How Kobe's ‘Mamba Mentality' could impact JK's path to greatness


SAN FRANCISCO -- Jonathan Kuminga can’t seem to break a habit that has been with him most of his life. It’s an addiction of sorts. 

He’s hooked on images of the late Kobe Bryant.

Kuminga, 20, has fixated on the Los Angeles Lakers legend since his pre-teen years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he and his childhood friends would pool their meager funds to rent time at internet cafés to gaze at video of Bryant playing superman.

Even now, as he prepares for his second season with the defending NBA champion Warriors, Kuminga admits the fascination continues.

“I still watch the highlights,” Kuminga told NBC Sports Bay Area this week. “I still try to pick up stuff from highlights. I watch other guys, too. But it’s mostly Kobe, for footwork and things like that.”

Kuminga’s goal is to become a great NBA player. His athleticism is among the best in the league, allowing for occasional jaw-dropping moments. But his skills remain somewhat raw, resulting in a game with more temerity than aptitude. Heavy on explosion, bereft of subtlety.

To become a complete player, Kuminga’s best route might be to follow what Bryant referred to as “The Mamba Mentality,” a relentless and unwavering obsession with excellence.

Kuminga seems to understand this, and it’s partly what drew him to Bryant.

“I pretty much loved everything he did,” Kuminga said. “His character. Just the way he acted, the way he carried himself. A lot of people maybe didn’t like it, but he had something to prove. That’s why when he got to the point where he accomplished pretty much everything he had, he wasn’t acting disrespectful to the people. He was acting way different than everybody else because he knows he put all that work in.

“I’m not saying I’m going to act that way. But just watching him, his work ethic and pretty much everything he did, that’s why I fell in love with Kobe.”

Kuminga has seen only portions of “The Redeem Team,” the recently released Netflix documentary chronicling the tale of the 2008 United States men’s basketball team’s gold-medal performance at the Olympics in Beijing. The doc focuses largely on Bryant, including his influence on such younger teammates as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony.

There is a segment of “The Redeem Team” in which several players acknowledge taking break while training in Las Vegas to enjoy the sights and sounds of Sin City. As they return to the team hotel in the pre-dawn hours, they see Bryant, one of the team’s elder statesmen, headed for the gym. Perhaps feeling a bit of shame, it didn’t take long for others to join Bryant for early workout.

“That’s crazy,” Kuminga said of the clip, which he has seen. “But that was his dedication.

“If you have a leader who is doing everything like that, most everybody is going to follow him. Just having Kobe on that team, doing that at 6 in the morning, everybody will follow that lead.”

Though Bryant is never far from his mind, Kuminga said he is picking up tips about basketball and beyond from his veteran teammates on the Warriors.

From Stephen Curry: “I’ve never seen many people that successful, that good at what they do, acting the way he acts. He acts like he’s nothing special. That’s a good example. And he has the same routine, every single day. It’s so consistent. It’s harder when you get to that age [34], and you might wonder why you need to do all of that. It matters. Being consistent at that age, it’s crazy.”

From Draymond Green: “He has a good leadership quality for the team. I think watching him, you see why it’s important to be vocal. That’s one of the good things to have. Right now, I’m only vocal when it matters.”

From Klay Thompson: “You know how some people wake up and have a bad day? Pretty much every day Klay steps in here, he’s chilling. He’s cool. You might see him and think he’s in a mood. But if you go talk to him, he’s going to actually talk to you. He’s a good person and a good teammate. He really cares about people.”

From Andre Iguodala: “Andre is one of the realest in the business. No matter who he’s talking to, he’s going to keep it real. The things he is saying, if you don’t really pay attention, you might think he’s playing around. But he’s saying some real stuff. Having him around helps us a lot. It’s not only that he’s smart, but he knows how to interact with people.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr saw Kuminga’s potential from the moment he was selected seventh overall in the 2021 NBA draft. Like team president/general manager Bob Myers, Kerr is trusting the vets to tutor the youngster on the ways of the team and the league.

Now, 15 months later, the coach is more concerned with Kuminga’s progress.

“He’s starting to get a feel for what kind of player he needs to be to get on the floor for us,” Kerr said. “He can’t be a ball-stopper. He’s not going to be a guy we’re going to Iso and say, ‘Go create a play.’ We need him to finish a play. We need him to run the floor. We need him to be a quick ball-mover.”

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The clear implication is that while Kuminga might someday be, like Bryant, the focal point of a team, this is not yet his time. How he learns and adapts and applies will dictate whether his time will come.

“Obviously, just put the work in,” said Kuminga, one of the last Warriors to leave the floor after this week’s scrimmage. “You might put the work in, but it depends on how you put it in. The way I put my work in, it’s the right way. But I still got to take it to a different level. That’s the part I’m working toward, and a lot of people don’t see what I’m doing.

“When I say different level, I mean like no days off. Just be more consistent, not just on basketball. Work on your body, on the little things that matter because those little things are the ones that really make a difference.”

The challenge before Kuminga is massive. His coaches and teammates are watching, fully aware that thousands of tremendous athletes have entered and exited the NBA without reaching stardom.

Everyone can’t be an All-Star, much less reach the heights of Bryant. Watching his highlights as a child, or as an NBA player, is but the first of many steps on a long journey not all finish.

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