What does it take to compete at the highest level? Now, what does it take to do it in multiple competitive arenas? Kobe Bryant, five-time NBA champion-turned venture capitalist and Oscar-winner has a few thoughts about that.
Bryant spoke to a capacity crowd at Bovard Auditorium April 2, in an informal and wide-ranging discussion covering his earliest childhood dreams of playing basketball, to his competitive nature, to the challenges of pivoting toward his second act following retirement. He was hosted by the USC Performance Science Institute (PSI), a multi-disciplinary center housed at the USC Marshall School of Business, dedicated to studying the science behind high performance.
The 90-minute talk opened with a celebration of Bryant’s basketball bravado, to the vocal approval of the audience. But it later tempered into a dialogue on the challenges of re-channeling athletic competitive drive into a business arena, and, finally, into a discussion of Bryant’s longtime love of storytelling.
“When you have a star player who is the first to arrive and the last to leave the gym, it sets the bar for everyone else. I don’t think Kobe gets the credit he deserves because he makes it look effortless. But that’s what made the Lakers great.” Jeanie Buss '85, USC Trustee and President of the Lakers
Since retiring in 2016, Bryant has launched Granity Studios, a media and animation studio (Granity is a word Bryant coined by blending the phrase "greater than infinity.") Its first production, a short animated film written by Bryant, Dear Basketball, won an Oscar for Best Animated Film in 2018.
“I buried them”
David Belasco, PSI co-founder and executive director of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, asked Bryant about grit, passion, and what it’s like to work harder than everyone else, leading to a special appearance.
In a videotaped question from Pete Carroll, head coach of the Super Bowl winning-Seattle Seahawks and former USC head coach, Bryant was asked again about his hard work and teammates who may not have shared his approach. He was blunt when asked what it was like to play with people who weren’t as “gritty” as he is:
“It may sound tough, but I killed them. I buried them,” he said. “My tolerance for that is not to be tolerated. I beat them to the point where they might want to reconsider their professional career.”
His tone later softened as Belasco pushed him to discuss topics such as leadership with the Lakers, a team he refused to part with even during the final years of his career when the team was out of championship-winning territory.
“As a leader of the team, your job is to elevate the other guy, to get them to emotionally want to be better,” said Bryant. “During practice, it was important to know each one personally, to know what button to push to get them to practice harder.”
USC Trustee and Marshall alumna Jeanie Buss ’85, president of the Los Angeles Lakers made a brief appearance.
“When you have a star player who is the first to arrive and the last to leave the gym, it sets the bar for everyone else,” she said. “I don’t think Kobe gets the credit he deserves because he makes it look effortless. But that’s what made the Lakers great.”
From Hardwood to Hollywood
Buss’s reflection on Laker greatness served as a segue – from Bryant’s 20-year NBA career where he won five championships with the Lakers, to his next chapter. Since leaving the game, he has parlayed his leadership abilities into a new financial business, as well as his interest in entertainment.
In 2013 he established Bryant Stibel, a $100 million venture capital fund along with brain scientist and tech entrepreneur Jeff Stibel.
Scholarships for Success
The event began with the awarding of the first Jake Olson Vision Awards, scholarships given to students who have overcome adversity to arrive at USC.
They are named for—and were presented by—Jake Olson ’19, a USC Marshall student leader and long snapper for the Trojan Football team. Olson lost his eyesight age at 12, but that did not stop his dream of attending USC and playing football for the Trojans. Cailin Stroyke and Isiah Dixon both USC Marshall class of 2021, accepted their awards onstage, alongside Olson.
In discussing the new award, Dr. Glenn Fox, head of design, strategy and outreach for the PSI said, “We are extremely grateful to everyone who applied and shared some incredible stories of grit and resilience.”
“The key differentiators for us were to find the students who themselves had experienced difficulties and setbacks due to personal circumstances, but had altered their approach and reached their goals as a reflection of their ability to recover from tough times. Cailin and Isiah stand out for these traits in particular.”