What We Can Learn From Kobe Bryant's Insane Work Ethic

It was the summer of 2012 and a professional trainer named Rob was hired to train the USA basketball team that would be playing in the Olympics in London.

He had the opportunity to work with some of the best names in basketball:

Lebron James...

Carmelo Anthony...

Kevin Durant...

But the player who stood out amongst the stars was Kobe Bryant. [1]

Rob had worked with some of the other members of the USA basketball team before, but this would be his first interaction with Kobe. It was so powerful, that he shared it with the world on Reddit so everyone could get a glimpse into Kobe Bryant's insane work ethic. 

Here is his story:

In his first meeting with Kobe, Rob talked about what he specialized in, where Kobe would like to be by the end of summer, and about the hustle of his teammates. Rob then gave Kobe his number and told him to call him any time he wanted to do some extra conditioning work.

Two days later, Kobe woke up Rob with a call at 4:15am in the morning.

"Hey, uhh Rob, I hope I'm not disturbing anything right?"

"Uhh no, what's up Kobe?"

"Just wondering if you could just help me out with some conditioning work, that's all."

"Yeah sure, I'll see you in the facility in a bit."

20 minutes later, Rob arrived at the training facility. There he saw Kobe–alone and drenched in so much sweat it looked like he'd just come from a pool. It was not even 5am yet!

The two of them worked on conditioning for about 75 minutes, then did about 45 minutes of weight training. Then at 7am, Rob went back to his hotel to get some quick rest before the day’s practice. Meanwhile, Kobe went back to the gym to practice his shooting.

Rob was expected back at 11am. So he slept a couple of hours, got a quick breakfast, and then headed back to the gym exhausted and sleep deprived.

When he arrived, he saw all of the members of Team USA there. Lebron was talking to Carmelo, Coach Krzyzewski was explaining something to Kevin Durant and, on the right side of the facility all by himself, Kobe was shooting jumpers.

Rob went up to Kobe and said, “Good work this morning.”

“Huh?”

"Like, the conditioning. Good work."

"Oh. Yeah, thanks Rob. I really appreciate it."

"So when did you finish?"

"Finish what?"

"Getting your shots up. What time did you leave the facility?"

"Oh just now. I wanted 800 makes...so yeah, just now."

Rob’s jaw dropped.

Kobe was drenched in sweat before 5am, worked with Rob on strength and conditioning for 2 hours, then made 800 shots between the hours of 7am and 11am.

And this all took place before practice!

At 34 years of age, with 5 NBA championships, 2 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player awards, 2 scoring titles, and soon to be 2 Olympic Gold Medals, Kobe was still waking up before 4am and working out for at least 7 hours before practice even began!

To those who have read about Kobe Bryant’s work ethic, this should not come as too much of a shock to you. He is widely recognized around the NBA as the hardest worker.

But this insane work ethic did not happen overnight. It has been the process of decades of hard work and dedication that began when Kobe was 12 years old.

HOW KOBE DEVELOPED HIS INSANE WORK ETHIC

At the age of 12, Kobe entered a basketball summer camp and did not score a single point.

Not one jumper... 

Not one layup... 

Not even a free throw...

He spent the entire summer in frustration–wondering whether basketball was really for him. [2]

Then Kobe learned about how Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team. He learned how that motivated Michael to outwork everyone around him and prove to his coach that he was worthy.

This gave Kobe a powerful purpose.

It gave him a reason to believe that if he worked as hard as Michael did, he would be able to transform himself into a world-class basketball player.

So Kobe worked…and never stopped. From that point on, he worked harder than everyone else around him for the rest of his basketball career.

When he got to High School, Kobe would show up at 5am to practice and would not leave the gym until 7pm…every single day.

He would convince his high school teammates to play one-on-one games with him up to 100 points after the practice was over.

He singled out any players who could help improve his skills and forced them to challenge him.

This sheer quantity of practice turned him into such a great basketball player that he was drafted 13th overall into the NBA right out of high school.

But his work ethic didn’t stop there.

He continued to push himself even harder as an NBA player. He practiced by himself, sometimes even without a ball, hours before his teammates showed up.

He forced himself to make 400 shots every single practice. He put himself through 4 hours of intense workouts on game days. He completely cut out sugar from his diet, and continued to force teammates to stay after practice to face him one-on-one.

