Kobe Bryant was a founding partner of Bryant Stibel since its inception in 2013. Bryant was a five-time National Basketball Association champion with the Los Angeles Lakers and was CEO of Kobe Inc. He was a two-time Olympic gold medalist, a NBA Most Valuable Player, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, a 15-time All-NBA player, an 18-time NBA All-Star and the NBA’s No. 3 all-time scoring leader.
Since 2003, Bryant partnered with Nike, playing a leadership role designing footwear and leading storytelling related to Kobe Bryant product lines. In 2006, he launched the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation to give young people access to sports, mentorship and economic empowerment. In 2009, he partnered with the Soong Ching Ling Foundation to create the Kobe China Fund, dedicated to the welfare and education of youth in China. Historically Bryant invested in entrepreneurial companies, such as BODYARMOR and Red Ventures, that shared in his vision.
Finding My First Muse
At the age of six, basketball became part of my nature. Everything I saw, heard, read, or felt was viewed through the lens of growing as a basketball player. This perspective makes me curious about everything, makes everything interesting, and means that life is a living library where all I need to do is pay attention.
My father Joe “Jellybean” Bryant and my uncle John “Chubby” Cox were Future League legends in their day. My father as a 6-10 point forward and my uncle as a 6-4 point guard. When my father decided to retire from basketball, he moved our family back to America, which meant leaving behind eight years of friendships and comfort I had established in Italy.
Fitting in is a challenge that I’ve never been able to master. I was a tall, skinny 13-year-old kid who spoke Italian better than English. I knew very little of American culture and people knew me only as “the son of a former NBA player.” During this time, the game of basketball became more than only a refuge, it became my outlet. Basketball became the place where I could channel my frustrations about being different — where I could scream from the top of the mountain and allow myself to be heard. Basketball became an obsession. I learned everything about the game, the history, the players, the fundamentals. The odd thing is that I wound up learning more about the world around me by having a singular focus inside of me.
A New World to Challenge
At 17, I became the youngest guard ever selected in the NBA draft when the Charlotte Hornets chose me as the 13th pick overall and struck a deal for me to sign with the Lakers. I feel very blessed to be able to say I played basketball for 20 years in the league and I’ll always be connected to the Lakers organization. I love the game of basketball. But what I’m doing now with Bryant Stibel and Granity Studios, I love every bit as much as I loved the game of basketball.
Playing basketball, the focus is always on winning and winning championships. Championships come and go, but if you really want to create something that lasts generations, you have to help inspire the next generation. That’s when you create something everlasting. That’s what’s most beautiful.
The Mamba Mentality
Investing has become a true passion for me and building businesses is what I love. I come in each day and it’s dynamic, it’s different, and I’m learning.
To lead others, you have to constantly learn. I wouldn’t say my leadership style changed over the years. I like challenging people and making them uncomfortable. That’s what leads to introspection and that’s what leads to improvement. You could say I dare people to be their best selves.
That approach has never wavered – from basketball to business. What I did adjust, though, was how I varied my approach from player to player, business to business. I still challenge everyone and make them uncomfortable; I just do it in a way that is tailored to them. To learn what would work and for who, I do homework and watch how they behave. I learn their histories and listen to what their goals are. I learn what makes them feel secure and where their greatest doubts lay. Once I understand them, I can help bring the best out of them by touching the right nerve at the right time.
I really started thinking seriously about investments toward the end of my basketball career. I knew that when my basketball career was over, I’d be looking to start a business and new career. I started to see the passion and dedication from entrepreneurs. I related to it because it’s how I approached the game every day. I can spot a great work ethic right away – it’s the inner belief that a person will endure no matter what the obstacle may be. It’s that persistence, the entrepreneur is doing what he or she truly believes in and truly loves to do.
My passion is helping businesses creatively tell their story and find their brand truth. Storytelling is at the epicenter of everything. It’s how we learn about the past to inform our future. It’s how we best retain information that helps us become better people. It’s how we communicate our position to partners, customers, or fans. I’m always interested in entrepreneurs who share that passion and make it a core tactic in their overall business strategy. I encourage entrepreneurs to think about the product, the common denominator with you as the founder, and how that links to human nature. Then the brand story becomes something bigger than the founder and sets the tone, tenor and direction for people, internally and externally.
Age tends to give you perspective. The most important thing I enjoy now is helping others be successful. I enjoy doing that much more – that’s something that lasts forever – and hope they do that for the next generation.