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Before Kobe Bryant became a legend, he air-balled the Lakers out of the 1997 playoffs. In the fourth quarter and overtime, Kobe put up not one, not two, not three, but four air-balls against the Stockton-Malone Jazz in an elimination game for the Lakers. The rookie's ice cold shooting led to a 98-93 defeat and the end of LA's season.

That moment of failure laid the foundation for Kobe’s unending quest to improve his mental and physical toughness.

Every failure was an opportunity to become better.

Kobe didn’t believe those crucial shots were un-makable. He realized that his body was unprepared for the moment.

After a moment of introspection following the deflating Jazz loss, Kobe knew how to turn those air-balls into swishes. Kobe explained his solution in a Motiversity interview in 2019.

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“In high school you play 35 games max, week in-between, spaced out. In the NBA it’s back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. I didn’t have the legs. You look at the shot, every shot was on line, but every shot was short. Right? I got to get stronger. I got to train differently.”

That offseason, Kobe re-vamped his entire training regiment.

“The weight training program that I’m doing, I got to tailor it to an 82-game season so when the playoffs come around my legs are stronger and that ball gets there. I look at it with rationale and say, okay well, the reason why I shot air balls is because my legs aren’t there…well, next year, they’ll be there. That was it.”

Coming up in short in Utah in ‘97 taught Kobe that every weakness can become a strength if you’re willing to work hard enough.

For the rest of his career, Kobe attacked every offseason like it was a helpless weak side defender. He transformed himself from a physically unprepared 18-year-old rookie into a basketball assassin. An assassin who could consistently drain playoff daggers.

Just three years after his four air-balls, Shaq and Kobe won their first NBA title together.

The rest, is history.