Kobe Bryant and eight others, including his daughter Gianna, tragically lost their lives in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday 26th January 2020.
Bryant was an unstoppable force on and off the basketball court. An 18-time All-Star, five-time NBA champion and a sure-fire, first ballot Hall of Famer, Bryant had one of the most successful careers in NBA history.
His life after basketball was every bit as impressive. Business interests stretched were far and wide, his venture capital firm investing in a variety of gaming and technology businesses.
Bryant’s philanthropic work was significant, too, from his After-School All-Stars program to donations for healthcare in China.
The Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California was opened in 2016, providing facilities and support for thousands of young athletes.
The Academy changed lives and reflected Bryant’s desire to build foundations for the next sporting superstars, "MAMBA Sports Academy is a natural expansion of my commitment to educating and empowering the next generation of kids through sports."
His book, released in 2018, was a bestseller. ‘The Mamba Mentality: How I Play’ walked through his career, reflecting on the highs and lows with honesty and giving an insight to Bryant’s mindsight that wasn’t always available during his playing days.
Famed for his work ethic and devout attention to detail as a player, ESPN aired ‘Detail’ after Kobe’s retirement.
The show saw one of the greatest ever basketball minds at work, delving into X’s and O’s and allowing NBA fans to see the level of analysis Bryant went through during his career. It was an example of the mindset that helped him become one of the most talented players to grace the hardwood.
Bryant won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. ‘Dear Basketball’, like so many of his on-court performances, was a gem.
His tragic death cut short a post-playing life that was just beginning. Vanessa Bryant lost a husband and a daughter.
Gianna was a basketball addict, destined for a career in the game like her father. Just recently a video of Gianna and her father talking hoops went viral. For all the rings, All-Star appearances and adulation, Kobe loved being a father more than anything else.
A playing career laden with greatness set the platform for his off-court interests. From his early teenage years, Kobe was catching the eye.
Bryant grew up in Philadelphia, excelling at high school and turning down big-name colleges to go straight to the NBA draft in 1996.
Jerry West was blown away by Kobe’s draft workout, and the Los Angeles Lakers set out to acquire him.
Looking to free up cap space to sign Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers acquired the 13th pick from the Charlotte Hornets and selected Bryant – one of the greatest duos in NBA history was formed.
The first guard ever drafted straight from high school soon became the youngest ever NBA All-Star in his third season, making the first of 18 consecutive All-Star appearances.
A threepeat came from 2000 to 2002; Bryant and O’Neal were unstoppable together despite not always seeing eye to eye.
Two further titles followed in 2009 and 2010. Between NBA Finals successes, Bryant’s reputation was hit hard by sexual assault allegations in 2003. Phil Jackson wrote damningly about him in his book and the feud with O’Neal was the NBA’s very own soap opera.
His evolution as a teammate, as a leader, throughout his career was perhaps the biggest change. From the man who was desperate to prove himself during the O’Neal years to a mentor figure, he led the Lakers to two titles post-Shaq.
Both his game and personality make him the closest player to Michael Jordan since His Airness retired. Jordan is one of four non-Celtics with more rings than Bryant’s five.
Bryant wasn’t shy of comparisons with Jordan and was open about his desire to match Jordan’s tally.
Comparisons are a staple of basketball conversation, and perhaps no other player has been as divisive as Bryant. LeBron James, Tracy McGrady and Kevin Durant have all been pitted against Kobe, with column inches and hours of podcasts devoted.
Iconic is an overused word, but there’s no question of its appropriateness here.
A generation shouted ‘Kobe!’ when they shot at the court or scrunched up some paper and fired for the bin. His fade-away and jab-step were replicated, elements of his game are seen across the league today.
A generation were inspired by Kobe Bryant, many of whom are NBA superstars in their own right, and plenty worked with him during the offseason.
The news of Sunday night hit many who took the court; Devin Booker was emotional as the crowd chanted ‘Kobe’, Tyson Chandler was visibly upset on the bench.
Zion Williamson, who was born after Bryant won his first title, spoke of how he looked up to him, and owned both his jerseys, the eight and the 24.
Bryant’s legacy is complicated, as an athlete and a person. The reaction to his death makes clear how many lives he impacted, however. Some adore him as a hero, some respected him as an all-time great basketball player and loving father.
Kobe is in that tiny group of sportspeople known all over the globe, athletes who are bigger than their sport.
Whether he’s top three, top five, top 10 or top 20 in NBA history doesn’t really matter. Only a handful in NBA history have been as influential as Black Mamba.
*Credit for the main photo belongs to Rick Bowmer / AP Photo*