Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He is revered around the world for his high flying clutch plays, which are fueled by an unrelenting competitive drive and a legendary work ethic, all backed by a ferocious talent which got him into the NBA at the age of 17. However, it wasn’t always that way.
At age 12, Kobe Bryant played in a summer league in Philadelphia. He came into the league with big dreams. He had been playing basketball since the age of 2 and he was obsessed with it. He would constantly be watching his favorite players like Magic Johnson and dreaming about following in their footsteps and becoming an all time great himself. His father was also an NBA player and he wanted to become one too. He had already figured out that his purpose in life was to become an all time great player and join the players he had idolized his entire life in the pantheon of greats.
So he entered the summer with these dreams in his heart and he came out of it with a grand total of zero points. That is correct. A 5 time NBA champion and the 3rd all time NBA scorer once spent an entire summer without scoring a basket. He couldn’t get a free throw, a layup or even one of those lucky throw-the-ball-up-oops-it-went-in basket. He was absolutely devastated. He considered quitting basketball and just focusing on soccer, a sport in which he had shown some promise.
Then he read about Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school basketball team. He read how Michael had felt absolutely devastated after the cut and had worked extremely hard after that, using those feelings of frustration to motivate himself. Kobe decided to use those same feelings of frustration at his failure in the summer league to propel himself to greatness. He learned everything he could about the game. He put himself through grueling workouts and practiced his movements every moment he could. He obsessively studied the games of great players, especially Michael Jordan, who had rekindled the fire of basketball within him and copied their moves. He started to live, breathe and eat basketball. Fast forward 5 years, and Kobe was one of the top prospects in the NBA. He got traded to the Lakers and the rest is history.
Kobe Bryant is known as an extremely talented player due to the fact that he got into the NBA as a 17 year old. However, would anyone say that 12 year old boy who couldn’t even get a single point would grow up to be one of the greatest players the NBA has ever seen? You would have to be highly delusional to say that. 12 year old Kobe showed the least promise of anyone in that camp. What made him great was two things.
First and most obvious is his legendary work ethic. While everyone else would go out to parties, Kobe would be in the practice hall or studying film. He would do 4am workouts and not allow himself to leave the hall until he had was completely satisfied with the effort he had put in. Other players would shudder at his work ethic, knowing that he had a fire that few can ever hope to possess.
However, second and perhaps most important to Kobe’s success is how he learned from other great people. Kobe calls the people he learns and takes inspiration from his “muses”. He took inspiration from every great person in every field and tried to emulate everything that made them great. For example, Kobe copied Michael Jordan to a fault. In fact, there is a viral YouTube video series which proves that Kobe moves the exact same way as Jordan. His competitive drive is the same as Jordan and in basketball circles, he is known as the greatest Michael Jordan copycat. However, this does not diminish his greatness. Rather, it shows how much he learned from Jordan, his hero and the greatest player of all time.
Kobe saw a hero in Michael Jordan and he wanted to be the exact same way. So, he emulated all of Michael’s techniques and his mentality, the things that had made him great, so that he could become the same way too. He was not blindly copying Jordan. He was studying the things that made Jordan great and was imbibing those points in himself.
If you look at young children, they are constantly imitating their favorite sports star or their favorite actor. They look at their heroes with a constant sense of wonder. As we get older, we lose this sense of wonder and we stop trying to emulate our heroes. Great people never lose this sense of wonder. They are constantly studying other great people, looking for the things that made them great. They look at their heroes with wonder, no matter how successful they become. They are always trying to learn from their inspirations. It is as if they are artists who are designing their life and work with the inspiration of muses. Muses act as guides for us to follow. When you simply haphazardly go through life without this guidance, you will mostly find yourself losing your way. When you lose your sense of wonder and stop having muses, you shut off your sense of wonder in general, because they are from the same source. When you lose your sense of wonder, you have killed your chances for success, because the thing that makes great people great is the absolute sense of wonder they have for life. It is what drives them to be so creative and pull off great performances time and time again.
When you have a muse, someone you adore and desire to emulate, they act as a beacon for you to work towards. The desire to emulate and surpass your muses acts as a driving force in your endeavors. Even when you surpass them, you still feel that sense of wonder for them because they are the ones who led you there. Great people have certain common qualities between all of them that made them great. When you imbibe these qualities in yourself, then you too will become great. The way to learn these qualities is through meticulous study of the things that led them to greatness, motivated by a sense of wonder at their greatness and a personal desire to join them. It is often the biggest fan that becomes the greatest man.
On an even more fundamental level, all great people have gone through roadblocks. Kobe saw that even the greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan, had failed once too, just as he had in that summer league. When he saw that Jordan overcame his initial failure and became great, he believed that he could become great too. He saw that there could be a light at the end of the tunnel and so he worked with a newfound drive, so that he could get to the same level that his muse, Michael Jordan, had reached.
When you study great people, you see that they are ordinary people who have gone through setbacks just like you. When you see that they overcame those failures through hard work and will, you start to believe that you can do the same thing. Mark Twain said it best when he said, “Really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great.” When you believe that you can become great, it happens, because what you believe determines what happens in your life. If your beliefs say that you can become great, then greatness will be the only result. One of the best ways to develop this belief is to see that great people are just like you and that you can overcome any obstacle, just like they did.
We often hear that talent is overrated and that hard work is just as, if not more important to success, which is true. However, I would like to propose that there is a third piece to the puzzle, which is perhaps the most important. This third piece is a sense of wonder, which motivates you to join your muses in the pantheon of greatness. This sense of wonder is evident throughout the lives of all great people. They were constantly dreaming in wonder about the things they were going to achieve, and their muses acted as guides on that path, without whom they would have been lost. When you learn from great people the qualities that made them great and see that they were simply ordinary people like you, you start to believe that you, too, can become great. If you develop the qualities of great people by learning from them and start believing that you, too, can become great, then greatness will be the inevitable result.