Skip to main content

Little Mamba: The Story Of How Kobe Bryant Became The Black Mamba

Little Mamba: The Story Of How Kobe Bryant Became The Black Mamba

What does it take to be successful? Is it hard work and dedication? How does someone become the greatest at what they love?

To answer these questions, you need to dive deeper than just an answer. You must look into your soul to discover that sometimes you must give up everything in life just to make it to the level you strive to be at.

Are you willing to give it all up, for a chance at achieving your dreams?

Do you need to have natural-born talent to get to the place you want to be in life?

Maybe. But what if you don't? You might not be the fastest, strongest, or tallest. Now what?

If you lack any life skill, then you must build that lack of skill into something meaningful.

This is accomplished through hard work and a certain mentality that's become to be known as The Mamba Mentality…

On August 23, 1978, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a boy who would become special was born.

This boy was born into the NBA family thanks to his father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant. Yes, this baby boy went by the name, Kobe Bryant.

Joe Bryant had a modest career in the NBA. He played eight seasons for three teams. The team he played for most notably and the longest was the Philadelphia 76ers.

It was during his last year with the 76ers that Joe and his wife, Pam Bryant, gave birth to her third child and first boy, Kobe Bryant.

At the age of 3, Kobe remembered watching his father play basketball on TV. He fell in love with the game at that moment. He wanted to be just like his father.

As Joe Bryant was playing on the TV, 3-year-old Kobe would play along on a small kid's basketball hoop.

When Joe's team would call a timeout, Kobe would sit down and take a drink. When the game restarted, Kobe would get back up and restart his version of the game.

Yes, Kobe Bryant was destined to be a basketball star one day. He planned to go through the schools in Philadelphia, where his family lived, and become a star once he reached high school.

Then, Joe Bryant made a decision that would somewhat alter Kobe's plans.

After Joe's only season in Houston playing for the Rockets, his eight-year NBA career appeared to be over. Joe then had to decide to retire? Or move overseas to keep his professional basketball career alive.

Kobe was six when Joe moved the Bryant family to Rieti, Italy. This move would ultimately be the start of Kobe Bryant becoming the Black Mamba.

As the only African-American child in his new Italian school, Kobe felt like an outsider. He didn't know the language, and the other boys' game of choice was football (soccer), not basketball.

Kobe received his first leather basketball when he was seven. It was his best friend, he even slept with it.

For Kobe, trying to find a game of basketball was tough. All the Italian kids would play soccer on the basketball courts.

The Italian kids would set up goals under the basketball hoops and play pick-up soccer. All Kobe wanted to do was shoot hoops, but he couldn't. Until he found his own way.

Andrea Barocci, a sports journalist from Italy, wrote a piece titled An Italian Named Kobe. Barocci wrote this about a young Kobe finding a way to play basketball:

“Aged 6, Kobe would often jump off the balcony of his parents' house, cross a busy road and run to a church playground, where he would spend hours throwing a ball in the basket. It became clear very early on that he knew he was the best.”

Kobe would eventually join the Italian kids in their soccer games, and Kobe grew quite fond of the game.

In an interview with, Kobe Bryant admitted that soccer was his favorite sport, not basketball.

“I am actually a huge fan. I grew up in Italy. From the age from six to 14, I played soccer every day. It is actually my favorite sport,” Kobe said.

When asked if he was any good at soccer, Kobe responded by saying:

“I wasn't anything spectacular. I would have moments of doing something crazy that really wasn't done on purpose. I'd pull off a nice move that was unintentional.”

Kobe went on to explain which position he played in soccer:

“I started out at goalkeeper because my arms were so long, and I didn't really have a good feel at handling the ball. As I practiced and progressed, they moved me to midfield.”

Kobe may not have believed his soccer skills were that good, but he would apply the fundamentals of soccer to his basketball game.

“Soccer is strategic. Upon receiving the ball, you already have to have a good idea of what you're reading in front of you and what the next move is,” Kobe told ESPN during a 2017 interview.

“Also the structure; they taught me at an early age how to play in triangles and how to utilize space, which wound up helping me tremendously in basketball as well. I loved the idea of how quickly the ball moves and how quickly you have to process what's moving right in front of you to make decisions,” Kobe continued to say.

Kobe fell in love with soccer while living in Italy, but his love of basketball wouldn't fade.

After Kobe played soccer with the Italian kids on the basketball court, when the kids left, Kobe would shoot basketball.

In Italy, Kobe didn't have the option to watch NBA games on TV, so, his grandfather would tape the games and send him the videos.

Kobe would watch the games over and over again. This helped his love for not the game to grow to new heights.

Kobe quickly grew fond of two NBA players, and no, one of them was not named Michael Jordan.

