SPORTSMAN, ENTREPRENEUR, PHILANTHROPIST
What we can learn as entrepreneurs from the late athlete’s prolific life and career.
Much has been written about NBA star Kobe Bryant since his passing away earlier this year. Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash January 26, 2020, alongside his daughter Gianna. The accident also claimed the lives of their friends onboard: Payton and Sarah Chester; Alyssa, Keri and John Altobelli; Christina Mauser; and pilot Ara Zobayan. Bryant is survived by his wife Vanessa, and three daughters Natalia, Bianka and Capri.
Most tributes honored his life and contributions on and off the basketball court, and some of that did focus on his entrepreneurial work and spirit—Kobe Bryant, the business owner, investor and philanthropist, albeit not entirely removed from sport. It is sport that taught him focus, business, salesmanship, creativity and leadership—qualities every entrepreneur needs to be successful.
Many articles describe how Bryant tried to apply what he’d learned in basketball to business and investing. When asked by USA Today once as to what he liked best: hitting a winning shot or finding a winning company as an investor, Bryant said, “It’s finding that winning company as an investor, because I always expected to hit a game-winning shot growing up.”
Bryant Stibel & Co., LLC was founded in 2013 by serial entrepreneur Jeff Stibel and Bryant. The company operates as a venture capital firm, investing in the technology, media and data industries. In 2016, post Bryant’s NBA retirement, Bryant Stibel launched a $100 million VC fund to focus on early stage businesses. The website states, “We are not looking for ideas; rather, we look for great teams with a proven product, established business model, and a clear path to scalable revenues and profitability.”
Superstar athletes like Bryant carry name recognition and, in some cases, lots of monetary strength too, but not all are skilled in business and finance. Many retired athletes end up broke and broken but Bryant fared better than most. In fact, Bryant was able to lend more than just a helping hand (other than money and name) to his 2018 skincare for athletes startup Art of Sport. Bryant once commented, “My biggest strength is in storytelling for brands.” To that extent, he also dabbled in some music, film and television, and books.
The NBA great dipped his toe into entrepreneurship early in his basketball career when Adidas first gave him his own line of sneakers. Since then, he had several winning brand associations and ambassadorships associated with his name.
Like other entrepreneurs, Bryant was focused on his product and how it supported his “day job” when he was still playing. A Nike official release from 2013 quoted Bryant as saying, “I’m always focused on improving my game, to perform my best. I want my shoes to mimic the speed of my game.”
Entrepreneur-focused activities aside, Bryant and his wife Vanessa were serious about their philanthropic efforts, most of which centered on children. Some of those efforts included the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Foundation founded in 2006, created to financially support young people in “life-changing experiences by broadening their global perspectives”; Make-A-Wish Foundation, where Bryant granted more than 250 wishes of children battling life threatening illnesses; and After-School All-Stars L.A. Chapter (14,000 students), that partners with schools nationwide to extend school hours for low-income children (98% of students are children of color).
Last but not least, Bryant and his wife were founding donors of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, donating $1 million. At the opening, Bryant tweeted, “Go. See this museum. There is no greater testament to this country than the stories in this building.”
As entrepreneurs we strive to make our businesses our legacies. Most of us aren’t NBA superstars or even famous, but we can learn from Bryant. He showed us the skills we need to be successful. He showed us that patience, teamwork, strategy and a good story are essential skills in life. He showed us that when we have, we must share. That lifting up others who don’t, is what success is all about. Bryant’s legacy continues to inspire—as a sportsperson, entrepreneur, businessman, investor, philanthropist and storyteller.