It took almost 200 pages in “Mamba Mentality,” Kobe Bryant’s 2018 book, for him to write explicitly about losing basketball games, and when he did, it was to the point.
“THE AGONY OF DEFEAT IS AS LOW AS THE JOY OF WINNING IS HIGH,” he wrote in capital letters — white text on a black page below a photo of a himself sitting dejected on the Lakers bench.
Bryant’s countenance let you know.
There might be a soft, resigned smile or a polite embrace, but in a book designed in part to crack open his basketball mind, the message was worth putting in capital letters.
“HATE LOSING AS MUCH AS YOU LOVE WINNING.”
With his death Sunday still fresh, many tributes to and commentaries about Bryant have centered on his desire to win. It was an addiction that he acknowledged never being able to satisfy.
Winning championships “is really one of the greatest joys on this planet,” Bryant wrote. “That feeling drove me to always want more. When I won one, right, I wanted two. When I won two, I wanted three.”
That’s not unique. Titles can be like tattoos — once you get one, you’re going to want a second.
But Bryant’s total disdain for losing helped make him special and push him to some of his most memorable moments.
As fans shared their favorite Bryant moments on the internet Monday morning, a clip of Bryant on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” began to circulate.
The basketball star, who was recovering from shoulder surgery, had watched a clip of Nick Young and Jordan Hill crash Jeremy Lin’s postgame interview from two days before, with Young shouting, “We back in the building.” The win that night moved the Lakers’ record to 14-41.
Right before Kimmel showed the clip, Bryant said, “It’s hard to be in that environment, literally at the bottom of the league.”
When Bryant saw the clip of his teammates clowning around, the Lakers star didn’t crack a smile. Instead, he had a stern stare and extended silence.
If you think loving to win and hating to lose are the same, you’re wrong.
In 2018, the New York Knicks’ then-coach Jeff Hornacek asked his players whether they loved to win or hated to lose. According to ESPN, here was his rationale:
“The mentality of a Kobe Bryant, a Michael Jordan, a LeBron James, I think they hate to lose more than they love to win. When you hate to lose, you’ll do anything it takes,” Hornacek said. “When you love to win and you don’t [hate to lose], it’s like, ‘OK, well maybe we’ll win the next game.’ When you hate to lose and you lose a game, it eats at you.”
And it pushes you.
Bryant did not score 81 points on Jan. 22, 2006, just because he had the hot hand. The Lakers were getting blown out by the Toronto Raptors. Until he willed them out of it.
“I feel pretty good, pretty good. It hasn’t really sunk in yet, man,” he said opening his postgame news conference. “It’s just we had four days off coming up here, and I’d been sick as a dog if we lost this game. So I just wanted to step up and inspire us to play a better game, and it turned into something pretty special.
He added, “For me, it’s about the W. That’s why I turned it on — because I felt like we were a little lethargic. I just started going full bore, and it just turned into something special. It just turned into this.”
That night, when he scored 81, the Lakers were resetting, trying to find their way in a post-Shaquille O’Neal era. For three more postseasons, the Lakers and Bryant wouldn’t get what they wanted, but he always knew he’d get there.
He said it that night he made magic by scoring 81.
“We’re going from the bottom to the top all together,” Bryant said. “It’s important for us to enjoy the journey. And that’s what we’re doing right now, we’re in a journey.”
Any journey Bryant went on as a player, losing as much as winning was the fuel.
“Yeah, basketball took me everywhere,” he wrote at the end of “Mamba Mentality.”
“Now, I’m taking the game everywhere.”
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