By Andreas Themistocleous, APC Sports Consulting Ltd
I was wrong to think I could write this article without crying, while going through research material about the Legend of Kobe Bryant that I had witnessed in person, as a basketball player in the NCAA, during Kobe’s prime years with the Lakers. He was on our daily discussion agenda in the locker room, about his performance, his attitude, his approach to the Game, whether or not he was better than Jordan and so on. We watched him, idolized him, loved to hate him (more of a sport envy not actually true hatred…).
Kobe was not just one of the greatest ever to play the Game. He had devoted time to study the Game, the opponents, the referees. He had become the Zen Master that Phil Jackson had helped mold, but he didn’t stop at basketball. He made it a purpose to transmit his wisdom, his attitude and approach to others, but also put those ingredients to work for his benefit as an entrepreneur and businessman. “If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will do it for you” he said.
Kobe Bryant’s legacy extends beyond his time on the basketball court. He was also known to the business world as a brand-builder, an investor and a coach to other athletes and company founders. “For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. He took that talent, that niche for perfection and his unwavering devotion to success and put them to work off the court too.
In 2013, he co-founded venture capital firm “Bryant Stibel” along with Web.com founder Jeff Stibel. He focused on financing and strategic advice, growth and value equity funds and invested in technology and legal services. The firm has more than $2 billion in assets, with investments in dozens of technology, media and data companies. It claims at least 10 successful exits, including Dell and Alibaba. It also has investments in “Epic Games” (the company that created Fortnite), digital payment company “Klarna” and household products firm “The Honest Company”.
In addition to the firm he had created, Kobe managed to become very successful with other investments as well. His investment in the sports drink “Bodyarmor”, which in 2018 boosted its valuation by selling a stake to Coca Cola, had been a profound personal success of his. In 2016, Bryant founded “Granity Studios”, a media company that focuses on creative storytelling around sports. Through this company, Kobe wrote and narrated a short film called “Dear Basketball,” which won the Academy Award (Oscar Award) for best animated short film in 2018. This company also released a set of books for young adults, along with Kobe’s autobiography.
Kobe was known in basketball as “Black Mamba” (his signature alias) and began to build his brand as an athlete early in his career, winning himself an endorsement with Nike in 2003, the same year that Jordan retired. This partnership produced a clothing line, sport gear, shoes and earned him a huge legacy off the court. He also had endorsement deals with a number of other brands throughout his career, including McDonald’s, Sprite and Nintendo, to name a few of the most prominent and recognized brands.
Moreover, Nike partnered with Kobe and the Los Angeles Boys and Girls Club to launch a youth basketball league, called the “Mamba League”, in 2017, to give free access to the sport for thousands of young aspiring players. Bryant later created the “Mamba Sports Academy” to provide broader athletic and lifestyle training to competing athletes at all levels in a number of sports.
Kobe was also an NBA ambassador, focusing his efforts on the largest market in the world, the country of China. He was an early adopter of Chinese social media, made frequent visits to the country and was given a cultural-ambassador award by the Asia Society in 2009, as he even managed to communicate with fans in mandarin (Chinese dialect). In 2015, he worked with “Alibaba Group” to release the documentary “Kobe Bryant’s Muse” through its Tmall Magic Box TV in China.
Kobe was a huge superstar as an athlete, but an equally huge superstar as a businessman and entrepreneur. His fame, his athletic brand, but also the acceptance and validation he enjoyed as a person and an athlete from the sports world and the interlinked global spectrum, seemed to transfer automatically on any business endeavor he entered. It’s not by any means an exaggeration to state that he had “Midas’ golden touch”.
I close this article with one of his most famous quotes, which sums up his approach to life, to the game of basketball and to business; a quote that is a teaching point that will forever live as his legacy:
“Those times when you get up early and work hard. Those times you stay up late and you work hard. Those times when you don’t feel like working. You’re too tired, you don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream.” (Kobe Bryant 1978-2020)
Rest in Peace Legend.