a choice you have to make. What I mean by that is, there are inherent sacrifices that come along with that. Family time, hanging out with friends, being a great friend, being a great son, nephew, whatever the case may be.”

“Be willing to sacrifice anything, but compromise nothing in your quest to be your best.”

 

On his relationship with failure 

“My brain . . . it cannot process failure. It will not process failure. Because if I sit there and have to face myself and tell myself, ‘You’re a failure’ . . . I think that’s almost worse than death.”

“The moment you give up, is the moment you let someone else win.”

“To be an event, every single night. Something witnessed. Not just watched. I had a different drive. The kind that made people uneasy. Some people wanted me to come back down to earth. To come down to their level. To relax. But I couldn’t. It wasn’t in my DNA. Because to go where others have never gone, you have to do what others have never done.”

“We don’t quit, we don’t cower, we don’t run. We endure and conquer.”

 

On the joy of fatherhood

“Being a father is the thing I am most proud of in this world; it’s my greatest accomplishment. I’ve learned so much, but perhaps the most profound thing has been the fierce, unconditional love you have for your children when you become a parent. I’m blessed to have had that experience four times now and there’s nothing more powerful in this world.”

Kobe Bryant is pictured with his daughter Gianna at the WNBA All Star Game at Mandalay Bay Events Center. Photograph by Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

On seeing the other side

“Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.”

 

On changing people’s impressions 

“The beauty in being blessed with talent is rising above doubters to create a beautiful moment.”

 

On haters 

“Learn to love the hate. Embrace it. Enjoy it. You earned it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and everyone should have one about you. Haters are a good problem to have. Nobody hates the good ones. They hate the great ones.”

 

On leadership 

“If you are going to be a leader, you’re not going to please everybody. You got to hold people accountable, even if you have that moment of being uncomfortable.”

Photograph by Chris Clemente

On going the extra mile

“I'll do whatever it takes to win games, whether it's sitting on a bench waving a towel, handing a cup of water to a teammate, or hitting the game-winning shot.”

 

On conquering your fear

“The last time I was intimidated was when I was 6 years old in karate class. I was an orange belt and the instructor ordered me to fight a black belt who was a couple years older and a lot bigger. I was scared s—less. I mean, I was terrified and he kicked my ass. But then I realized he didn’t kick my ass as bad as I thought he was going to and that there was nothing really to be afraid of. That was around the time I realized that intimidation didn’t really exist if you’re in the right frame of mind.”

 

On legacy 

“It’s the one thing you can control. You are responsible for how people remember you—or don’t. So don’t take it lightly.”