MambaMentality

Kobe Bryant Inspired a Fleet of Hustle Porn Bros

The fallen NBA legend became a business icon in his 30s — turning ‘Mamba mentality’ into a synonym for ‘rise and grind’

When Kobe Bryant died, my friend Raj posted a picture of the NBA star on Instagram with a quote next to Bryant in his Lakers jersey that read, “You asked for my hustle, I gave you my heart.” It’s a very popular quote that many others have used to commemorate Bryant over the last few days. Raj considers Bryant a “personal inspiration” who he believes inspired his own success as a corporate lawyer. “I respect Kobe’s hustle,” he tells me.

Raj is exactly the kind of guy who laps up such hustle porn, or the kind of motivational quotes and memes that idealize the rise-and-grind spirit that’s allegedly propelled (primarily tech) entrepreneurs to insane success. He’s up at 5 a.m. every morning, goes for a five-mile run while listening to The Joe Rogan Experience and keeps track of every macronutrient his body ingests using a graph-based app. On his Instagram and Facebook pages, he regularly posts “inspirational” memes on the virtues of “grinding,” “hustling” and staying motivated by the likes of Gary Vaynerchuk, Jay Shetty and Elon Musk. “[Kobe] was the person everyone talked about and wanted to be; his legacy makes me want to be as excellent as he was,” says Raj, who hopes that his own legacy of excellence will be making senior partner at his law firm.

For all of Bryant’s basketball prowess, his financial portfolio was just as formidable. His investment firm, Bryant Stibel, is said to have amassed $2 billion in assets — and that doesn’t count the money from Bryant’s endorsement deals. Basically, as NBC’s Dylan Byers put it, he was “building an empire” that would outlast him. 

Which is why a quick search of Bryant-related hashtags (#Kobe, #MambaMentality, #Kobe24) brings up dozens of Kobe quotes from interviews and talk shows that have been repurposed as hustle porn for everybody from venture capitalists, to fitness influencers, to most bizarrely, a sex-toy store in Nigeria

This impulse was particularly strong in the cryptocurrency world, which was filled with Kobe-inspired hustle porn (as well as speculation on how his death would affect global currency markets). TRON CEO Justin Sun was even publicly criticized for using Bryant’s death to promote his upcoming cryptocurrency conference

“Kobe dying had a huge impact in the crypto world,” says Michael Vaughn, an administrator of the Bitcoin and Ethereum Network Facebook page, a 61,000-member-strong network of crypto traders and speculators. “There was some speculation that Kobe had invested in crypto [Bryant did reportedly express support of Blockchain technology], although there’s nothing that confirms it]. There are a lot of traders who are just impressed with non-finance people who take a serious interest in technology investing.” 

Bryant’s appeal as a rise-and-grind guy fits particularly well with crypto traders, Vaughn explains, because so many of them are self-taught and view themselves as underdogs trying to prove society wrong. “Basketball is filled with underdog stories — or stories of players who make a comeback against all odds. And there are some Bitcoin traders who see themselves like that too, especially when Bitcoin crashed last year. They’re waiting for their comeback moment.”

Beyond the aforementioned “You asked for my hustle, I gave you my heart,” the other oft-cited Kobe maxim in hustle porn is “Mamba Mentality,” deriving from Bryant’s self-adorned nickname, the “Black Mamba.” It’s assumed to mean, by sportswriters at least, the ability to accomplish a lot of things at once while remaining focused on and excelling at one in particular. In Bryant’s case, the Mamba Mentality resulted in the ability to speak numerous languages, to pursue an interest in classical music and art, and of course, to play basketball at a level not typically seen outside of Michael Jordan and LeBron James. 

“He’s proof that anyone can learn anything, that they can do anything, that there are no excuses,” says 23-year-old Steven Servin, a Lakers fan from New Mexico, who posted a picture of Bryant to Instagram as his tribute to Bryant and his #MambaMentality. “The man was in his 30s when he started learning about business from scratch, and that was before we had the technology available to us that makes it easier and faster to learn.” That said, Servin believes that, at heart, “Mamba Mentality” isn’t about making huge amounts of money or owning mansions. Rather, he tells me, “It’s about being the best you can be, with what you have — and knowing the only thing stopping you from achieving them is you.”

And that, it turns out, is every bit as Instagrammable as even Kobe’s most impressive athletic feat.