The Real Genius of Kobe Bryant (Here’s a Hint: Not Basketball)

 In GDI, Air

In a recent episode of “SportsCenter,” dis­cussing the life and legacy of Kobe Bryant, sports­cast­er Stephen A. Smith relat­ed a story about Bryant’s post-NBAcareer aspi­ra­tions.

A jour­nal­ist asked Bryant whether he’d like to become a media per­son­al­i­ty like Oprah Winfrey. No, Bryant report­ed­ly replied, “I’d like to be like Harpo [Studios].”

This sig­naled his inten­tion to tran­si­tion him­self from prod­uct — i.e., world-renowned cham­pi­onship bas­ket­ball talent — to pro­duc­er. Bryant under­stood that, in doing so, he was enter­ing an entire­ly new arena, and a game just as com­pet­i­tive and nuanced as the sport of pro­fes­sion­al bas­ket­ball.

For many ath­letes, this is not a tran­si­tion they suc­cess­ful­ly make. For some ath­letes, their God-given tal­ents enabled them to reach the pin­na­cle of sports suc­cess and inhab­it the rar­i­fied air of celebri­ty soci­ety.

Celebrity, and having the oppor­tu­ni­ty to social­ize with people at the top of their games as entre­pre­neurs, actors, and tele­vi­sion and movie pro­duc­ers, can be an intox­i­cat­ing drug for an ath­lete. They may false­ly believe that just because Mark Zuckerberg is in their Rolodex, they, too, have the tools to become a top entre­pre­neur.

The annals of sports lore are lit­tered with cau­tion­ary tales of ath­letes making tens of mil­lions of dol­lars, only to blow it all on failed busi­ness invest­ments or to be swin­dled by con artists posing as advis­ers.

Bryant, undoubt­ed­ly, was the excep­tion to the rule. Even as a player with amaz­ing talent, he stood out as one of the most intel­li­gent NBA play­ers to enter the game. Bryant was a metic­u­lous stu­dent of bas­ket­ball — whether it was his under­stand­ing of defens­es (he would pay his own scouts to report on the oppos­ing teams’ defen­sive schemes), or his approach to phys­i­cal prepa­ra­tion and mental focus.

So when he decid­ed to tran­si­tion from play­ing in front of the camera to stand­ing behind the camera as a con­tent pro­duc­er, he approached the tran­si­tion with just as much atten­tion to detail.

The dif­fer­ence between the sports of bas­ket­ball and entre­pre­neur­ship, Bryant later would explain, is that in entre­pre­neur­ship, there is no com­peti­tor “direct­ly in front of you.” But the chal­lenge is to be con­stant­ly cre­ative in a way that impacts the market you are trying to dom­i­nate.

Of course, there are sim­i­lar­i­ties between the two sports. Bryant said: “You’ve got the same focus, the same atten­tion to detail, but even more so. When you play [bas­ket­ball] you’ve got to take time off, in order to avoid injury. In busi­ness and cre­ativ­i­ty, there is no off-switch. Your brain is con­stant­ly work­ing.”

Bryant went on to form his own pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny, Granity Studios, which he mod­eled, in part, after Winfrey’s pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny.

“When I had the idea of first start­ing a studio, the first person I called was Oprah Winfrey,” he recalled. Winfrey nat­u­ral­ly oblig­ed and sat down with Bryant to dis­cuss both her suc­cess­ful deci­sions and her early mis­takes as an entre­pre­neur.

Even though he was start­ing a ven­ture that seemed some­what out of his wheel­house, he remained tight­ly focused on areas of exper­tise. Granity was to pro­duce con­tent relat­ed to youth sports and help­ing young ath­letes to grow into their own poten­tial — and that was some­thing that Bryant knew a lot about as a player and as a mentor to younger ath­letes (includ­ing his chil­dren).

Bryant also used a core prin­ci­ple from his play­ing career when it came to the ven­ture fund he co-found­ed with Jeff Stibel, an MIT-trained busi­ness­man and entre­pre­neur.

While on the court, Bryant always recruit­ed team­mates who could com­ple­ment his skills, and who were as mani­a­cal as he about putting work into train­ing and prac­tice. In Stibel, he found such a part­ner in busi­ness. They went on to found Bryant Stibel & Co., a $2 bil­lion ven­ture com­pa­ny.

How did they com­bine their strengths? Obviously, Bryant was able to lever­age his celebri­ty and rela­tion­ships with top media com­pa­nies and Hollywood to gain early access to invest­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties. 

He was no silent part­ner in the ven­ture, as he explained: “My biggest strength is in sto­ry­telling for brands.”

Stibel added: “Kobe’s sport was bas­ket­ball; my sport is busi­ness. We’re lever­ag­ing our part­ners in areas where they’re better than anyone. Being able to take what they do best — the hard work, the ded­i­ca­tion, the abil­i­ty to create win­ning teams — and morph that into lessons that entre­pre­neurs learn is invalu­able.”

In making a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion from bas­ket­ball to busi­ness, Bryant relied on traits that made him so suc­cess­ful on the court: hard work, atten­tion to detail, and sur­round­ing him­self with com­mit­ted team­mates.

Ultimately, Bryant became a suc­cess­ful entre­pre­neur by hewing close­ly to Warren Buffett’s famous advice: “You don’t have to be an expert on every com­pa­ny, or even many. You only have to be able to eval­u­ate [invest­ments] within your circle of com­pe­tence. The size of that circle is not very impor­tant; know­ing its bound­aries, how­ev­er, is vital.”

Source: National Interest

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