What Kobe Bryant Knew About Winning, in Basketball and Life

Lessons from the Lakers legend

Michelle Woo
Forge
Published in
5 min readJan 27, 2020

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Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

“There’s nothing really special about Kobe,” longtime Lakers head trainer Gary Vitti once said on the Legends of Sports podcast.

He was talking about the fact that Kobe Bryant was big, but not that big. He was quick, but not that quick. And he was powerful, but not the most powerful player that coaches had ever seen.

“I mean, there were other players that had more talent than he did, so what was there about him that more talented players had zero rings and he ended up with five?” Vitti asked.

That answer becomes clear in the flood of stories now being shared about the NBA legend, an 18-time NBA All-Star with five NBA championships and two Olympic gold medals. Strategically and often obsessively, Bryant figured out how to win. Here are five lessons we can learn from how he approached the game.

Success is a long game

Growing up in Italy, Bryant spent a lot of time alone, and when he moved back to the U.S., he wasn’t the most athletic kid. “I was really scrawny and had major knee issues because I was growing,” he said last year on the podcast On Purpose with Jay Shetty. Because he couldn’t compete with the bigger kids — some of whom were, as he described, “like 12-year-olds with beards” — he needed to take the long view. “I had to say, okay, this year, I’m gonna get better at that. Next year, this. And so forth and so on. And patiently, I was able to catch ’em.”

To improve, you must review your performance obsessively

At games, Bryant was known to retreat into the training room during halftime to watch the first half on a laptop. He knew that in order to make better choices going forward, he needed to see exactly how things had played out before.

He learned the importance of obsessively reviewing his performance from the Lakers’ late assistant coach Tex Winter, who would have Bryant watch VHS tapes of his games from start to finish, rewinding, stopping, and replaying different moments again and again. “It taught me to look at detail,” Bryant recalled in 2018 on The School of Greatness podcast. “Look at things at their…

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Michelle Woo
Forge
Writer for

Author of Horizontal Parenting: How to Entertain Your Kid While Lying Down (Chronicle Books)