Gordon Monson: Great athletes from Kobe Bryant to Donovan Mitchell to Rudy Gobert share this single key attribute. Maybe you share it, too.

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder has a chat with Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) during a break in the action, as the Utah Jazz beat the the Los Angeles Lakers 123-75, in Salt Lake City, Monday, March 28, 2016.

In the wake of Kobe Bryant’s passing, it’s been noted he was the ultimate competitor, a player who would not relent or shrink away. And that celebration, if that’s the right word, of fierceness, if that’s the right word, brought to mind the larger concept of competition and competitiveness.

It’s what accomplished athletes of all kinds — junior, amateur, college, pro — rely on to ascend to greatness, whether it’s an NBA title or the country club championship, the Super Bowl or the 40-and-over rec league crown. If that single component is missing, the achievement and the trophy will be, as well.

Over the last two days, I asked a number of people close to Kobe where his competitiveness, the force that drove him, came from, and their general response was: “That’s a good question.”

Often, ultra-competitors themselves do not know, whether they are athletes or lawyers or salespeople or financial analysts. Competition, the need for it and the need to deal with it, lingers in many walks of life.

Rudy Gobert was recently asked from where his competitiveness comes, a force that has enabled him to capitalize on his physical gifts en route to becoming the best defensive basketball player on the planet.

He wasn’t sure. What he was sure of was that winning was his goal.

A successful businessman, an individual who founded his own law firm and went on to own numerous businesses, once told me winning — having to win — was a part of his nature. He said he grew up in a family with six siblings, and if he didn’t compete for attention, he would be left behind.

Urban Meyer said the same thing. Losing, to him, wasn’t an option. His demanding father expected excellence from him, even when he was a young kid, and because his sisters were elite students, he thought he had to be, too.

“I didn’t want to be the one knucklehead in the family,” he said.

That bled over into the sports he played, the games he coached.

Remember the stories about John Stockton, when he played for the Jazz? His teammates said he hated to lose at anything or everything, not just basketball. When he picked up a pingpong paddle, he might as well have been picking up a meat cleaver.

I once knew a middle-aged bridge player — a Life Master — who takes that endeavor quite seriously. When asked about her mindset heading into and out of a match, she said:

“When you don’t win, you feel so terrible. When you get beat and it’s your partner’s fault, you just want to kill them. I try not to be too vocal at my age (52 years old), but I yell at them anyway: ‘How can you be so stupid?’ Sometimes, you’re more mad at your partner than at your opponent.”

She said further that tournament bridge is no timid affair: “I’ve seen people get very angry about losing. I’ve seen women cry. I’ve seen people accuse opponents of cheating. I saw a guy punch another guy in the face. He knocked him right off his chair. You’re very much on edge when you’re playing bridge. It’s not a social event, it’s a competition.

“Winning is all about self-gratification. It’s the best feeling there is.”

Pro and college athletes often repeat the latter, if not the former.

Studiers of the human condition say competitiveness stirs from experiences in early, formative years and grows as individuals attach their identity, their self-esteem, to conquering whatever is in front of them. They validate themselves as they gain success.

That characteristic is most useful in building champions, but it also, when taken to extremes, can cause competitors to suffer from an unhealthy view of themselves. If they lose at something, whatever it is, it doesn’t make them a lesser person.

The key for top-level athletes is to have that fire burn in their area of achievement, their sport, pushing them to the heights of where their abilities can take them — without allowing that fire to burn down every aspect of their lives.

Which is to say, compete hard, but don’t let it become destructive. Allow competition to transform you into a benefactor, not a victim.

Athletes and coaches from Karl Malone to Gobert, from Stockton to Deron Williams to Donovan Mitchell, from Jerry Sloan to Quin Snyder, from Kyle Whittingham to Kalani Sitake to Tyler Huntley have talked about their competitiveness, their drive, their need to win, their opportunity to slake that powerful thirst.

The conclusion is — and with respect to Kobe, he likely would agree with all of them — that winning is their option. It may not be everything, it may not be the only thing, but … it is significant enough to pursue with every effort.

And that when it comes to games, losing feels even worse than winning feels good.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.