Kobe Bryant used a ferocious competitiveness and uncanny shooting touch to become an NBA icon, leaving behind a legacy that has influenced the newest generation of league talent and fans worldwide.
From his 81-point game, the second-best scoring performance in NBA history, to five NBA titles in 20 years of dazzling performances with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant delivered a relentless attitude that attracted a global following before his death Sunday at age 41 in a helicopter crash.
Bryant joined giant center Shaquille O’Neal to spark the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002, becoming at the age of 23 the youngest player to capture three titles.
A bitter feud with Bryant saw ‘Shaq’ depart, with Bryant portrayed as never having had childish ways while O’Neal never outgrew them.
That left Bryant without the inside force needed to capture the crown until Spain’s Pau Gasol arrived, and the Lakers won titles in 2009 and 2010 with Bryant in command and later patching things up with O’Neal.
Bryant sparked the US Olympic team to gold medals at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics and became a global celebrity as much for his personality as his playmaking.
Bryant’s fierceness was legendary and led him to nickname himself the ‘Black Mamba’ for his ability to strike quickly with deadly scoring accuracy.
There were spectacular nights, but nothing topped his 81-point effort against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006, a mark surpassed only by Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962.
Bryant scored 65 points in a 2007 win over Portland, then followed with 50 points against Minnesota, 60 at Memphis and 50 more against New Orleans -- the third-longest run of 50-point games in NBA history behind two from Chamberlain.
Some say Bryant saved the best for last, scoring a league season-high of 60 points against Utah in his final NBA game in 2016, becoming the oldest player in league history to crack that milestone at age 37.
‘I love everything about this game,’ Bryant famously said. ‘For me, it’s not a part of life, it is life, and it’s a part of me.’
In all, Bryant finished with 33,643 points, 7,047 rebounds and 6,306 assists over 1,346 career NBA games. He was an 18-time NBA All-Star, the 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player, the NBA Finals 2009 and 2010 NBA MVP and matched a record as a four-time NBA All-Star Game MVP.
But it wasn’t a smooth path to stardom. In addition to nagging injuries that slowed his later seasons, Bryant faced a major rape controversy that delivered a body blow to his endorsements image.
Bryant, a father of four who married wife Vanessa in 2001, faced his darkest hour in 2003 when he was arrested in Colorado over a sexual assault allegation filed by a 19-year-old employee of a hotel where Bryant was staying ahead of knee surgery.
Bryant was accused of rape. He admitted to adultery but said he did not commit rape. In 2004, the case was dropped after the accuser refused to testify in a trial, and Bryant issued an apology saying he could understand how she might feel there was not consent.
A separate civil suit was settled under terms kept private.
In 2011, Bryant made an apology for using a gay slur to describe a referee and paid a $100,000 fine imposed by the NBA.
Knee and ankle injuries mounted as years began to take a toll on Bryant. He missed most of the 2013-14 season with a left knee injury and much of his penultimate campaign with a torn right rotator cuff, then announced his retirement by saying, ‘My body knows it’s time to say goodbye.’
After retiring, Bryant became a children’s book writer and wrote the movie ‘Dear Basketball’ -- last year’s Academy Award winner for Best Animated Short Film.
Kobe Bean Bryant, the son of former NBA player Joe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant, was born in Philadelphia in 1978 while his father played for the NBA’s 76ers, the child named for the Japanese beef seen on a menu and his father’s nickname.
The elder Bryant played from 1984 to 1991 in Italy, giving young Kobe a global worldview as he grew up dreaming of following his dad into the NBA.
‘When I was growing up in Italy, it opened up a whole new world to me and I thought anything was possible,’ Kobe told AFP in 2009.
Bryant became one of the first NBA players to seek out a growing fan base in China, blogging for Chinese internet giant SINA in 2009.
‘As a kid growing up, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would have this big fan base halfway around the world in Beijing and Shanghai,’ Bryant told AFP.
How social media reacted to Bryant’s death
‘Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act.’
—Former US president Barack Obama
‘There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my niece Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW’
—Bryant’s former Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neal
‘Most people will remember Kobe as the magnificent athlete who inspired a whole generation of basketball players. But I will always remember him as a man who was much more than an athlete.’
— Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, six-time NBA champion
‘I have no words. All my love for Kobe’s family and friends. It was a pleasure to meet you and share good times together. We lost a genius like no other.’
—Argentina and FC Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi
‘They are all good. I also regret the death of his daughter and the crew of the helicopter. See you, legend.’
—Argentine football legend Diego Maradona
‘It doesn’t matter how much talent one possesses. Greatness is achieved through years of hard work, commitment and focus. Legends like Kobe Bryant never die. They continue to live through all the lives they have touched with their skills, showmanship, philanthropies, etc. My condolences to his family for their incredible losses.’
—Ace Bangladeshi all-rounder Sakib al Hasan
‘So sad to hear the heartbreaking news of the deaths of Kobe and his daughter Gianna. Kobe was a true legend and inspiration to so many. Sending my condolences to his family and friends and the families of all who lost their lives in the crash. RIP Legend.’
—Portugal and Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo
‘Rest in peace, my friend.’
—Former Brazilian star Ronaldinho
‘I didn’t know until Joey told me off the 18th green. It is a shocker to everyone, unbelievably sad and one of the more tragic days. I will remember the fire and how he burned so competitively hot.’
—US golf superstar Tiger Woods
‘Absolutely devastated to hear this news today. So many childhood memories of waking up early and watching this magician doing things on the court that I would be mesmerized by. Life is so unpredictable and fickle. His daughter Gianna passed away too in the crash. Iam absolutely Heartbroken. Rest in peace. Strength and condolences to the family.’
—India cricket team captain Virat Kohli
‘Like everyone, I’m stunned and saddened to hear the horrific news about Kobe Bryant. Thoughts are with his family and loved ones at this terribly sad time #RIPKobeBryant.’
—Australian cricket legend Shane Warne
‘Still can’t believe @kobebryant’
—Jamaican sprint legend Usain Bolt
‘There are not enough words to express my deepest sympathies to the Bryants and every family suffering from this tragedy. May God bless you and your Gianna. Thank you for being there for me and inspiring the entire world.’
—Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic
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