1. Physical Talent – You can have all the other attributes in the world, but natural ability is a must for someone to become an elite NBA player. Put simply, Bryant’s physical skills are off the charts. He can run and jump with the best of them. He makes plays that others in the league are literally not capable of making, and he often makes them look effortless. While physical talent in isolation guarantees nothing, it is a prerequisite to becoming a player for the ages.
2. Supreme Confidence – It can be difficult to walk the thin line between confidence and arrogance, and sometimes this can become more of a game of semantics than anything else. That said, there is no one in the NBA who has more confidence in his ability to perform than Kobe Bryant. He believes he’s the best player on the floor every time he steps on the hardwood. While a lot of other players like to portray a facade of confidence, Bryant is the rare case of a player whose confidence is validated by his production.
This, of course, doesn’t always come across as the best quality in every situation. More than a few teammates have been rubbed the wrong way by Bryant’s demeanor. However, the same goes for people who are really successful in the business world. Intent to dominate is usually going to make more enemies than friends, but it’s a sensational quality to have for a professional athlete. Sure some of Bryant’s teammates over the years haven’t always flocked to him off the floor, but there’s no doubt they wanted the ball in his hands coming down the stretch of a close basketball game.
While he’d never admit it, even Shaquille O’Neal wanted the ball in Bryant’s hands late in the game when they were teammates. Why? Because Bryant had confidence he’d make the right play and after proving he was capable time after time, so did his teammates.
3. Preparation – If you talk to people around the NBA you’ll hear that no one prepares in all facets like Bryant does. During the offseason, no one works harder than Bryant in the weight room or on the hardwood. His offseason workouts over the years have turned into a 40-50 hour a week job.
During the season, Bryant does absolutely everything to ensure he’ll be ready to go on game night. He makes sure to get his rest between games (which certainly isn’t a given for many of the multimillionaires in the NBA), meticulously studies his opponents and is by all reports as dedicated as anyone in the Association to getting the treatment he needs to get his body right. Combine this kind of preparation with Bryant’s basketball acumen, and you basically have what amounts to a hardwood surgeon.
Bryant certainly has the physical ability that would allow him to slack off in this department from time-to-time as so many players in the NBA do. However, from all accounts he won’t allow himself to do that. Superior physical talent combined with tireless preparation is what creates legendary athletes.
4. Fear of Failure – Many people assume that very successful people are often driven by success. However, if you listen to people who have achieved the most in their respective careers, they will often tell you that the fear of failure was their greatest motivator. This is the reason why elite athletes often describe reaching the pinnacle of their sport as a relief as opposed to a feeling of exhilaration.
This seems to be the case with Bryant. That’s not to imply Bryant doesn’t like winning. Instead, the implication is that the fear of losing is even greater. Everyone in the NBA likes to win, but how many people have a genuine fear of failure? The answer is probably not that many. Of course, like most things the fear of failure exists on a continuum, and Bryant is unquestionably on one pole of that continuum.
Perhaps this is why Bryant gets so frustrated with his teammates in the waning minutes of a loss. It’s just hard for other people who don’t possess such a significant fear of losing to relate with someone like Bryant whose fear of failure runs right down to the core of his being.
5. Laser Focus – Have you ever noticed how hard it is to stay truly, 100 percent focused? A lot of us confuse sustaining attention with focus, but the truth is these are two different things. We can sustain our attention while simultaneously attending to other stimuli. However, maintaining focus requires one to shut off any and all outside distractions.
If you ever want to test your focus, try and listen to someone for even just 10 minutes. During this time, you have to give 100 percent of your attention to the person speaking. That means you can’t have any other thoughts run through your head, be distracted by any background noise, take a brief five-second daydream, etc.
It’s harder than you think. The same can be said with regard to maintaining focus in a basketball game. It’s virtually impossible for a human being to do it for a full 48 minutes. However, Bryant probably comes about as close as any current player to accomplishing this.
Relatively speaking, it’s easy to maintain focus in The NBA Finals when magnitude of the moment requires it. However, it can be appreciably harder when playing a team that is 20+ games under .500 in March. More often than not, though, Bryant finds a way.
For players as talented as Bryant but with much less focus, you often hear scouts and coaches makes excuses such as: “He’s better than everyone else on the floor and therefore loses interest.” If you hear this line about a player, chances are he’s never going to ascend to legendary status. Players like Bryant — and others like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Bill Russell before him to name just a few — maintain focus regardless of the opponent. Not only that, but they want to beat an inferior opponent bad enough to ensure they don’t even get an inkling of belief that they one day might be able to win.
6. Harnessing Stress- We live in a culture which often tells us stress and anxiety are bad and that we should get rid of such feelings. In reality, stress and anxiety are necessary for production. For example, if we didn’t feel any stress or anxiety on a daily basis we likely wouldn’t develop the motivation necessary to get out of bed and go succeed at our chosen profession. However, there is definitely a point of diminishing returns. As anxiety increases so does performance, but only to a certain point. Too much stress and anxiety can cause people to be unable to function at all. In short, people generally perform at their best when they feel challenged but not overwhelmed and are given clear parameters for what constitutes success.
With Bryant, it seems as though his threshold for stress and anxiety is much higher than most. As opposed to the majority of people who view stress as a nuisance or byproduct of modern existence, elite athletes often embrace stress and view it as a chance to grow and achieve. In general, there seems to be a positive correlation between stress and achievement for Bryant. That is to say that as stress increases, Bryant tends to respond with increased production. This helps to explain why Bryant is often at his best late in games. When most others become flustered and nervous due to the magnitude of the moment, Bryant tends to thrive. This is a unique quality that truly high achievers seem to posses.