Before NBA legend Kobe Bryant solidified himself as one of the greatest basketball players ever, he was an underdog. After all, the Black Mamba stepped into the league with no college basketball experience.
But even during his high school years, many scouts believed that Bryant still didn't have the most polished basketball skills to be considered one of the best prospects. So he did what he was best known for — use people's doubts about him as motivation to work on his craft and spend countless hours in the gym.
A motivation tactic
During his time in Lower Merion High School, Bryant was ranked 57th amongst the best high school ballers according to Street and Smith's ranking. Bryant didn't take this list kindly, and so he made what he called a "kill list" where he listed down the players ranked above him. Kobe used the list as a reminder and motivation tactic when he played against these players in his AUU tournaments.
"So at 13 years old, I had a kill-list. So you know, they used to these rankings, it was Street and Smith's basketball rankings. And I was nowhere to be found because I was like 6'4", scrawny, like 160 pounds soaking wet. So I was like 57 on the list. So I would look at 56, 55, all the way up to No. 1, who these players are, what club teams they play for," Bryant said in an interview published by Valuetainment.
"So when we go on the AAU travel circuit, I gotta hunt them down, right? And so that became my mission in high school, is to check off every person, all those 56 other names, and hunt them down. Knock them down. That was it," Bryant added.
A reminder not to put too much stock on rankings
Despite being ranked 57th in the Street and Smith's basketball rankings, Bryant then responded by averaging 31.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game during his junior year, and he also nabbed the Pennsylvania Player of the Year award. To make those rankings look even more foolish, baby Mamba got better in his senior year when he ranked up 30.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4 steals, and 3.8 blocks per game as he led his high school to a 31-3 final record.
Thanks to the Street and Smith's basketball rankings, Bryant was so motivated that his high school career trajectory accelerated at such a pace to make him ready to go to the NBA at the age of 17.
This is also another reminder that no rankings list — even if it's produced by the brightest brains in basketball — is accurate enough to determine how much potential a high schooler has.