How Kobe Bryant inspired New Zealand U20s to title glory

The legacy of the late Kobe Bryant goes beyond basketball. Whether it was schoolchildren screaming “Kobe” as they tossed shredded paper toward the trash or fans around the world feeling a sense of connection to Los Angeles, Bryant made an impact in the lives of many.

When Bryant died along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash in January 2020, the sports world ground to a halt. Rugby players Quade Cooper and Sonny Bill Williams were among the millions who expressed their condolences.

It's been more than four years but Bryant still influences others with his “Mamba Mentality.” NFL linebacker Demario Davis once described the thought process as “attacking what is in front of you with passion and purpose.”

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Stanley Solomon talks about the mamba mentality in New Zealand | U20 Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Those who wish to achieve excellence in their chosen field could do a lot worse than learning from an NBA star who has already inspired millions. Bryant just wanted to encourage others to get a little better every day.

The New Zealand Under-20s have taken heed of Bryant's advice and influence this year by communicating through the theme of 'Mamba Mentality'. That way of thinking has paid off with the Baby Blacks winning the inaugural Under-20 Rugby Championship on Sunday.

“We've coached him. You just have to stay calm in those situations. That's where you win the game,” winger Stanley Solomon said. Rugby Pass After New Zealand beat Australia 36-25.

“Just stay calm, take a breath and don't look too far ahead, just the next job mentality.

“Our theme this year is ‘Mamba Mentality’ so it’s a good thing to have.

“First, it was '24 and Kobe was (No.) 24. He's a great guy, a great mentality and a good way for us to look forward to something and be proud of something.”

Solomon was one of New Zealand's standout players during the tournament on Australia's Sunshine Coast with the winger scoring three tries in just two matches. The speedster scored against South Africa before scoring a brace against Australia.

Those two tries in the first half against the Junior Wallabies also proved crucial. The winner of the Trans-Tasman U20s Test will be crowned winners of the Rugby Championship, and Solomon's double helped the New Zealanders to a slender first-half lead.

Australian Will McCulloch responded with a brace in the second half which also saw the hosts regain the lead. But the New Zealanders fought back valiantly and took a one-point lead in the final ten minutes of the match that decided the championship.

The New Zealanders ended up running away with it. Captain Vernon Basson lifted the huge trophy at Sunshine Coast Stadium on Sunday as the Australians were left wondering what could have been after the thrilling encounter.

“You have to give the boys credit but it's true. Everyone says it but you really do.

“On that second try, our players got deep into that 22 for five minutes or so and I was lucky to get the ball.

“It's part of my game to catch those missed chances and take them when they come.

“I've been underestimated my whole life. I've been the youngest kid on my team all grades, so it's something I'm used to,” he added.

“It's a great feeling when you can go out there and use your feet and beat these big guys who aren't as fast. It's a great feeling.”

“We will win this cup but from tomorrow we are looking forward to the World Cup. That is our next focus.

“We will have fun tonight but the next focus is South Africa, so let's hope we win it.”


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