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Mamba Year

Sep 22 2020
Photo by
Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Photo by
Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Jack Flaherty
St. Louis Cardinals
Sep 22 2020

So there’s this Kobe Bryant quote I’ve been coming back to again and again over the past few weeks.

It goes like this….

“Everything negative — pressure, challenges — is all an opportunity for me to rise.”

The quote’s so simple. But at the same time, those words … they kind of say it all, right?

And during this crazy, messed-up year, I’m not gonna lie … I’ve needed inspiration like that to keep pushing forward. It’s not just that one Mamba quote, though. For whatever reason, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about Kobe these days.

The people who know me best will tell you that Kobe is often on my mind anyway, just day to day. He’s never too far from my thoughts. But in 2020? With all that’s been going on? He’s even more front-of-mind for me than usual.

I think about his brilliance on the court, obviously, and all the times that he brought joy into my life with clutch shots in the absolute biggest moments imaginable. But I also think about him in the context of this year and, even more so … beyond.

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about Kobe these days.

For so many of us, 2020 has been the worst year we’ve ever known. We’ve all had our personal struggles and hardships, but on top of that we’ve also seen the COVID-19 pandemic, the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the shooting of Jacob Blake, the fires in Australia and on the West Coast, hurricanes and floods, and on and on. It seems like it all started with Kobe’s tragic death in January, and since then it’s basically just been a spiral of terrible news.

We kept waiting for things to get better, for a run of good news. We were sure something like that had to eventually happen.

“It can’t get any worse than this,” we told ourselves.

But things just kept on going bad.

Now, nine months later, it’s like … here we are.

What now?

Dilip Vishwanat/MLB Photos via Getty Images

And, all things considered, I guess it’s not surprising to see social media be all about….

“Can we cancel 2020 right now, and go directly to 2021?” or “What did we do to deserve 2020?!?!?” or “WORST YEAR EVER!”

Because … sure, yes, this year has definitely sucked. It really, really has. But every time I read comments like those, I can’t help but think that there’s something important missing there.

Writing this year off, already? With more than three months still left? It just seems to me like, I don’t know … giving up. And I’m not here for that. Never have been, and never will be.

If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that every moment we have is important. Every second we have on this earth is precious.

Kobe’s death epitomized that. For me, as a kid growing up in Los Angeles, Kobe was Superman. And his death reminded me that we’re all mortal. That tomorrow isn’t promised. Every day is an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, or to lend our support to causes we believe in. But none of those things can take place if we’re already resigned to defeat.

Now more than ever, we’ve got to elevate and meet the challenges we face head on.

And you know what? If you’re looking for someone who epitomized that approach to life better than maybe anyone else on the planet — and I don’t even feel like I’m the right person to say this, because I never met the man — but if you’re looking for someone like that….

That person would be Kobe Bryant.

Even though he’s no longer with us, there’s still a ton we can learn from Kobe that we can apply to what we’re all living through. And if we’re gonna turn things around anytime soon, we need to take that Mamba Mentality to heart.

All of us.

Joe Puetz/USA TODAY Sports

Maybe more than anything else, Kobe was all about taking on adversity and defeat and attacking each day with drive and heart and relentlessness.

So that’s what I’m going to be all about going forward.

There’s not gonna be anymore going with the flow, or going through the motions for me.

I want to do more.

There’s not gonna be anymore going with the flow, or going through the motions for me.

One of the things I realized in 2020 was that I wasn’t doing enough when it comes to things that are important to me outside of baseball.

I haven’t been doing enough in the community, and I haven’t done enough in trying to help bring about an end to racial injustice. I wish I could tell you I had, but that’s simply not true.

I realized a few weeks ago that it was already the end of August, and it was like.…

What have I done, really?

I’ve played ball, and I’ve sat here at home in front of this Zoom camera and talked. But I haven’t done a lot more than that in terms of substance. At one point I decided to get involved with the More Than a Vote campaign, and I guess that was an O.K. start, but even that took a couple of weeks for me to get into.

So I haven’t been maximizing every day. I haven’t been attacking challenges.

I was just kind of cruising along, in a way.

But that approach….

That’s over now.

As corny as it may sound, I now fully understand that, at this point in my life, I want more than anything to do things that will help people out and bring about some positive change in the world.

So that means picking up the phone and getting in touch with the right people in St. Louis to figure out what projects and movements I can help with around town. It’s time for me to step up. This is my third year here. It’s way past time for me to get more involved in the community and do everything I can to assist the people of this incredible city.

Not in a, “Hey look at me!” way. But rather just putting in that work when no one’s around to see it. That’s the plan.

Jeff Roberson/AP Photo

And beyond that, bigger picture … I just want to really encourage people not to throw in the towel and give up on 2020 yet.

We simply can’t afford to do that. And it’s counterproductive.

For starters, it negates any good or positive things that might have happened to us this year. Things that maybe we’d otherwise appreciate and cherish more. With me, it was being able to spend lots of time with my family. From the middle of March on through June, I lived at home with my mom and younger brother. We haven’t been able to spend that much time together since I was in high school. And looking back on it … even in the context of a really rough year, that’s something that I will always be incredibly grateful for. I’ll never forget it.

I have no desire to have that positive be completely drowned out and disappear because most of the rest of 2020 sucked.

But, even more important, there is still so much that we can accomplish in 2020. We all, at this point, need to kind of channel our inner Kobe Bryants.

I’ve probably watched every interview of Kobe’s that you can find on YouTube, and I gotta say, his mindset, the Mamba Mentality, it’s absolutely more relevant and useful now, in 2020, than ever before. We all need to take it to heart in how we approach these next few months — especially November, with the upcoming election. We can’t afford to shy away from this challenge, this moment.

We’ve been beaten down, yes. We — all of us — have taken some punches this year. But what’s most important is that we still have a say in how things will play out.

Packing it in and accepting defeat because 2020 has been so rough would be the exact opposite of what Kobe stood for. That would be the opposite of Mamba Mentality.

And, you know what? All that talk you’re seeing online right now about … at least it can’t get any worse than this. At least next year can’t possibly be this bad.

We can’t afford to shy away from this challenge, this moment.

I’ve got news for you.

It can. Absolutely it can.

If we let it.

This year has shown us that it can always get worse. But if we make the most of the next three months, we can do things that will change the entire history of what people remember about 2020.

Three months is a lot of time. A ton of good can happen in three months.

This whole thing could turn around real quick. And hanging our heads over what’s already gone wrong will only make things worse going forward.

Here again, my mind goes back to one of my favorite Kobe quotes of all time:

“I’m reflective only in the sense that I learn to move forward….

“I reflect with a purpose.”

I feel like that needs to be all of us from this point on.

Kobe’s voice and impact is missed during this time, and I feel like we all have an obligation and duty to do our best to emulate the Mamba Mentality that he gifted us.

We all need to face things head-on and rise to the occasion if we have any shot of making something out of this awful year.

So we’ve still got part of September, as well as the entire months of October, November and December left. And the only question now is….

What are we going to do with them?

Jack Flaherty
St. Louis Cardinals