Kobe Bryant inspired a generation of basketball players around the world with his dazzling skills, work ethic and ferocious determination to win. It resulted in five NBA Championships, two Finals MVP awards, 18 All-Star selections, two scoring championships and the NBA MVP honor in 2008.
He is one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, his celebrity transcended basketball, and an outpouring of grief has greeted his untimely death. Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash in California on January 26. He was just 41 years of age.
Former President Barack Obama led the tributes. “Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act,” he said.
Black Mamba Honored
Bryant assigned himself the name Black Mamba in a bid to mimic the snake’s ability to strike with supreme speed, accuracy and consistency. The current NBA superstars have spent the past week honoring his memory by channelling their inner Mamba.
After dropping 54 points against the Bulls, Kyrie Irving said: “I had to keep going… Kobe mentality and Mamba mentality.”
Trae Young became the first player to record a 45-point double-double with under 25 field goal attempts since Bryant 14 years previously. “He was with me tonight,” said Young.
Another of the great man’s disciples, Damian Lillard, scored 48 points and added 10 assists and nine rebounds to lead his team to a 127-119 victory over the Lakers at the Staples Center.
“With him being arguably the toughest competitor to ever play the game, I felt like it was only right for us to pay our respect pregame and then go out there and honor him by competing at a higher level,” said Lillard said.
Live On, Brother
Bryant was born and raised in Philadelphia, but he spent his entire pro career with the Lakers. They have been hit the hardest by his death, and they spent three hours paying tribute to him during that defeat to Lillard’s Trail Blazers. The night was described as “sad and strange, inspiring and exhausting”.
Bryant took over from Michael Jordan as the greatest player in the world and then passed the mantle onto LeBron James when he retired. James is now the star of the show for the Lakers, and he pledged to continue Bryant’s legacy long into the future.
He sported a new Mamba 4 Life tattoo at the game and delivered a powerful eulogy.
“Kobe’s a brother to me,” said James, who overtook Bryant as the third-leading scorer in NBA history on the night before the crash. “From the time I was in high school, watching him from afar to getting in this league at 18, watching him up close. All the battles we had throughout my career. The one thing that we always shared was that determination to just always want to win and just want to be great.”
He ended the moving speech by declaring: “So in the words of Kobe Bryant, ‘Mamba out.’ But in the words of us, ‘Not forgotten.’ Live on, brother.”
The Lakers are the favorites to win the NBA Championship this year, as seen here, and that would be a fitting way to honor the memory of a true legend.
An Enduring Legacy
Bryant devised the Black Mamba nickname at his darkest hour. His world came crashing down in 2003 when he was charged with sexual assault. He proclaimed himself innocent and the charges were later dropped, but he did reach a civil settlement with his accuser and his reputation was significantly tarnished. Even after his death, some commentators have urged the public not to deify Bryant due to the allegations he faced 17 years previously.
However, he was never charged with a crime and he set about rebuilding his life. He married Vanessa and had four daughters: Gianna, Natalia, Bianka and Capri. He emerged as an exemplary family man and a strong role model to millions of Americans.
Needless to say, his widow, Natalia, Bianka and Capri are beyond devastated, but they can take solace from the bond he shared with Gianna, the joy they both brought to so many people and the enduring legacy they will have.
An Inspiration to Millions
In the season finale on April 13, 2016 Bryant scored an NBA season-high 60 points against Utah in his final NBA game, outscoring the entire Jazz team 23–21 in the fourth quarter during the Lakers’ 101–96 victory. It was a fitting end to a sensational career.
Yet as Obama pointed out, Bryant’s second act showed just as much promise. He won an Academy Award for his 2017 short film, Dear Basketball, and that helped him transcend the sport. More movies were in the pipeline, he had just released a book and he and his wife set up the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation to help the homeless, while Kobe Inc. became a huge company. The world has been robbed of a virtuoso who had so much left to give.
“For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary, but he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability.”