USA Basketball Book Club: The Mamba Mentality
The purpose of the USA Basketball Book Club is to share stories from and about members of the USA Basketball family. USA Basketball does not endorse the sale or purchase of these books nor the opinions expressed in them.
“The Mamba Mentality: How I Play” is a collection of stories by Kobe Bryant accompanied by full-page photographs by renowned NBA photographer and Naismith Hall of Famer Andrew D. Bernstein, and the result is a book that makes it just as easy to enjoy one story as it is 15 or 30 stories. The presentation is friendly for younger readers, because there aren’t any chapters at all.
After a forward by NBA All-Star and Olympian Pau Gasol and an introduction from Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson, Bryant mixes stories that feature technical aspects of basketball, the demands of a professional sports career, including injury, and his personal friendships.
Published in 2018, the book is a connection to a legendary basketball player and basketball mind who died in January 2020.
Owning a 36-0 career record with USA Basketball, Bryant won gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. In 2008, he was a superstar on a USA team that was looking to redeem its country’s reputation after a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics and 2006 FIBA World Cup. Bryant helped the USA qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games the summer prior at the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship, and he started in all 10 games in 2007 and eight games in 2008 and 2012. While he scored 25 points in the quarterfinals, 20 points in the gold medal win over Spain and averaged 15.0 points and 2.1 assists per game in 2008, Bryant was the USA’s defensive specialist. In 2012, he averaged 12.1 points per game on a team that was an offensive giant and averaged 115.5 points per game (second only to the 1992 Dream Team in U.S. men’s Olympic history).
“When I was on the national team, I could focus on what I wanted to. With the talent we had, I knew I didn’t have to worry about offense. I knew I didn’t have to stress over scoring. I was able to single-mindedly focus, like I’d always yearned to, on playing defense. It let me focus on putting opponents in straightjackets and erasing them from the game.”
Bryant is rightly remembered as one of the fiercest competitors in basketball history, and perhaps his “Mamba Mentality” is one of the most iconic things we remember about Bryant. That commitment to being the best and drive to accomplish his goals permeates the book, and the different examples Bryant shares may be compelling to basketball athletes and coaches, as well as anyone looking to improve an aspect of their life.
“For some people, I guess, it might be hard to stay sharp once you’ve reached the pinnacle. Not for me, though. It was never enough. I always wanted to be better, wanted more. I can’t really explain it, other than that I loved the game but had a very short memory. That fueled me until the day I hung up my sneakers.”
The flipside to Bryant’s confidence, or perhaps one of the sources of it, seemed to be his respect for the skills and success of others. Bryant was a student of the game and knew not only how players ahead of him had advanced their skills and possibilities on the basketball court, but he also studied his opponents and teammates and knew their strengths and weaknesses.
“I revere the players who made the game what it is, and cherish the chances I had to pick their brains. Anything that I was seeing or going to see, any type of defense or offense or player or team – they had already encountered years before. I talked with them to learn how to deal with those challenges. After all, why reinvent the wheel when you can just talk to the wheels that were created before?”
He took his knowledge of the game’s great players, past and current, and used it to his advantage, perfecting and evolving his game and adjusting his tactics based on those around him on the basketball court.
“What separates great players from all-time great players is their ability to self-assess, diagnose weaknesses, and turn those flaws into strengths.”
Among the many famous people Bryant talks about are Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Lakers greats Jerry West, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and opponents such as Ray Allen, Vince Carter, Clyde Drexler, Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade and many more.
“I always admired Clyde. I always looked at how he defended. He understood how to use his hands and block the vision of the player with one hand while using the other as a threat to steal the ball, or shield it. He also had great balance and used that to his advantage. The way I defend, in fact, can be attributed to Clyde. (And MJ, of course.)”
For the Coaches & Athletes
Bryant wanted coaches to meet his questions with answers, so that he could execute the objectives, and to build the game from the fundamentals.
“Coaches are teachers. Some coaches – lesser coaches – try telling you things. Good coaches, however, teach you how to think and arm you with the fundamental tools necessary to execute properly. Simply put, good coaches make sure you know how to use both hands, how to make proper reads, how to understand the game.”
Bryant drops basketball knowledge throughout the book, and it often is accompanied by a picture demonstrating his point. Defending Michael Jordan, Bryant points out how his balance is off in the adjacent photo. Talking about his footwork, he has actually drawn on a photo to illustrate his point about his position.
Catch up on previous USA Basketball Book Club reads: The Spencer Haywood Rule