What I learned from Kobe Bryant as a parent, coach, and doctor

I’m still coming to terms with the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and the seven others killed in the helicopter crash.

Kobe was not just a superstar on the court. He was a dedicated father and community leader whose compassion, patience, and heart of service shone in every action.

To honor this amazing man, I want to share the lessons I learned from his Mamba Mentality that I aspire to emulate in my own life as a physician, leader, and family man.

  • Kobe wanted to be the best, and he was. This was no accident—he worked relentlessly to achieve it because he loved what he did. In his words, “If you want to be great, you have to obsess over it.”
  • At the same time, he acknowledged that greatness requires sacrifice. “A lot of people say they want to be great, but they’re not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve greatness,” he said. It’s a statement any physician — having dedicated decades to education and training — can probably relate to.
  • While Kobe had high expectations for himself, he also acknowledged that success comes from small, consistent actions over time. The Mamba Mentality, he said, is simply about “trying to get better every day.”
  • Many people attributed Kobe’s achievement to natural talent without realizing the depth of his work ethic. “Hard work outweighs talent—every time,” said the man who famously showed up to NBA practice five hours early. “Mamba mentality is about 4 a.m. workouts, doing more than the next guy, and then trusting in the work you’ve put in when it’s time to perform.” It works in basketball, and it’s also a great strategy for passing your boards.
  • Kobe was a fearless innovator who wasn’t afraid to try new things on the court—even if the result was a flop. “I always kept the goal, the long game, in my mind,” he said. “I always focused on the fact that I had to try something to get it, and once I got it, I’d have another tool in my arsenal.”
  • Be present with your family and give your time to those who need you. Kobe’s love and pride for his four daughters inspired #GirlDads around the world to share the joy of parenting and coaching their daughters, including me. When you have a daughter, you perceive the world differently. Coaching my daughter Athena and her basketball team has inspired me to be the best leader I can be, on and off the court and the boardroom.
  • Kobe served as a role model and mentor to an entire generation of young athletes. He also freely gave his time and fortune to create an opportunity for underprivileged children, veterans, and many others. He used his philanthropy to draw attention to the plight of L.A.’s homeless population, whom he perceived as being “in the shadows.” We’re in the world for a short period of time, and if we don’t impact it beyond our small, limited sphere, we’ve failed as leaders.

Through my coaching of girl’s basketball in California’s Central Valley, my daughter and I were fortunate enough to know Kobe as a mentor and coach, and a person who inspired my daughter to be the best through hard work, dedication, and passion. While Kobe will live on as one of the game’s greatest athletes, he wanted to be remembered for much more than his championships and scoring records. It’s clear that he’s left a legacy greater than his legendary basketball career, and I thank him for inspiring me to strive for greatness while honoring what matters most in life.

Imamu Tomlinson is an emergency physician and CEO, Vituity