I was heartbroken to hear the news of the fatal helicopter crash that caused the death of legendary Kobe Bryant, along with his daughter Gigi and seven others.
As soon as I heard the news, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it and didn’t want to. I checked to make sure it wasn’t fake. When it was confirmed, I spent the rest of the day in sort of this haze, reflecting on Kobe’s legacy and our brief time together.
Kobe inspired me for years, and I know he inspired so many other people across the world.
My heart goes out to his family and the families of those involved with the crash. There are no words to express my sadness, and I can’t imagine what those families are going through right now.
When I interviewed Kobe in 2018, I asked him what love was, and he described love as “a journey that has its ups and its downs…it’s a certain persistence to go through the good times and the bad times with someone or something that you truly love.”
Even though Kobe is no longer with us, I know that his legacy of love and greatness will continue to inspire and strengthen us for years to come.
In this episode, I wanted to revisit our previous interview together to remember his testament of greatness. Kobe was a champion, and to be a champion, you have to have the champion mentality. He also was a kind man, a caring father, and he changed the world for the better. To be great is rare enough. To be great and kind is rarer still.
Kobe is widely regarded as one of the best basketball players of all time.
He won five NBA championships with the Lakers and led the NBA in scoring during two seasons. He was an 18-time All-Star, 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, 12-time member of the All-Defensive Team. He holds the NBA record for the most seasons played with one franchise for an entire career: 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.
In addition to being a pro-athlete, Kobe was also a storyteller. In 2018, he received an Academy Award for his animated short “Dear Basketball.” He also launched a podcast called The Punies that teaches kids morals and history in a really fun way.
Kobe was known for his Mamba Mentality, but it’s his big heart that is truly admirable. He was constantly reinventing himself and continuing to pursue new dreams.
If you’ve been following Kobe for years, then you most likely know about all his amazing achievements. I want to share a story about when I first met Kobe.
I was so thrilled to come interview him – it was the biggest interview I had ever done at the time. I didn’t have too much time to prepare, but I was ready to jump on it. I wanted to get the most out of this interview because I knew that it was going to be fantastic.
We arrived at his office at around 6:30am, and I walked around with his assistant to find an ideal spot for filming. As we were walking down the dark, empty halls, I looked into this one office and see a figure in the back corner, looking up at the ceiling.
That was Kobe.
He was in the office at 6:45 A.M. He was just there. Lights off and everything. Not on his phone or computer. Just sitting.
He had been there since 5:00 am. He was preparing for our interview and the rest of his insanely busy day. His assistant told me that he was always the first one in the office and the last one out.
Now, here’s a man who has done it all. At this time he had already won an Oscar. He’s already achieved so many things. He had nothing else to prove to the world, but here he was, the first one in the office, ready to get to work.
That really impressed me.
What also impressed me was his transparency. When I asked Kobe if there were things we needed to avoid in our interview, he looked me dead in the eyes and said:
“You can ask me anything you want.”
I knew it was going to be a great interview. Kobe opened up about things he had never talked about publicly before. He was so gracious, so giving and so caring. During the interview, he never made me feel uncomfortable, nervous or intimidated. He was truly a great and kind man.
I want to share this interview with you as a testament to his life, his legacy and the love he left for all of us.
When he was about eleven, Kobe went to a very prominent summer basketball camp called the Sonny Hill League. His father and uncle played and were all time greats. It was time for Kobe to prove himself at a young age that he could also be great.
He didn’t score a point the entire summer. He was playing against other ten and eleven year olds. And never once did he get a basket.
“I was terrible! Awful! And, I mean, I had these big kneepads on because I was growing really fast, and I had socks all the way up here, and I had the pot-top face and [was] skinny and all that. And I scored not a free-throw, nothing! Not a lucky shot, not a breakaway layup, zero points.”
Zero points for eleven year old Kobe. He said he remembered going to his father, in tears and everything, and his father told him that he loved him “whether [he] scored zero points or sixity.” That gave Kobe all the confidence in the world to fail and get back on his feet, learn from his mistakes, and try again.
Kobe learned the importance of fundamentals and basics. He knew he couldn’t become the best player in a week or even a year, but he knew that if he showed up every day to practice and didn’t back down, the math would add up and he would get better and better.
At the end of his fourteenth year, Kobe became the best player in the state. It took time, it took dedication, and it took an insane amount of work. This Mamba mindset made Kobe one of the best basketball players of all time. He didn’t achieve all this by just being “naturally good.” It wasn’t given to him on a silver platter. No, he worked for it tirelessly. You can read more about it in his book “Mamba Mentality.”
“It’s a simple thing of math,” he said. Those hours in the gym add up and soon, you’ll be making quantum leaps.
A Great Player and a Great Leader
Not only was Kobe a great basketball player, but he also was a great leader.
I asked Kobe how he raised the level of his teammates, and he said the key was first understanding them. He listened to them, he understood what drove them, what motivated them, and what triggered them. He knew when to push them to do better. He said it was never “Come on, guys! We can do better!” Without direction, those words mean nothing.
