Since Kobe Bryant’s tragic death on January 26, 2020, his legacy has weighed heavily in the minds of basketball fans. Bryant, also known as the Black Mamba, was the epitome of relentlessness and perseverance during his playing days. People would often implore the “Mamba Mentality” when facing any type of difficulty. To honor the great Kobe Bryant, what does Mamba mean in basketball?
What is Mamba in Basketball?
Mamba, short for the Kobe Bryant nickname Black Mamba, epitomizes the ferociousness of an African snake of the same name. The Black Mamba is a highly dangerous snake blamed for numerous human deaths in the African bush. While it is highly venomous, its aggressiveness and relentlessness in pursuing intruders fit myths and horror stories.
Did that sound oddly familiar? Yes, that’s precisely Kobe Bryant is on a basketball court! Few can match Bryant’s fire and intensity in the game. Kobe is willing to do anything to win, even if that means enduring broken fingers and sprained ankles.
How far is Kobe willing to go for the name of success? Well, like his clutch shots and performances through the years, Bryant is likewise known for playing through an assortment of injuries. He is, in fact, as injury-prone as any player, but fans won’t even know it!
Check out Mamba’s resume while playing injured at the highest basketball stage:
- In the 2000 NBA Finals, Bryant sprained his ankle in Game 2 and missed the third game, one that his team lost. Kobe taped his ankle up in Game 4 and gave it a go. He ended up leading the Lakers’ 120-118 OT victory after Shaquille O’Neal fouled out. Bryant supposedly calmed O’Neal down, saying, “I got this.” And yes, he did.
- In the 2008 Finals run, Kobe was diagnosed with a torn ligament in his shooting hand. Doctors say he was supposed to miss six weeks. Kobe was having none of it. In the playoffs, he injured his back in the Utah series. Again, he played through it, gentleman-swept the Spurs, although going on to lose to the Celtics in six games.
- We last saw Kobe in the Finals in 2010, and as you guessed, he was playing with an injury all along. He broke the index finger in his shooting hand and refused to miss games going forward. The joint of that index finger was plagued by arthritis and did not ever heal. But knowing Kobe, winning the championship was all the medicine he needed.
Why is Kobe Bryant Called Black Mamba?
Kobe actually gave himself the Black Mamba nickname. For some, it takes away the “cool” factor of having nicknames, but the story behind it is classic Kobe Bryant.
After his sexual assault case in Colorado in 2003, it spawned the creation of the Black Mamba. The charges were later dropped, but along with it came Bryant’s reputation and probably dozens of millions of dollars in endorsement money.
Needless to say, Bryant endured it all, not without any help. In an interview back in 2014, Kobe revealed he created the alter ego based on a Kill Bill character to separate his life on and off the court. Because Kobe Bryant the person was put in such bad publicity, he thought creating the Black Mamba alter ego would help people focus on what he does on the basketball court.
Here is an interesting take on the Black Mamba nickname taken from Clayton Geoffrey’s book Kobe Bryant: The Inspiring Story of One of Basketball’s Greatest Shooting Guards: “It turns out that Bryant did in fact watch Kill Bill and was so intrigued by the codename Black Mamba that he said he checked out the snake. Upon reading up on the mamba, Bryant decided that it was the perfect description of how he wanted his game to be.
“The Black Mamba is said to have a 99% striking accuracy at maximum speed and in rapid succession. Bryant said it’s the kind of surgical precision that he wants in his game. Kobe Bryant has always been known as a perfectionist and a player who despite being great, strives to be the greatest.”
Bryant also talks about the Black Mamba mentality in which he says one has to “figure it out no matter what comes, whether its hell or high water.” This resilient attitude has been at the core of Bryant’s game, and it’s what has made him bounce back from the many obstacles he has faced on and off the court.”
What is Mamba Mentality According to Kobe?
To Kobe Bryant, the meaning of Mamba Mentality extends beyond basketball. It’s also not about beating opponents but fighting the battle within oneself. As he explained in his documentary Muse, when fighting against yourself, the opponents simply get demolished in the process.
Not surprisingly, Bryant defines Mamba Mentality as working hard and trusting the process. In short, it is the competitive spirit’s ultimate mantra.
“Hard work outweighs talent — every time,” Bryant said in an interview with Amazon Book Review. “Mamba mentality is about 4 a.m. workouts, doing more than the next guy and then trusting in the work you’ve put in when it’s time to perform. Without studying, preparation and practice, you’re leaving the outcome to fate. I don’t do fate.”
Bryant also mentioned how he passed it on to others, even to fellow great Lebron James. In his book The Mamba Mentality: How I Play, Kobe mentioned about one half when he and James were playing on team USA. The team was messing around in the first half. At halftime, Bryant said something about “killing the opposition” and LeBron responded big-time in the second half. “I’ve seen him lead that way ever since,” Bryant said of James.
It was not only LeBron that benefitted from watching Kobe embody the Mamba Mentality. Kevin Durant also credits Kobe Bryant in how he approaches his endeavors.
Durant said: “It was just like, whatever I want to do, I’ma put my mind to it and do it. We all — no matter if you played basketball or not, if you watched and knew who Kobe Bryant was, you took that from him. His mindset, just everything about him, just touched so many people around the world.”
How to Apply Kobe’s Mamba Mentality
Obviously, the chances of someone following the exact footsteps of Kobe are slim to none. There may never be another player quite like Kobe in this generation or the next. In the other areas of life, though, that’s a different story.
In the Mamba Mentality book, Bryant reiterated that it is all about ‘studying, preparing, and practicing.’ Doing so left nothing to fate. Whatever you are doing right now– a student, a mother, an entrepreneur– applying the Mamba Mentality is about leaving nothing to chance.
How do you do that? It’s by giving everything you have, committing everything to hard work and excellence. The Mamba Mentality is about not being complacent and a laser-like focus on being the best that you can possibly be.
However, like Kobe, you must also learn from the best. Therefore, never be afraid to reach someone you respect and ask questions. Pick their brains about how they solve problems and issues. Be observant and listen attentively. Of course, you should not just copy other people’s ways. Instead, you can gather the bits and pieces and make them your own. That way, you can still be true to yourself without falling into the trap of pride and stubbornness.
Wrapping Things Up: What Does Mamba Mean in Basketball?
Kobe Bryant is one of the most polarizing figures in basketball. Some view him as an arrogant chucker who should learn how to play team ball; on the other hand, some see him as a clutch performer that wills his teams to victories. No matter how you perceive Bryant, everybody appreciates and respects his drive and relentlessness.
You see, it’s this mentality that Bryant needed at the lowest point of his life. He was accused of sexual assault in 2003. Even though the charges were dropped, Bryant’s reputation was in shambles. He thought about creating an alter ego based on the movie Kill Bill to separate his personal life and basketball career. Thus, the Kobe Bryant nickname Black Mamba and the Mamba Mentality were born.
The Mamba Mentality principles were simple– prepare, practice, and study so that nothing is left to chance. It’s about doing anything to succeed and refusing any other outcome but success. It’s about fighting yourself and demolishing the opponents in the process. That’s the very meaning of Mamba Mentality.
With that being said, the answer to the question, “What does Mamba mean in basketball?” goes far beyond words. It should be emblazoned in everything you do, whether on a basketball court or outside of it. Thanks to Kobe Bryant, the competitive spirit took on a human form and managed to infiltrate anyone who wanted to embody that spirit. More than his whole body of work, the Mamba Mentality is Kobe’s legacy to the world.
If you’re interested in learning Kobe Bryant’s story, check out this basketball biography book.
Cover photo by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / modified from original