How Kobe Bryant Willed Himself to Greatness

When he was 12 years old, Kobe Bryant was about to give up basketball forever. He just completed his summer basketball camp and was going home a disgrace.

He thought it would be the beginning of a flawless journey to becoming the star NBA player that we all know today – especially because his father, Joe Bryant, played in the NBA for 8 years before playing his final 6 years in Italy.

During those 6 years in Italy, the Bryant family fully embraced the culture. This included Kobe playing soccer for most of his youth and showing a lot of promise in the sport.

But in the summer of 1991, his family moved back to America and Kobe finally had a chance to play his father’s favorite game.

He entered the camp and played against some of the most talented youngsters in the country – and they embarrassed him. Bryant did not score a single point. Not one jumper, not one layup, not even one free throw. Nothing. [1]


He spent that entire summer in frustration – questioning whether basketball was really for him. He was, after all, a promising soccer player – so why dream of becoming a basketball player when he clearly had no talent for it?

Then Kobe read about one of his heroes, Michael Jordan. He learned how Michael got cut from his high school basketball team, but didn’t quit. Getting cut motivated Michael to outwork everyone around him to prove his coach wrong.

When Kobe learned this, a fire was created inside of him that would never be put out. He wanted to work harder than everyone else for the rest of his basketball career – and he did.


When Kobe entered high school, he got to the gym every day at 5am and would not leave the afternoon practice until 7pm! 

After the official practice was over, he convinced his teammates to play one-on-one games with him up to 100 points.

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

This relentless work ethic over his high school career turned him into one of the best players in the country. So good, in fact, that just 6 years after he failed to score a single point in basketball camp, Kobe was drafted 13th overall in the NBA.

But his work ethic didn’t stop there. He pushed himself even harder as an NBA player.

He practiced by himself, sometimes even without a ball, hours before his teammates showed up to the gym.

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 and had one of the strictest diets in the NBA.

And he 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 loved to put in the work before the lights even came on – then stay long after they were turned off. [2]

All of this work led Kobe to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time. All of which happened despite the fact that, as a 12-year old, he showed the least amount of promise of anyone in that basketball camp!

Clearly it was not innate talent that helped Kobe Bryant reach his extraordinary success, it was his sheer ferocity of will.


This proves that if someone followed Kobe Bryant’s path, he could reach the same level of success.

There is nothing preventing another boy entering his first year of high school from getting to the gym at 5am and practicing until 7pm.

There is nothing stopping him from recognizing areas of weakness in his game and working relentlessly to improve them.

There is nothing stopping him from following a strict diet, or doing intense 4-hour workouts on game days.

Nor is there anything stopping him from meticulously counting 400 made shots every single day.

All of these practices are within the control of anyone. Which means achieving the level of success of Kobe Bryant is also within the control of anyone!

So why aren’t more people as successful as Kobe Bryant?

Because following his path is hard, painful, and boring. It requires something more than simply knowing what to do. It requires the one thing that truly separates those who achieve greatness from everyone else – willpower.


Unlike almost everything else in life, your willpower is something that you have complete control over. You cannot control your circumstances, your luck, or other people in your life.

But you can control your decisions and your actions. 

And ultimately that is what Kobe Bryant did to achieve his extraordinary success. So let’s unpack Kobe’s story to see how he was able to develop the willpower to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

1.    FIND A HERO     

Heroes have the ability to inspire you in ways you may not think. Your brain responds differently when it is given a story about somebody than when it is given simple principles or best practices.

When you read about someone, your brain will visualize you in his or her shoes. [3]

If someone told 12 year-old Kobe that he could become a great basketball player if he just “outworks everyone” it would not have inspired him in the same way.

But because he read the story about Michael Jordan, he could see himself in Michael’s shoes. He could see himself outworking everyone else and see it leading him to the same success.

This gave Kobe more “Want Power” - the most powerful form of willpower we have. It gives us the ability to keep pushing ourselves because we know that the sacrifices will be worth it. [4]

Seek out your own hero. Learn their inspirational story and allow yourself to believe that their success is possible for you too.


“There’s a choice that we have to make as people…We can all become masters of our craft, but you have to make a choice. What I mean by that is the inherent sacrifices that come along with that. Being a great friend, son, nephew, there are sacrifices that come along with making that choice.” 
- Kobe Bryant

One of the biggest mistakes that people make with their willpower is not focusing it on what matters most to them. You use the same stock of willpower to go to the gym, to stay late at the office, and to resist dessert. [5]

Kobe achieved greatness because he focused his willpower on one goal – becoming a great basketball player. And he understood that he had to make sacrifices to reach that goal.

So he wasn’t a great husband, a great son, or a great friend. This certainly is sad, but in the end he was able to achieve what he really wanted in life. 

Be prepared to make sacrifices. It may not be necessary to give up as much as Kobe did, but you will have to sacrifice things you want, for what you want most.


In his last year of high school, Kobe Bryant was unquestionably the best player in the country. This could have made him arrogant. It could have made him believe that the hard work was behind him and now he could take it easy.

But he was relentless.

When he got to the NBA, he worked even harder. After winning his first championship in 2000, he didn't rest on his laurels, he kept working to get better. Then led his team to win 2 more in a row after that.

In 2008 after losing to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, he was seen practicing in the gym after the game was over. Then he led the Lakers to win the next 2 championships in a row.

At the 2012 Olympics, although he was 34 years-old and playing for a country that was almost guaranteed to win, he still showed up at the practice facility 7 hours before the official practice even started! [6]

Even today, after 3 years of season-ending injuries and playing for a team with almost no chance of winning a championship, he is still fighting. Because Kobe knows that greatness is about always doing your best. No matter what. 

Whatever "greatness" is to you, pursue it relentlessly. No matter what you accomplish, no matter how far you’ve come, you will always have the ability to be even better tomorrow than you are today. And that is where true greatness lies.


Kobe Bryant is living proof that achieving greatness does not require talent, circumstances, or luck. It requires a desire to be the best you possibly can and a will to do whatever it takes to get there.

It all started by becoming inspired by a hero, making sacrifices for what he truly wanted, and relentlessly pursuing it for his entire career. After researching Kobe's story, I can genuinely say he is one of my greatest heroes. And an inspiration to anyone who is willing to do whatever it takes.