By MATTHEW HIRST
The Dallas Examiner
Kobe Bean Bryant was one of basketball’s all-time greats – if not the greatest, as noted by ESPN, Sports Illustrated and many others. And while his ultimate rank may be up for debate, the impact he had on the game overall is not. He had not just one, but two jerseys to be retired by the Los Angeles Lakers – jersey No. 8 and No. 24. Furthermore, he dubbed himself the “Black Mamba,” after he scored 62 points against the Dallas Mavericks in 2005. The name stuck because it represented the way he played: his quest to study his craft and perform with excellence. In all, Kobe’s contribution to the sport and the NBA rivaled that of Michael Jordan – and that comparison is a feat in itself.
For Kobe, the story started as a young boy following in the footsteps of his father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant. Joe, like Kobe, was a rare athlete and first round draft pick. His father was selected as the 14th overall pick out of La Salle University in the 1975 NBA Draft and played in the NBA from 1975 to 1983 before shipping out to Italy to continue his basketball career. It was during these early days of Kobe’s life and Joe’s career that Kobe would take a sincere interest in basketball, as noted in an article published by Sports Illustrated. Kobe also looked up to his uncle, John “Chubby” Cox, who played for the Chicago Bulls, according to his biography.
Kobe’s father and mother, Pamela Cox Bryant, later moved back to their home state, Pennsylvania. It was at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, that Kobe honed his craft and would become one of the nation’s top high school players. During his senior year, he earned honors such as Gatorade Men’s National Basketball Player of the Year, McDonald’s All-American, and Naismith High School Player of the Year, successes which made the potential for a direct jump to the NBA a reality.
From there, Kobe would go on to have one of the most fruitful careers the NBA has ever seen. The level Kobe competed, mentored, trained, and lived at was second to none. From the young age of 17 when he entered the league, he became a cultural phenomenon due to his next-level athletic ability, the apex predator demeanor he carried, and his cutthroat – some might call it insane – work ethic. He was a different kind of player and pushed everyone around him to be better.
He was selected by Charlotte straight out of high school with the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, and was traded to LA. He went on to win three championships in a row in 2000, 2001 and 2002, his fourth, fifth, and sixth years in the league, respectively.
Kobe was a five-time NBA champion, winning Finals MVP twice in a career that only ever saw him touch the court as a Los Angeles Laker, according to ProFootballReference.com, a rarity for these days. During his 20-year career, he made the All-NBA First Team 11 times, made NBA All-Defensive First Team nine times, and was voted in as an NBA All-Star 18 times, four times of which he won All-Star Game MVP. He also won Most Valuable Player in 2008. His success didn’t end stateside, Kobe also played on America’s team during the Olympics, earning two Olympic gold medals.
Over the 1,346 games he played in the NBA, Kobe scored 33,643 points, which placed him in third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list until LeBron James passed him on Jan 25.
Beyond his 81-point game against Toronto in 2006, he also had a 62-point game and four games with at least 50 points just that season alone. In his time in the NBA, his career averages per game were as follows: 25 points per game, 5.2 total rebounds per game, 4.7 assists per game, 44.7 percent field goal percentage, 32.9 percent three-point field goal percentage, and a free throw average of 83.7 percent. His name shows up continuously when looking through NBA records.
Kobe’s career was not without controversy. There was a sexual assault accusation that settled out of court, but some say his image never fully recovered, according to the Los Angeles Times. There was also a feud with Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal during their days on the court, along with a few other little blemishes along the way, including the auction house memorabilia issue with his parents and other familial woes.
When discussing where his name lands amongst the greatest Black athletes, Kobe is up there alongside the likes of Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Tiger Woods, Magic Johnson, Serena Williams, Hank Aaron, Walt Chamberlain, Jordan, Shaq, and many more.
Sportscaster Jill Martin once said, in her article published by CNN, that Kobe “was the rare celebrity who didn’t need a last name. Oprah. LeBron. Beyoncé. Kobe. Everyone knew who you were talking about.” Kobe earned that level of prestige by working hard from day-in and day-out.
But Kobe wasn’t just a basketball player; he was a loving father to four girls, a husband that was willing to fight for his marriage, a businessman, a philanthropist and an artist.
When he retired in 2016, Sport Illustrated published a special retirement issue in his honor, chronicling the highlights of his career – from draft to retirement.
Since retiring, he made a smooth transition into his post-athletic life. He’s been attacking the business and media worlds with a similar ferocity he used to chase championships and scoring titles.
Amongst his business successes were his various endorsement deals and charity works, his involvement with Bodyarmor SuperDrink and Bryant-Stibel, the venture capital Kobe started with his business partner that focused on “different businesses including media, data, gaming, and technology.”
He also wrote a book, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play, sharing his playing style as well as his more personal side. He also created the The Wizenard Series, about the transformative powers of basketball in the lives of a coach and five young athletes.
Perhaps most notably in his post-basketball successes was when Kobe won an Academy Award in 2018 in the category of Best Animated Short Film for his film, Dear Basketball, becoming the first African American to ever win the award. Additionally, he became the first retired professional athlete ever to be nominated and win an Academy Award in any category.
That’s how Kobe was. No dream, goal or task was too far out of reach. He was a man of faith who knew that anything was possible as long as he focused on the work.
In a turn of events, Kobe, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died in a helicopter crash over the hillsides of Calabasas, Jan 26. Kobe was 41 years old. They were heading to Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks for a basketball tournament with Gianna’s team, Team Mamba, when the helicopter lost control in low visibility weather. Seven other people also died in the crash, most were affiliated with the team, including John Altobelli, 56, his wife Keri Altobelli, 46, their daughter Alyssa Altobelli, 14, Sarah Chester, 45, and daughter Payton Chester, 13; Christina Mauser, 38, and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50, according to a CNN report.
Kobe’s death has shocked the world. Professional basketball players, along with other athletes and sportscasters were brought to tears as they talked about Kobe and his impact on so many people within basketball and beyond. In commemoration of Kobe, The Mavs announced that they would also be retiring their No. 24 jersey as well, bring to mind the words Kobe expressed during the 2017 Laker’s jersey retirement ceremony, as noted in People Magazine.
“Those times when you get up early and you work hard, those times when you stay up late and you work hard, those times when you don’t feel like working, you’re too tired, you don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway,” he reflected. “That is actually the dream. That’s the dream. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. And if you guys can understand that, then what you’ll see happen is you won’t accomplish your dreams, your dreams won’t come true; something greater will.”
Addition sources: Bryant’s biography on BryantStibel.com, NBA.com, Granity Studios and Britannica.com.