On January 26, tragic news broke of the passing of Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash. On board the helicopter there was the pilot Ara Zobayan as well as his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant and personal friends Alyssa, John and Keri Altobelli. Sarah and Payton Chester also lost their lives. Sadly, there were no survivors of this incident and the sporting world has been expressing their overwhelming grief.
Kobe Bean Bryant was born on August 23, 1978 in Philadelphia. At the young age of six, he moved to Italy so his father, Joe, could continue his professional basketball career. This is where Kobe believed his famously competitive “mamba mentality” began. His differing skin colour to everyone else he knew in Italy made Kobe see himself as an outsider and it drove him to work at what he does best, basketball.
When Kobe returned to America and Lower Merion High School this mindset stuck with him and it propelled him to the 1996 NBA draft at the impressive age of 17. Even though he was selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th pick, the legendary Jerry West, who was the manager of the Lakers at the time, saw something special in Kobe and thus, a legend was born.
Kobe started his NBA career as he meant to go on, breaking records for the youngest ever player and youngest dunk champion in his first season. Bryant also became the youngest all-star starter in history and the basketball world started paying attention to this young star.
Kobe was often compared to the great Michael Jordan, a comparison which gained traction during the “three-peat”. This was the period that created Kobe’s legend as him and the legendary Shaquille O’Neal combined to lead the Lakers to three consecutive titles, something that brought success back to the city of stars. Tensions and personal riffs between Bryant and O’Neal saw the partnership part ways whilst Bryant continued to build his legacy in Los Angeles. Seasons of scoring records and personal triumphs passed until he was matched with the right players to achieve more team success.
Bryant was now the undisputed best player on the team as well as MVP of the league, but fell short in the 2008 finals against a star-studded Celtics side, an event he would soon avenge. Bryant also won his first of two Olympic gold medals for his country in the same year despite tearing a ligament in his shooting hand. Bryant then won two more championships for the Lakers with supporting players such as Bynum, Gasol and Artest following his lead. Whilst the rest of his career was thwarted by injury, he still managed to make all-star appearances and then pass his idol Michael Jordan in total points tally, the legend was completed by him scoring 60 points in his final ever game.
The resumé of Kobe Bryant’s basketball career is often recited and almost chanted by his fans, 5-time champion, 18-time all-star, 11-time All NBA first team, 2-time scoring champion, 2-time finals MVP, regular season MVP and more.
These achievements aren’t necessarily what made Kobe so beloved but more the man himself. He was a man that championed the idea of working hard and relentlessly to achieve anything possible. His “mamba mentality” has inspired millions to better themselves beyond expectation.
In retirement Kobe’s personality and status didn’t dwindle. He remained around the league mentoring young players and advising his beloved Lakers behind the scenes. Another testament to his character was the adding of another award to his collection as he won an Oscar for his short story “Dear Basketball”.
Personally, the most likeable feature of the fiercely competitive and at times polarizing man was his love for his family. Always seen with his children and wife by his side, Kobe dedicated himself to his daughters. For his daughter Gianna, he always made an effort to educate her on her love of basketball and do what he could to raise the profile of the Women’s game so she could have the best future possible. Kobe’s love of the WNBA echoed his raw un-wavering passion for basketball and all that played it.
I hope that people don’t forget the full story of Kobe, not just the relentless maniacal athlete that was one of the best ever at what he did, but also the compassionate man that cared for helping and inspiring others to be the best they can be. The storyteller, the father, the legend, Kobe Bryant.
By Harry Booth
Photo credit: Alexandra Walt via Flickr