In today’s news cycle, it’s rare for a story to dominate the entire landscape and capture the focus of many people at once. But when Kobe Bryant was one of nine people to tragically pass away in a helicopter accident Sunday, the news cycle seemed to slow down, and social media became a forum for outpourings of grief and reflection. This was partly due to the suddenness of Bryant’s death–he was just 41, with a full life ahead of him–but also a result of the Bryant’s towering stature in the sports world, and beyond it.
Bryant made his name as basketball player but quickly transcended that role. He became a symbol of Hollywood stardom, a guru on leadership and personal development, an Academy Award winning filmmaker and a mythical figure on the court and off it. It’s difficult to sum up such a legacy, but three things about Bryant truly set him apart his other world-class peers–and demonstrate how to lead a life that can become a legacy.
Know what you want.
One of Bryant’s definitive attributes was his singular obsession with basketball. In his retirement-announcing essay, “Dear Basketball,” Bryant wrote about falling in love with the sport at the age of six and dedicating his entire young life to reaching the National Basketball Association.
Bryant’s passion for basketball created a unique connection to NBA fans, even those who didn’t root for the Los Angeles Lakers. For many fans, Bryant’s life-long pursuit of basketball greatness and his dedication to conquering the game was a form of validation. Fans who loved the NBA saw Bryant share their passion and devotion to the game, and they loved him even more for it.
It’s rare for people to understand what they want most and to unapologetically pursue it, regardless of the many sacrifices along the way. Not only does finding that clarity of vision and purpose help us grow as people, but it also allows us to inspire others to share in our passion and make it their own.
Always work harder.
Bryant was famous for his work-ethic, including fighting through grueling game-day workouts, seeking out the best possible trainers and coaches and studying film of his own games to ensure he wasn’t developing any bad habits. His commitment was perhaps best summarized by former player and ESPN analyst Jay Williams. In 2017, Williams recalled arriving at the arena for game against Bryant’s Lakers four hours early to prepare,
only to discover Bryant was already there practicing as well at a high intensity. After the game, when he asked Bryant why he arrived so early, Williams recalls Bryant saying, “I saw you come in and I wanted you to know that it doesn’t matter how hard you work, that I’m willing to work harder than you.” That lesson stayed with Williams for life.
Bryant wasn’t just more talented than many of his opponents, he also outworked them. And while it can be easy to blow off preparing for a presentation or neglect to get up an hour earlier to get some morning exercise, it’s crucial to remember that hard work is often what sets great performers apart from good ones. Ask yourself, are you willing to work harder than the competition?
Constantly reinvent yourself.
As one of the first great sports icons of the digital age, Bryant had a unique sense of his public persona and his place in the world beyond basketball. When Bryant realized his career was coming to an end, he took his obsession with excellence in basketball and transferred it to his other passions in life.
Perhaps the best example of this was when Bryant turned his “Dear Basketball” essay into an Academy Award winning short film. Bryant poured his signature dedication into crafting a poignant artifact of his career, seeking out Disney animator Glen Keane to help bring the film to life and even enlisting legendary composer John Williams to create the music for the film.
One of many tragic facets of Bryant’s untimely death is that he had so much left to give to the world. His ability to reinvent himself beyond basketball into a filmmaker, investor, keynote speaker and mentor to young athletes was a rare quality, and he could’ve shared his gifts beyond basketball for decades. We must always be ready to reinvent ourselves in life, ideally before we are forced to do so.
Bryant realized his basketball career was finite and found other ways to apply his talent and enrich people’s lives. Bryant’s passing serves as a reminder that we can always work harder and use our passions to inspire others. How we impact others may be our most important legacy.