A leader must give their team very tactical things to improve on. A leader needs to understand each player and how they work – what makes them tick.
Kobe said he learned this from his coach, Phil Jackson. He said Phil would read everything about each player, learn their background, watch every interview, learn what motivates them and pinpoint every insecurity. It helped him communicate with his players better, and he knew when to push their buttons if need be.
In 2003, Shaquille O’Neal was out for an injury. Phil told Kobe that he needed to push hard. Kobe ended up scoring +40 points for nine straight games. Amazing, right? Then, Shaq came back, and Phil called Kobe into the office and told him to dial it back.
“Our goal is to win this championship, and we can get through the Western Conference with you playing this way, but in the East, we can dominate them inside, with Shaq in the post. But if you continue to do this, we’ll lose Shaq. We’ll lose him.”
Phil knew that Shaq would lose his motivation if Kobe kept driving, and Kobe agreed. It’s not good to carry the team all by yourself.
Kobe said it best: “You can do some phenomenal things individually, but they’ll never reach their full potential unless you do them collectively.” His humble spirit paired with his determination for collective greatness is what made Kobe an inspiring leader.
After Kobe retired from the NBA, he started researching a money-making industry he could step into. After retiring, many athletes fall into deep depression. And it makes sense right? After accomplishing so much, how can you possibly top what you’ve already done? The fear of starting anew was intimidating for Kobe, and the most logical response was to make a lot of money fast, because doesn’t that make everything seem better?
But he stopped himself. He knew he was thinking about it the wrong way. Why did he start basketball? He started basketball because he loved it. When his Achilles tendon was injured, Kobe had time to reflect on what else he loved that he could pursue after basketball.
His passion was storytelling.
Storytelling is central to Kobe’s legacy. The man won an Oscar for his animated short film, “Dear Basketball” in 2018. He also created a wonderful podcast, “The Punies,” which teaches kids how to face their fears, be kind to one another, and to appreciate history. Ultimately, the stories that he told were not for himself. They were for other people. Stories are meant to be shared. They can inspire people, comfort people, teach people, and so much more.
Kobe said, “I think stories [are] what moves the world. Whether it’s an inspirational story, or it’s an informational one, nothing in this world moves without story. Be it from the political world, the sports world, nothing that we have moves without story. And so I think that is the root of everything.”
Kobe certainly left a story behind, a story that ended too soon, but that will be told again and again.
I asked Kobe what his greatest weakness was in his NBA career. He said that it was struggling to have compassion and empathy for the other players. Kobe’s work ethic was insane. He didn’t like to hear whining or complaining. But he said he started to understand that every player on the team had a life outside of basketball. They might have had things they were struggling with that affected their game.
Kobe was great at keeping his personal life and his professional life apart, but he began to understand how some aren’t able to. Not everyone is the same. We all have different strengths and weaknesses.
In 2009, Kobe began to realize this. He said, “I started really making a conscious effort to better understand. And that doesn’t mean you have compassion and empathy so you go soft on them. It’s more like you put yourself to the side, and you put yourself in their shoes and understand what they’re feeling.”
This compassion and empathy is part of what made Kobe an amazing father. When I asked Kobe what his greatest joy was, he said it was being with his family. After retiring, he had the time to be present with his other team, his wife and four daughters.
At 4:00am everyday, Kobe would get up with his oldest daughter, Gianna. They would run and workout together before she had to go to school. He said it was a daddy-daughter thing that brought him a lot of joy. Gianna died in the helicopter crash with Kobe. She was following in his footsteps, becoming a basketball legend herself, probably headed towards the NWBA. It breaks my heart.
Nearing the end of our interview, I asked Kobe what he thought love was. He said, “ I think I would describe it as a beautiful journey. It has its ups and downs, whether it’s in marriage, whether it’s in a career, things are never perfect. But, through love, you continue to persevere, and you move through. You move through. And then through that storm, a beautiful sun emerges.”
Kobe wasn’t perfect. No one is. But I think he understood what love was, and he certainly showed that love to the world.
If you don’t know who Kobe was or you’ve been following him for years, I would encourage you to give this episode a listen. After hearing the news about his death, I listened to it again, and I was so moved by the man he was and the legacy he left behind. It was an interview I will never forget.
My heart goes out to the families of those involved in the crash:
Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. Alyssa Altobelli and her mother and father, Keri and John. Payton Chester and her mother Sarah. Assistant basketball coach Christine Mauser. And Pilot Ara Zobayan.
You all will be dearly missed.
Kobe’s definition of greatness was “to inspire the people next to you.” When you inspire someone, they’ll inspire someone else, and the cycle of greatness continues indefinitely. Kobe certainly inspired me, and he probably inspired you too. Don’t let that become stale. Pass it on.
One last quote I want to leave with you – I asked Kobe if there was a certain story that defined his life. He said he had an English professor when he was in highschool, Mr. Fisk, who told him, “Rest at the end. Not at the middle.” That was something he lived by.
Rest in peace, Kobe Bryant. You will be missed. Thank you for the game, for the stories, and for all the love.