200129 Kobe
Kobe Bryant never let success get in the way of seeking perfection. That's a life lesson for business leaders anywhere. File picture shows a moment of tribute before an NBA basketball game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the New Orleans Pelicans on January 28 in Cleveland. Image Credit: AP

On January 26, a helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California, killing all onboard. There were nine people on the flight that day, among them, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Kobe Bryant, and his 13-year old daughter, Gianna.

As the news broke, tributes to the “Black Mamba” and his Gigi began flooding in. Today, the grief is still fresh, but shining through the sadness is a true sense of what it means to be a legend - in life and beyond.

In his 41 years on Earth, Kobe was determination and ambition personified. As one of the first youngsters to step out of high school and straight into the National Basketball Association (NBA), the LA Lakers star showed the world what the pursuit of greatness looked like, winning five NBA championships, two Olympic golds, and ranking fourth on the all-time scoring lists.

Like so many others, I was greatly saddened by Kobe’s untimely death, though what I choose to focus on is not the loss, but the valuable lessons we can gain from his life.

No stopping at being the best

Being the best brings out the best. Kobe Bryant demanded the best, be it from himself or those he played with. But more than that, by reaching the top of his game, he inspired countless strangers to believe in themselves.

As NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, put it, “For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning. But he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability.”

Success is no popularity contest: Kobe was a notoriously difficult teammate and adversary, whom former coach Phil Jackson once called “un-coachable”. It was a label the player didn’t refute; his persona was part of a carefully crafted strategy.

As journalist, Hunter Felt, pointed out in a recent article in "The Guardian", “When you’ve named yourself after a poisonous snake, you’ve decided that you’re not going to be the smiling protagonist of a Warner Bros cartoon.” It couldn’t be truer, Kobe was competitive, driven, and aggressive – and it worked.

Mamba traits

It’s all or nothing: Black Mamba was more than a nickname; it was a way of life that Kobe dubbed the Mamba Mentality - a single-minded passion and all-consuming devotion to a cause. As he wrote in his book, “I always aimed to kill the opposition.”

Kobe also admitted that he liked challenging people and making them uncomfortable – daring them to be their best. That, he wrote, is what “leads to introspection and that’s what leads to improvement.”

For Hunter Felt, one of the best Mamba Mentality examples is a two-year-old photo of Kobe standing next to his Mamba Sports Academy youth team. In the picture, which Kobe posted himself, coach and players appear utterly miserable, fourth-place trophies in hand.

Below reads the caption: “The 7th player (not in pic) missed this game for a dance recital so that should tell you where her focus was at this time.” Later came a follow up “Now? She eats, sleeps and breathes the game.”

Dedication Counts. These days, a job for life is a thing of the past, but The LA Lakers were Kobe’s employer for the entirety of his playing career. Such commitment is rare in any profession, but in the world of sport, it’s almost unheard of, anymore.

For some, it might signal a lack of ambition, but anyone levelling that accusation at the Lakers’ highest ever scorer would be laughed out of any room. Rather, Kobe’s dedication shows that with the right motivating factors, you can grow with, not out of, your place of work.

The last lesson strikes a somber tone, but it’s the most important of all: whoever you are and whatever you do, live each day as if it’s your last. We can’t all become legends, but by making the pursuit of greatness a daily goal, we can at least be the very best versions of ourselves, then better.

- Tommy Weir is CEO of enaible: AI-powered leadership and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at tsw@tommyweir.com.