Kobe was first a fan of both John Battle of the Atlanta Hawks and Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers.

As a teenager, Kobe revealed his favorite player was none other than Jalen Rose.

Back when Kobe was in Italy, Magic was his number one favorite player. He had dreams of one-day wearing purple and gold and playing in the city of Los Angeles.

As a kid in Italy, those dreams may have appeared to be out of reach for Kobe. The competition level from his peers wasn't up to the level of kids his age in America.

Even the way the Italians taught the game to their kids was different from the American way.

“There were no scrimmages, ever,” Kobe told online basketball publication SLAM.

In Italy, learning the fundamentals was the way the game was taught, and it shows in today's game. The European players who come over to the league seem to play a more fundamental game than their American counterparts.

“Passing, screening, moving off the ball, shooting - all the basics,” Kobe said. “And if we did scrimmage, we'd scrimmage full-court, no dribbles allowed. So, that set the foundation for me for how I came to understand the game, and how I now teach the game.”

Kobe honed his fundamentals and he felt pretty good about himself. He knew basketball was what he was born to do. Now, he wanted to try out these new skills on players in America.

During the summer, Kobe and his family would travel back to Philadelphia. Here is where Kobe would show off his skills, in Philadelphia's Sonny Hill Future League.

Kobe was 12 the first year he played in the league, and this first summer almost made him quit basketball for good.

In an interview with The Player’s Tribune, Kobe told the story of his first year in the Sonny Hill Future League:

“Zero. That’s the number of points I scored the entire summer while playing in Philadelphia’s Sonny Hill Future League when I was 12 years old. I didn’t score. Not a free throw, not an accidental layup, not even a lucky throw-the-ball-up-oops-it-went-in basket.”

This terrible summer experience is what led to Kobe's admiration with what would be his biggest idol, Michael Jordan:

“I considered maybe just giving up basketball and just focusing on soccer. Here’s where my respect and admiration for MJ was forged. I learned that he had been cut from his high school team as a freshman; I learned he knew what it felt like to be embarrassed, to feel like a failure. But he used those emotions to fuel him, make him stronger, he didn’t quit. So, I decided to take on my challenge the same way he did. I would channel my failure as fuel to keep my competitive fire burning,” Kobe explained.

This experience was especially difficult for young Kobe because his father and his uncle John “Chubby” Cox were legends in the Sonny Hill Future League.

Kobe wouldn't quit. He'd work on his game harder than before. This is where his Mamba Mentality was subconsciously born.

Kobe would focus on one aspect of his game and work on it, nothing else until he was satisfied in that area. Then, he'd work on another area of his game.

That next summer, Kobe wasn't the best player, but he improved… by a lot. By Kobe's third summer, he was the best player at the Sonny Hill Future League.

After eight years of playing professional basketball in Italy, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant officially retired and the Bryant family moved back to America for good.

Kobe was 13 when his family moved to the Philadelphia area, and he enrolled at Bala Cynwyd Middle School to start eighth grade.

This may sound like a happy moment for Kobe, but in some ways, it wasn't. Kobe grew accustomed to living in Italy. He spoke fluent Italian, and he made a lot of friends.

Now back in the States, in Philadelphia, Kobe once again felt like an outsider.

Kobe struggled to fit in with his American counterparts. He didn't understand the English slang the other boys would say.

After school, Kobe would go home and ask his sisters what certain words meant.

Kobe didn't have many friends at first, just like in Italy. Once he stepped on the basketball court, he let his game do his talking.

The kids in Philadelphia started to respect Kobe after seeing his game. Once Kobe entered high school, he had his eyes set on becoming the best high school player in the country.

In his first year as a high schooler, Kobe not only made the varsity team, but he also became a starter.

Success wouldn't come right away for the “Lil Mamba”. Kobe's high school team went 4-20 in his first year.

Kobe and his Lower Merion team would figure it out and in Kobe's last three years in high school, his team went 77-13.

As a 13-year-old, Kobe's Mamba Mentality was in full effect. “Lil Mamba” felt disrespect by the Street and Smith basketball rankings for high school players.

Kobe was ranked the 57th best high school basketball player in the country. In Kobe's mind, this list was incorrect. So, the “Lil Mamba” created his own list… a kill list.

Kobe went down the list, from 56 to 55, all the way to the number one ranked high schooler in the country.

When Lower Merion hit the AAU travel circuit, Kobe would hunt down the players ahead of him and destroy them, successfully crossing them off his kill list.

As a junior, Kobe averaged 31.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game. Kobe was named Pennsylvania Player of the Year.

As a senior, after his team started the season 1-3, Kobe led Lower Merion to 30 straight wins.

Kobe led Lower Merion to their first PIAA state championship since 1943 in a 48-43 win against Erie Cathedral Prep.

