The Homeless Hill Runner & Mamba Mentality

Life lessons from Antonio & Kobe

San Francisco is hilly af. 

It’s the first thing I noticed when I moved here last year. 

Literally the entire block I live on has stairs:

Yes, I’ve run my fair share of hill sprints at high school track but nothing quite like this beast.

A few days after I moved in, I noticed a disheveled man with a trench coat sprinting up the stairs. I was a bit alarmed. Was something wrong? 

He started jogging back down. And then ran back up the hill. 

And again. And again.

Next morning, he was back. Same time. Sprinting up the stairs. Jogging back down. 

I asked my new roommate if he'd noticed him before. Apparently, he’d been consistently working out at this hill for months now.

I was embarrassed. I hadn't worked out at all in a long time. And here was a homeless man getting in a grueling workout every morning. I had no excuses.

Two days later, I saw him sprinting again. This time he was carrying all of his belongings - at least 40-50 pounds worth.

No fucking way. 

All I could think of was “Mamba Mentality.”

Kobe “Bean” Bryant was selected to join the NBA Hall of Fame yesterday. It's been a little over 2 months since his shocking death. 

I vividly remember waking up from texts and calls from friends checking in on me.

One question kept coming up in our conversations: why do we grieve over people we haven't met?

Some psychologists point towards the "parasocial relationship" we have with public figures. We spend so much time following their journeys that we feel as if we know them, building perceived intimacy.

I’ve been following Kobe’s career since 1998. He helped me fit in with American culture, make lifelong friends, and learn the value of hard work and mentorship.

When I immigrated to America in '97, I couldn't speak or understand English. I come from a long history of Indian farmers. My dad was the first person in his family to get a college education and leave Gujarat. He worked insanely hard to provide for us.

After I had finally graduated from ESL to “normal” English, I was gifted our family’s largest non-essential purchase to date: an N64 console and the NBA Courtside game. This became my most prized possession: 

Dunking with Kobe taught me basketball. And knowing basketball meant I could fit in with other kids. We finally shared common interests.

Flash forward to today, many of my longest friendships from high school and college stem from a love for basketball. We have a decade-long fantasy basketball league going, and have made memories like this:

5 years ago, I got a last minute ticket to our last home UVa game as 4th years (s/o @sessagram). We played Duke and were so hype all game in banana costumes that a kind elder man offered us his tickets that were 4 rows behind coach K. We fucking won, rushed the court, and obviously sang the good ole song.

Tonight I’m going to my first UVa game since, just a 20 minute walk from home in Brooklyn.
LETS GO HOOOOS. #wahoowa
March 11, 2018

It all started with Kobe.

20 years after I was introduced to basketball, I had the fortune of going to Kobe's last game in Brooklyn. This was a dream come true, my first time watching him live! At this point, Kobe was a legend in every city - his last season was a victory lap. I knew the crowd would cheer at his every shot. What I didn't expect was people rising to their feet when any Laker with the ball even looked at him.


About a month after I moved in, I noticed someone doing pushups at the very top of my hill. It was him! The Nob Hill runner.

I had to go meet him.

His name is Antonio, and he’s my friend now.

He is from Mexico. He lost his job a few years ago and has struggled to gain employment since. He hasn’t made contact with his family in years.

He is homeless and sleeps in Northern SF to avoid getting robbed or assaulted. 

But even through his struggles, he takes the time to help others in a worse position. I noticed one day he didn’t have his recognizable thick blanket. Turns out he had donated it to an elder woman who was shivering at night.

He loves cars, especially vintage models. I learned that when I showed him an old picture of the hill he sprints on, taken in 1954.

Antonio goes to the public library every few days to watch YouTube videos on history and nature. He has a thirst for knowledge.

So, why does he run up and down this brutal hill every morning?

Working out makes him feel free and alive.

He strives to push himself to go farther every day. 

Mamba mentality. 

He promises me he could sprint up two consecutive blocks.

But he doesn’t have a consistent source of food, water, or a place to shower.

What's your excuse?

Losing Kobe was hard because he taught me the importance of a strong work ethic and the value of raising our ambition.  His legendary workout stories almost read like fables. When everyone counted him out, he kept pushing the boundaries. The man shot a free throw with a torn achilles.

Kobe played every game like it was is last, and in his last game he did this (seriously, spend a few minutes watching that).

That tenacity didn’t stop at basketball. When Chris Sacca told him he was skeptical about his interest in investing, he challenged him to do his “homework”:

So, sure enough, for the next few months my phone never stops buzzing in the middle of the night. It's Kobe, reading this article, checking out this tweet, following this guy, diving into this Ted Talk, diving into the Y Combinator Demo Day stuff. And I'm getting these texts, literally two or three in the morning, and my wife is like, "Are you having an affair with Kobe Bryant? What is happening here?"

In 2001, he told his agent that he’d win an Oscar one day. In 2017, he directed a love letter called “Dear Basketball” and won Best Animated Short Film. Okay.

During his prime, Kobe was famous for his single-minded focus. He wasn’t friendly on the court or off. But as he grew older, he grew a soft spot. He started giving back.

Kobe became a mentor. He worked closely with athletes like Kyrie, Carmelo, and Diana Taurasi. He was a role model for generations of NBA and WNBA players. They were devastated by his passing.

Kobe became a girl dad and loved every second of it. (Rest in peace Gigi 💕)

His final Twitter likes celebrated the accomplishments of top female athletes.

Nobody was a bigger advocate for women's basketball.

His last instagram DM was checking in on Shareef O’Neal, an old rival’s son.

And his last text (on the helicopter) was spent securing an internship for a coach’s daughter.

Thank you Kobe (and Antonio) for being relentless in pursuit of your goals, while finding it in your heart to put others ahead of yourself.

My next post will cover grades and why “shuhari” (a Japanese martial arts concept) is a better framework for learning.

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