There can only be one Black Mamba – and that is what Mamba Sports Academy wants people to remember.
After the tragic death of Kobe Bryant in January, the Mamba Sports Academy has announced that it will retire “Mamba” from its company name and instead go by its original name: The Sports Academy.
“One of the things that kept coming back to us is that Kobe is a, ‘one of one,’” said Chad Faulkner, who founded the Academy in 2016. “As we were working here with his nickname of Mamba, that’s a one of one. And so we really felt that it was going to be in the best interest of everybody – including his family – to put Kobe in the rafters and those memories of where he belongs.”
After debuting in 2016, the Academy quickly drew as many as 50,000 athletes to its flagship center in Thousand Oaks. The facility measured in at roughly 100,000 square-feet and contained five basketball courts, five volleyball courts, two beach volleyball courts, a turf field, an esports training ground, pitching mounds, and a Gracie Barra jiu jitsu school.
The Academy went on to partner with Bryant in December 2018, renaming the facility the Mamba Sports Academy. The rebrand included a new logo and plans to open new venues in the future, which now includes a location in South Bay, Calif.
Since his passing, Faulkner and the Academy have worked closely with the Bryant family in working through this change. Based on the magnitude of the situation – a helicopter crash which took the lives of Bryant, his daughter Gianna, Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, and six others – Faulkner felt uncomfortable keeping “Mamba” in the company’s name.
The Academy’s name change comes just weeks after the Mamba Sports Foundation was also renamed, now called the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation. The foundation, which is a part of the Academy, provides sports education services to underserved communities and funds sports training opportunities for young women.
“If there’s any comfort that any of us have, it’s just the magnitude of the really positive influence Kobe had on the world,” Faulkner said. “When the events of [January] 26th played out, and everybody was just trying to get back on their feet, there was a form of love around everything that Kobe had done, and such a great appreciation in that regard.”
Less than two months after Bryant’s passing, Faulkner and the Academy have also been challenged by the coronavirus pandemic, forced to figure out how to continue operating and provide some level of service.
The Academy has already temporarily closed down its two primary locations in Thousand Oaks and South Bay. According to Faulkner, he is confident that the Academy will be able to work directly with some of its local private schools at the start of summer camps in July.
Despite the on-site shutdowns, the Academy has significantly increased its digital offerings. It has been posting online basketball drills and workout videos for people to try at home. It is offering nutritional tips on how to avoid snacking and to maintain muscle during this quarantine. It is also increasing its social media presence, with frequent Instagram live streams and more videos on its YouTube page.
Another part of its business that has remained unaffected is the Academy’s incubator, Mamba Sports Venture Lab. Focused on cognition in sports, the Venture Lab already has one product in Mamba RISE, a mobile app that, through exercise, can help athletes improve upon their mental thought processes, response times, and sports IQ.
Faulkener believes the coronavirus pandemic has even helped – not hurt – speed up the work that the Venture Lab has been working to unveil.
“What [the pandemic] did was put us on an accelerator to further the launch of those [digital] products, which frankly have been on hold since the [helicopter] tragedy,” he said.
“We’ve been recording multiple training sessions a day… that we typically facilitate within the Academy and putting those online for free,” he added. “That’s really been something that we can do to give back and that we can do for a lot of people that appreciate what we do and kind of puts them in a spot to stay close with us and obviously has an element that helps us continue to build our audience as well.”
Reflecting on the past four months, Faulkner sees it as an unprecedented part of his life. Up until 2020, the 53-year-old businessman made it through relatively stress-fire. Now, he has had to manage through two enormous catastrophes: the death of Bryant and the coronavirus pandemic.
Wading through these two crises has not been easy, Faulkner said, but everyone who he works with at the Academy has helped him get through it.
“There’s a lot of folks working without information and without knowing what’s next,” he said. “Our team has been able to continue to dig in and care for others, and I just find that tremendously inspiring. That helps me every day in my work to try and get ahead of all the issues that we need to work through.”
“We’re gonna make it through this – I’m confident of that 100% percent,” he added.