Some NBA players love to play under the bright lights of the arena, but Kobe Bryant loves to put in the work before the lights even come on…and stay long after they’re turned off.

Clearly, this man has reached a level of dedication and fitness that surpass what many of us believe is possible. But, whether or not he realizes it, his muscles and his basketball skills are not the only things that got stronger from all of this work.

Throughout this process, Kobe was also strengthening his willpower.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM KOBE BRYANT

For many of us, it is too late to start our path to becoming a Hall-of-Fame basketball player. But there are still many lessons we can learn from Kobe that can be applied to our own lives.

1. TALENT IS OVERRATED

Kobe is one of the greatest basketball players of all time–but he did not get there through talent.

Clearly, there were other kids at the basketball camp he attended as a 12 year-old that had much more natural ability than he did. None of which will be joining Kobe in the NBA Hall-of-Fame.

Kobe achieved greatness simply because he had the willpower to outwork everyone else.

From the day he read about Michael Jordan getting cut from his High School team, until the time he decided to retire, Kobe was always known as the hardest worker in the NBA.

In our lives, we always want to credit those who are successful as simply having more talent than we do. Whether it's great athletes, artists, musicians, or CEOs–we credit their success to some natural ability that we simply do not have.

We don't see what these people have done all of their lives to get into the spotlight.

We don't see Howard Schultz getting rejected by over 100 investors when trying to raise the capital to get Starbucks off the ground. [3]

We don't read about Leonardo DaVinci’s bastard childhood–where he was not allowed to get a real education, so he spent every waking hour practicing painting. [4]

There are countless other stories of the truly great performers in our world not achieving success though talent, but sheer ferocity of will. [5]

2. DO NOT REST ON YOUR LAURELS

There were countless opportunities for Kobe to stop working so hard.

In High School he was completely dominating other teams. He could have easily settled into life as a lazy, arrogant jock; but he didn’t. Even though he was the best High School player in the country, he still showed up at 5am and left at 7pm.

When he got to the NBA, he could have believed in his own hype as one of the top draft picks, but he didn’t. He outworked everyone on his team and forced them to stay long after practice with him so they could get better.

When he won 5 NBA championships and was arguably the best player in basketball, he could have coasted his way into the Hall-of-Fame, but he didn’t. He still showed up 7 hours before practice.

When we reach a certain level of success, there are a lot of reasons for us to stop working so hard. In fact, our society almost wants us to stop working–claiming that pursuing more wealth, fame, or success is “greedy.”

But to achieve true "Hall-of-Fame" greatness requires that we are always working to get better. We are always trying to improve. And we are always striving to be the best version of ourselves. Even when we are already successful.

3. HAVING A HERO IS POWERFUL

When Kobe Bryant scored zero points in his basketball camp, he genuinely considered giving up basketball forever.

Growing up in Italy, Kobe also spent his youth playing soccer and showed a lot of promise in the sport. But because Michael Jordan had proven to him that with enough hard work he can overcome his lack of talent, Kobe was inspired to follow Michael's lead.

Heroes blaze the trail and show us what can be accomplished. This is so powerful that even Warren Buffet himself credits his success to the fact that he “picked the right heroes”.

Heroes are not just for kids. We can all be inspired by those who have achieved our goals, or stand for our principles. Although we may all have different advantages, upbringings, and genetic traits, we are all given 24 hours in the day to spend as we choose.

If we choose to spend those hours like our heroes, there is a good chance that we will end up with similar results. Kobe followed Michael by outworking everyone on his path to greatness.

Kobe is one of my heroes. Although I will not be following his path through the NBA, I will follow it to becoming the best I possibly can be through hard work, willpower, and perseverance. And maybe one day I will achieve my own greatness as he achieved his.

CONCLUSION

Talent is overrated. It is one of the great flaws in our nature to credit anyone with extraordinary skill, intelligence, or ability, as simply born with more talent than us. We see the results of their work without seeing the countless hours of struggle that it took to get them there.

Kobe Bryant is the perfect example of how greatness isn't achieved through talent, but through sheer willpower.

Since the day he came home from being embarrassed by more talented players at his basketball camp, Bryant has refused to be outworked. And it is because of this relentless determination that he will go down as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. 

*Sources