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MIAMI — Frank Clark’s eyes narrowed after he heard the inquiry, his brow furrowing ever so slightly. Of all the questions he fielded, this is the one he can’t believe he’s being asked.
This was Monday, Super Bowl Media Night at Marlins Park, and while reporters had 60 minutes to pepper Clark with rapid fire questions, only one — Do you have the book “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play” by Kobe Bryant? — seemed to surprise the 26-year-old.
“Of course,” Clark said. “Of course, I’ve got ‘Mamba Mentality.’ Come on, man, it’s sitting on my office desk right now. I read that book every day, I read that book every day.”
Makes sense, and not just because Clark grew up in Los Angeles, where Bryant starred for 20 years with the Lakers.
Known for his voracious competitiveness and desire to maximize his athletic gifts, Bryant’s intensity and personal philosophy was immortalized in the aforementioned book, which was published in 2018 and has seen a surge in sales since his tragic death at 41 on Sunday.
And as such, if you ask players in this year’s Super Bowl who grew up watching the Lakers legend, it appears the book is well on its way to morphing into a “guide to winning” of sorts for this generation of athletes, not completely unlike how Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh’s “Finding the Winning Edge” is for football coaches.
“It describes a lot of stuff from a basketball point of view, but if you look at it as a consumer, as a reader in your profession — no matter what it is — then you’ll understand exactly what he means when he’s speaking on ‘The Mamba Mentality,’” Clark said.
Especially when you remember that one of the primary lessons from the book is winning first in your preparation.
“For instance, if you’re a reporter, you’ve got to prepare [for an interview] just as much as I have to prepare for an opponent in knowing who you’re going to interview, knowing the subject you’re talking about,” Clark said. “That’s the same thing I’ve got to do, and that’s ‘The Mamba Mentality.’ It’s winning through your preparation first, so when you get to an event — a show — that’s what you’re going to do, too.”
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said he received a personal copy of the book from Bryant around the time of its release. The book taught him the importance of mind over matter, which resonated with Sherman because he was coming off a devastating Achilles injury.
“It’s just about ... understanding how powerful the mind is, and conquering your own mind — which is probably one of the more difficult things you’ll ever do in your lifetime,” Sherman said. “You can’t always control it because there’s chemicals going on that you’re not in control of, but just trying to stay positive and stay under the influence that you can do whatever you put your mind to.
“Like, when I tore my Achilles, I didn’t let myself sink into the thought process that you may never get back to where you were. Like, that never crossed my mind. So if that never crossed your mind, then it’s not even a possibility for you. In my mind, I could only get back to where I was. And that’s the only option.”
And that’s exactly what Sherman, 31, has done this season, as he returned to All-Pro form. The resurgent 49ers also have another “Mamba Mentality” reader on the roster in receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
“I read his book a little bit, yeah — I enjoyed his book,” Sanders said. “Kobe, man, he was spitting a lot of knowledge. To guys who want to make it to the league, people who want to be successful … it was real authentic.”
Which is a big reason Sanders says that Bryant’s legend will never die — “Kobe will be talked about until the end of time,” he said — and why Sherman thinks the book will continue to surge in popularity.
“I’m going to do my best to spread the message that he gave to me, and I’m sure there’s a lot of people [who will],” Sherman said. “I think that is, 100 percent, how his legacy is going to live on. That Mamba Mentality isn’t going anywhere, and it’s going to have a tremendous impact on this world, and not only just in sports, but in business and just life in general.
“There are much more important and harder things to persevere [through] than just sports and sports injuries. There are real-life traumas, real-life disparities going on out there, people that need inspiration to find some way to make it through and see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I think that mentality will give them a pathway and a guide to get there.”
There’s certainly enough buzz around it now, so much so that even players who don’t have the book, like Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, are considering getting it now.
Meanwhile, those who have already given the book to others — like 49ers receiver Jordan Matthews, who gifted it to his wife, a huge Kobe fan — can vouch for its impact.
“Oh, she’s all in — she’s not like a big reader, so I know she probably picked out the most important parts and moments, but I’ll tell you what, I know she’s gonna go revisit that book now,” Matthews told Yahoo Sports. “It’s gonna hit different because those are some lasting words he left us with, man. It’s a gift.”
Clark can vouch for that. The book dropped when he was in the middle of his fourth season, a career year in which he posted 14 sacks for the Seattle Seahawks. While it wasn’t the driving force behind his killer 2018 campaign, Clark — brows unfurrowed, nodding his head now — conceded it played a role in his continued development as one of the NFL’s best edge rushers.
“I feel like it has, a little bit, you could say that,” Clark said. “At the end of the day, it’s a host of things, but yeah you could say that. [It played] a small part.”
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