The no longer basketball player Kobe Bryant was always an avid critic of the way AAU basketball teaches kids. “Horrible. Terrible AAU basketball. It’s stupid. It doesn’t teach our kids how to play the game.”, Kobe told ESPN during his playing days for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Now that he’s retired from the game he decided to take matter into his own hands by creating the Mamba League. “We’re putting too much pressure on these kids too early and they’re not learning the proper technique… It winds up eating away at their confidence.”
So Kobe decided to team up with his long time main sponsor NIKE and to create the Mamba League. The 40-team co-ed youth basketball division ran for eight weeks from February through April, with 40 coaches and 288 players, focusing on underserved elementary school children from the nearby areas of Nickerson Gardens in Watts, Whittier, West San Gabriel Valley and Venice.
“The Mamba League is a fun league for kids to learn the game and have fun,” Bryant said in a Nike video about the league. “But also to understand the connection that the game has with life in general and convert that into being a better son, a better daughter and a better student.”
“We challenge kids at the age of 8, 9, 10 to shoot on a 10-foot hoops (3.048 meters), that doesn’t make any sense to me.” The Lakers 5 times champion has this particular view mainly because he learned how to play basketball in Italy while his father Joe “JellyBean” Bryant was playing in Europe on the last stage of his career, and so Kobe was taught how to play the game of basketball in a European way. “So when I grew up we actually played on lower hoops. We played on 9 foot hoops (2.743 meters), the court was smaller, we could learn how to shoot with proper technique, we could go on and try reverse layups. And so, that’s how I grew up playing the game. And then, as you develop the basket gets higher, the dimensions expand. That only comes when you’re physically ready to do it.”
Not only Kobe is focused on teaching the basic fundamentals of the game by instilling core values of teamwork so kids are able to find joy through sport, but also, being a father of two teenage daughters, he’s looking forward to create more inclusivity as the female players are making up 45% of the league.
One of the main reasons for Kobe’s successful career, besides his killer instinct also called as Mamba Mentality, was his attention to detail and so, the reason behind this up-to-come league’s success could be that too. Kobe made it clear that coaches were trained to communicate the fundamentals of the sport and to build meaningful relationships with participants. This combination of community and collaboration is a hallmark of Kobe’s vision for the league.
“This environment of collaboration and communication helped to turn the more skilled players into assistant coaches during practice,” explains Ashley Indick, one of the Mamba League coaches. “For example, when we know a player is good at defense, we encourage them to think about how they can trickle those skills down to their teammates.”
Kobe Bean Bryant played professionally for two decades and the footprint he left on the NBA is everywhere to be seen. Take for instance how LeBron James approached the Cleveland Cavaliers practice going into Game 3 of the 2017 Finals wearing the Nike Kobe 11 because allegedly “he was looking for his Mamba Mentality” as the Cavs were down 2-0.
Now that Kobe is gone from the courts he is still trying to impact the game the best way he can through the Mamba League and we should all be thankful that he retired without being retired.