Kobe's high school records were extremely impressive. He was named the Naismith High School Player of the Year, the Gatorade Men’s National Basketball Player of the Year, a USA Today All-USA First Team player, and a McDonald’s All-American.

To realize how great of a high school player Kobe Bryant was is to look at whom he passed as Pennsylvania's all-time high school scorer.

His 2,883 points during his high school career were enough to pass the great Wilt Chamberlain.

All these achievements were made by a kid who couldn't score one point for an entire summer when he was younger. Mamba Mentality never accepts failure.

After high school, Kobe had plenty of colleges interested in him, but he chose to jump straight to the NBA.

In the 1996 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets selected Kobe with the 13th overall pick. The Los Angeles Lakers would trade their center, Vlade Divac, for Kobe, and setting up an opening to sign center Shaquille O'Neal.

As a rookie in the NBA, Kobe wouldn't get much playing time. The problem was that the Lakers were already stacked at the guard position.

The Lakers had Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel, and Byron Scott filling up the minutes for the two guard spots.

When you factor this in, plus, then coach, Del Harris' plan to bring Kobe along slowly, you see why Kobe only played 15.5 minutes per game.

Kobe's Rookie Stats:

- 7.6 points

- 1.9 rebounds

- 1.3 assists

- 0.7 steals

- 41.7 field goal percentage

Even with Kobe not getting much playing time during the 1996-97 NBA season, when the playoffs came around, the “Lil Mamba” stood right in the spotlight.

Game 5 Of The 1997 Western Conference Semifinals

The Los Angeles Lakers trailed the Utah Jazz 3-1 in the Western Semifinals. After getting destroyed in game 4 at home, 110–95, the Lakers needed a spark.

18-year-old rookie Kobe Bryant believed he was that spark, and he wanted his team to know it.

Earlier in the season, Kobe had this to say to his coach, Del Harris:

“Coach, if you can get Shaq out of the paint and give me the ball, I’ll beat anyone in the league one-on-one.”

Del Harris wouldn't have to pull Shaquille O'Neal out with 1:46 left in the game because Shaq would foul out. This was what Kobe wanted, and the Lakers trusted their rookie.

With 11.3 seconds left, and the score tied at 89, the Lakers would inbound the ball to the “Lil Mamba”.

Kobe marched up the court with extreme confidence. With 4.2 seconds left, Kobe drove toward his defender, Jazz small forward Bryon Russell, stopped, and he took the game-winning shot.

Unfortunately, for young Kobe and the Laker faithful, Kobe airballed as time expired. The game went to overtime with no Shaq.

Now, Kobe would surely redeem himself in overtime, right? Well, the first shot in overtime would be taken by Kobe. He fired up a wide-open three, and the results would be the same as his last.

Kobe airballed his second straight shot, which put Jazz fans into a frenzy. Kobe muttered, “my bad… my bad,” to himself as he got back on defense.

Things wouldn't get any better for young Kobe. He'd gone on to airball two more shots, making it four airballs at the end of the fourth and overtime.

Many moments shaped Kobe and helped him learn what he would later dub the Mamba Mentality.

The “airball game” was probably the biggest factor in developing Kobe's killer mindset.

Kobe and his trainer realized that his conditioning wasn't there.

His legs weren't strong enough, so after the game and the Lakers were eliminated, Kobe went straight to work, developing his legs and conditioning.

By the time next season would come, Kobe would be stronger, in better NBA shape, and he'd be ready to take his game to the next level.

Which he did by becoming the youngest player in NBA history to start in an All-Star Game.

Kobe spoke about the game in Utah that truly began the legend of “The Black Mamba”:

“A lot of times as a young player, you don’t really see how something like that and a situation like that can pay off in the end. But if you use it to drive you and use it to motivate you and stand where I’m standing now, you can look back at it with fond memories.”

As everyone knows, Kobe Bryant would go on to have an incredible career from winning 5 titles with 2 finals MVPs, to a regular-season MVP, a scoring title, and an 81-point game to boot.

Kobe was fearless, and he never forgot anything. How fitting was it, after throwing up four airballs in a loss to the Utah Jazz, to come out in his last NBA game and drop 60 on the Utah Jazz.

Kobe may be gone, but his legacy lives forever. The next time you feel down about yourself or a situation, remember what Kobe said about giving up and remember anyone can adopt the Mamba Mentality:


10 Best Combo Guards In NBA History

Junior Bridgeman Business Story: From $350k To $600 Million

The All-Time 3-Point Leaders For Each NBA Franchise

From Being Drafted 3 Times To Playing The Most Games In NBA History: The Robert Parish Story

Every NBA Franchises Total MVPs Won By A Player On Their Team