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Embracing the 'Mamba Mentality' to do better

So here it was, this past Sunday night, a time to decompress and watch the NBA playoffs. Totally unaware I was about to have a moment.

As in: No, I'm not crying. I just have something in my eyes.

TNT aired a wonderful video honoring the late Kobe Bryant, whose 42nd birthday would have been Sunday. It was Nike's tribute ad narrated by rapper Kendrick Lamar.

The theme: Kobe's "Mamba Mentality," which, in Kobe's words, "is to constantly try to be the best version of yourself. It's a constant quest to try to be better today than you were yesterday." Later, the video tells us, "while incremental change may feel small in the short term, those subtle shifts culminate to greater progress over time. This relentless drive for improvement is the legacy Kobe leaves."

Kendrick Lamar's words: "Better friend. Better fighter. Better rider. Better eater. Better leader. Better generation. Better nation. Just be better. Can you do that?"

The eyes welled.

More Lamar: "Better player. Better shooter. Better scorer. ... Better mentor. Better minor. Major. Mover. Shaker. Better skater. Better artist. Better teacher. Better preacher. Better believer. Better first. Better future. Better hero."

The faucets were fully on.

Why did this hit home? I could be snarky and detached here and ask how many people who preach such sadness over Kobe's death are actually honoring his everlasting wish to be better every day. I mean, look around. People seem to be a little more unhinged, negotiating the vagaries of COVID and our burgeoning political and ideological combat zones. With seemingly little hope.

But that would be disingenuous.

Because it starts with me.

It hit me because I haven't been much for the Mamba Mentality lately.

Without delving too deeply into the morass, I'll leave it here: I lied about something important to someone very close to me recently. It has damaged a relationship and shaken me to my core, causing me to reevaluate the things I say and how I say them. To practice better self-awareness in everyday life. To read a book about honestly and truth-telling. To learn that truth is concrete, but honesty is a way of life.

Liberating the eye-opening? Amazingly so. But I have much work left to do, believe me.

I don't share this for any other reason than to honor the old casting-stones-from-glass-houses thing. I'm as guilty as anyone else.

But I also believe that applying something productive from the loss of Kobe's life, especially given the poignancy of his do-better message, is worth consideration from everybody else, too.

I'm thinking many of us can be better and do better. Incrementally. In little, everyday things. Because it's all so easy now — and understandable, too — if we throw up our hands and surrender to the demons. People are losing patience and hope. Faith feels to be in shorter supply.

I needed to feel the sting to find my motivation to be better. Whatever your situation, I hope you use what I call the new abnormal to find your inner better, too.

The words of Geno Auriemma may help. Geno — a friend of Kobe's, by the way — said this during a virtual graduation speech in May at UConn:

"You can tell your kids and grandkids, 'you won't believe this, but I missed my graduation.' Why? 'Let me tell you.' And then you can tell them 'this is what I did in that time. I sat home in my pajamas.'

"Or maybe ... 'I started to figure things out, like what can I do to make it better? For who? Me? No, you can't make it better for you unless you work out more, or take piano lessons or learn how to play chess. No, you're gonna make it better for the other people that depend on you or that you depend on.'

"This is an uncomfortable time. These are uncomfortable things that have to be done right now. You are living in uncomfortable times. In some sense, you are living in the greatest time of your life. It's great to be uncomfortable. Because that's when you find out just how great you can really be."

Maybe you disagree with Auriemma. But I promise you: If you've ever been made uncomfortable — especially because of your own indiscretion — you learn that being uncomfortable is a great teacher. As Jason Gray's song goes, "the wound is where the light gets in."

I hope we all learn something from Kobe and Geno. Stay strong and safe.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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