What Kobe Bryant taught me as an investor: The Work

On January 26, 2019, Sunday afternoon, I had a luncheon with a prospective client. My phone was in my jacket, but I could hear it vibrating throughout the meeting. I was wondering, what was the urgency of all these messages all about? I checked my messages an hour later and I found out the missed messages were about Kobe Bryant’s death.

One of my friends sent me a breaking news article snapshot, and I supposed it was fake. I thought social media was jumping to conclusions. I checked various social media websites and popular news outlets, but I came across the same inevitable truth. I wanted to feel like Kobe was still present, so I kept watching replays, replays, and more replays of Kobe.

I was in disbelief the entire day and wished that some other news would report that it was merely a minor accident. It was heartbreaking to learn that his daughter died in the helicopter crash with him. I could not imagine what it would feel like to live through a devastating helicopter accident like Kobe’s family did. Kobe inspired me so much, and I will miss him dearly. Everyone can relate to Kobe because he was authentic. There was no denying Kobe’s passion, and the way he lived his life was inspirational.

Who Was Kobe Bryant?

Kobe Bryant was the youngest 17-year-old out of high school entering professional NBA basketball. Early in his career, Bryant was not given many chances to play even though he was a better player than most of his teammates. When he had a chance to play consistently, the NBA fans saw flashes of his swag and talent. As Kobe Bryant’s career progressed, it was undeniable that he was destined for greatness. 

18 years ago, in 2002, I was fortunate enough to witnessed an NBA match between Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. It was my first time going to an NBA game. It was a home game in Washington, DC; the Wizards led by Michael Jordan vs the Lakers led by Kobe Bryant.

The game was very close, but the Wizards edged the win over the Lakers in the final few seconds. In this game, MJ told Kobe he could ‘wear those shoes, but never fulfill them.’ Michael Jordan’s critique irritated Kobe so much that he stopped communicating with his team for two weeks. In the next game against the Wizards, the Lakers won with Kobe’s vengeance of 55 points.

Michael Jordan VS Kobe Bryant – 2002.11.08

There were many similar stories about Kobe’s vengeance game, where he always found ways to pull ahead and improve his skills. Kobe’s work ethic and pursuit of wisdom and knowledge resulted in 5 NBA championships and a long list of legendary achievements. 

Discipline & Work ethics 
Kobe Bryant’s work ethics are legendary. The best highlights of his career were not on ESPN; it was on early mornings and dark nights when Kobe would practice more than anyone else. Kobe was always the first and last player in and out of the gym. Kobe strictly follows an exercise regime. When he was injured, he found ways to practice, like working on his weakness or using his other uninjured hand. There were no off seasons for Bryant; his summer workouts have traditionally been exactly as intense as the regular seasons. Working hard, both on-the-court and off-the-court, was a consistent effort. Kobe Bryant lived and showed what perseverance and hard work means.

Talent can only take one’s profession so far in their career. For instance, most starting players in the NBA have the potential to score 20 points per game and some have scored a 20-point game, but most players cannot consistently perform at that high of a level every night. Just as most investors will have some years of beating the marketplace in their lifetime, but most investors cannot consistently beat the market average over a lifetime. The few that can consistently perform at a high level have shared one trait: hard work.

Bryant believes he should work hard as if he never possessed any talent. Why does Kobe Bryant work so hard? “To think of me as a person that’s overachieved, that would mean a lot to me. That means I put a lot of work in and squeezed every ounce of juice out of this orange that I could.”

Hard work is about commitment and there are no substitutes for hard work.

Blackberry (BB) had all the resources to compete against Apple (AAPL), but it has been truncated by a lack of innovation and it is no longer relevant in the phone industry. Blackberry attempted to recapture its market share with a rushed, unfinished smartphone… Blackberry simply did not put in enough R&D nor provided the engineering team enough time to deliver the promised features. Apple won already; Blackberry could never rival the same hours of commitment.

Actively Seeking Wisdom and Knowledge

Kobe was resourceful to leverage every tool to make him a better basketball player. Kobe watched soccer and realized soccer players had a unique freedom of movement. He noticed that soccer players used more ankle torque than basketball players, but they suffered less or the same probability of ankle injuries. Kobe started researching information to improve his signature shoe. He requested Nike to remove a few millimeters off the shoe’s sole to deliver better traction and incorporate the soccer shoe’s advantages. The new signature shoes resulted in a low top that features structural ankle support, improved traction, and response time.

Bryant would cold call basketball players and business leaders to learn about their success. He studied how animal predators would attack a pray to incorporate movements into his jump shots and studied psychology to mentally mess with his opponents. Kobe would study players’ weaknesses and studied the referee’s foul calls. Some would describe Kobe’s behavior as erratic, but champions in the same pedigree would view this obsession as very normal and even useful. 

Many successful people have an obsession about their work, it’s a very common trait that is found in leaders, business professionals, and investors. The Walmart business model is built on low prices and efficiency. Sam Walton soaked up wisdom from everybody he could — from competitors to Walmart’s entry-level associates. Walton leveraged every opportunity to make the stores and products more cost-effective. Elon Musk was months away from bankruptcy and he spent months sleeping in the Tesla factory to turn around the company. Warren Buffett went through 10,000 pages of Moody’s manual to acquaint himself with every single public company. Once he found a few suitable investments, he would study everything he possibly could about these companies and invest accordingly.

Champions are constantly improving and getting better skills. In a world of sports, championships are determined by a fraction of a second, one snap, one turnover, or other marginal variables.

In the world of investment, marginal variables are going to determine million dollars of earnings or a path towards bankruptcy.

Kobe Bryant’s dedication to basketball is inspirational. He influenced people and shared his wisdom. Bryant’s Mamba mentality is to work hard and live up to your potential.

Kobe believes he should always work hard as if he never possessed any talent.