The late Los Angeles Lakers legend and NBA icon Kobe Bryant is looked up to by many as a role model. Through his famous mantra, “Mamba Mentality,” Bryant epitomized the outcome of hard work and persistence. Indeed, it was only fitting because before Black Mamba became a five-time NBA champion, he was also a struggling NBA rookie.
Brimming with confidence
If you are one of the hoops fans who love to point out Bryant’s underwhelming performances in NBA debates or “Kobe haters” in simpler terms, there’s a great chance you might have watched his infamous airball party in 1997.
For context, it was a playoff game against the Jazz, and a rookie Bryant decided to take four crucial shots in the dying minutes of the close match. The teenage Kobe never even hit the rim in all of those attempts, and it gave the media something juicy to talk about, given the hype of Bryant’s potential at the time.
Veteran NBA analyst Ric Bucher, who was covering that game, sympathized with the young Bryant when he ran into him outside the locker room.
“It was something like, ‘Hey, keep your head up,’ or whatever,” Bucher said of what he told Kobe after the game via The Ringer.
If you think Bryant was dejected and acknowledged Bucher’s words of encouragement, having blown a playoff game like that, you’re totally wrong. Instead, the then-18-year-old showed “no reluctance or remorse.”
“[Kobe] He looked at me, he kind of sneered. He was like, ‘I’d take every damn one of those shots again’,” Bucher recalled. “There was no reluctance or remorse, or anything. It was like, ‘F**k that. I would take every one of those shots again.’”
Shaq called it
The Lakers were well aware of Bryant’s unbridled confidence. In fact, it’s probably one of the things they liked about him because even Shaquille O’Neal said that all Kobe ever talked about was wanting to be “great.”
Shaq had to calm Kobe down a bit at times, telling him, “you’re gonna get there.” So when the Utah game happened, Shaq just reminded him about it.
“People always go back to Utah game… he was the only guy that wanted the shot. He wanted to be great; he wanted to be in that moment… When he missed, I was the one who grabbed him and said, ‘Hey, everybody’s laughing at you now, but one day people are gonna fear you when you get the ball in the last second.’”
As it turned out, Shaq was right, and Kobe also proved him right. Three years after that terrible game, Shaq and Kobe won their first NBA championship. And the rest, as they say, is history.