Los Angeles Lakers great and five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant was among nine killed in a deadly helicopter crash in California on Sunday. The smooth shooting guard and perennial NBA All-Star, who was one of the league’s most prolific scorers, was with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, when the copter crashed near Calabasas. He was 41.
The son of former NBA player, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant and Pamela Cox Bryant, Kobe Bean Bryant, a 6-feet 6-inch shooting guard, entered the NBA straight out of Lower Merion High School from the Philadelphia suburbs in 1996 when he was just 17. The very next year, he would be voted to his first NBA All-Star team, and by the time he retired in 2016, after 20 years playing for the Lakers, he would be an 18-time All-Star.
His accomplishments read like a wish list for every NBA player: “Bryant retired in 2016 as a five-time NBA champion, 11-time All-NBA first-team selection, 2008 MVP, two-time Finals MVP, 18-time All-Star and four-time All-Star MVP who spent his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. He also won gold medals with USA Basketball at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics,” according to USA Today.
Kobe’s road to success would not be without some major bumps along the way.
Early on in his career, Kobe struggled to find his shot, but by his fourth season, Kobe and “The Big Aristotle,” center Shaquille O’Neal, would go on to win the first of three consecutive championships from 2000 to 2002. And while the winning was great, O’Neal and Bryant could never really find their footing as the two alpha dogs would bark about their respective roles on the team. Shaq would complain that Bryant played selfishly and Shaq would often talk to the press and publicly ignore Bryant as a member of the team.
In July 2003, Bryant was arrested on claims that he’d sexual assaulted an employee at a Colorado hotel where Bryant was staying before a surgery. The woman accused Bryant of raping her; Bryant claimed the sex was consensual. The charges would later be dropped when she refused to testify. Later, the accuser would file a civil suit against Bryant and the case was eventually settled out of court. Bryant would apologize to his wife, Vanessa, for the affair but he did not admit guilt.
The next year, Shaq was traded from the Lakers and Kobe would go on to re-sign with the Lakers for $135 million. Bryant would return the Lakers to dominance in 2009 when he would lead the Lakers to the NBA Championship over the Orlando Magic and Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard. In 2010, Bryant would take his Lakers back to the NBA Finals against Boston Celtics’ big three: Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. The Lakers found themselves down 3-2 in the series before winning the last two games at home for Bryant’s fifth championship title.
But it wasn’t just his impact on the court; he once tried his hand at rapping and while even Bryant would’ve told you he never should have tried his hand at rapping, a video shoot led him to Vanessa and the tenacious offensive threat took his shot. The two would marry in 2001 after a brief courtship and have four daughters: Natalia, 17; Gianna, 13; Bianka, 3, and Capri, who was born just seven months ago.
Thankfully, Bryant would also try his hand at filmmaking; his short-film Dear Basketball: The Legend of Kobe Bryant would win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2018, with Bryant listed as producer-screenwriter.
Bryant was widely considered one of the best basketball players to ever grace the court, having led the NBA in scoring for two seasons and was third on the league’s all-time regular-season scoring list until Saturday when new Lakers star LeBron James eclipsed his scoring record.
“It’s just too much. It’s too much. The story is too much,” James said of Bryant after he surpassed him on the scoring list. “It doesn’t make sense. Just to make a long story short, now I’m here in a Lakers uniform, in Philadelphia, where he’s from. The first time I ever met him, gave me his shoes on All-Star Weekend. It’s surreal. It doesn’t make no sense, but the universe just puts things in your life. And I guess when you live in the right way, when you just give it everything to whatever you’re doing, things happen organically.
“And it’s not supposed to make sense, but it just happens. And I’m happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant, one of the all-time greatest basketball players to ever play, one of the all-time greatest Lakers. The man has two jerseys hanging up in Staples Center. It’s just crazy.”
James wore sneakers inscribed with “Mamba 4 Life” and “8/24 KB” in gold marker honoring Kobe’s nickname “Black Mamba” and the jersey numbers he wore, 8 and 24, during his days with the Lakers. Bryant would send out this tweet honoring James’ accomplishment.
It was the last tweet Bryant would send.