Ryan L. Fox
On January 26, 2020, tragedy struck the Los Angeles Lakers and the Bryant family. Former Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant, his 13-year old daughter Gianna Bryant, and 7 others were in the helicopter on their way to a travel basketball game when suddenly the helicopter dipped down and plummeted into the ground. The helicopter then crashed just outside of Calabasas, California on Sunday morning as everybody on board perished in the accident.
The NBA and entire sports world was rocked and nearly came to a standstill when the news broke of the accident. That Kobe Bryant, a man nicknamed 'The Black Mamba' and was considered by some to be the heir apparent to Michael Jordan, was no longer with them any more. He was only 41 years old.
Kobe Bean Bryant was born on August 23, 1978 to former NBA player Joe Bryant and Pamela Cox Bryant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Because his father continued to play basketball overseas after retiring from the NBA, Kobe spent his early years living in Italy. The Bryant family returned to the United States in 1991 as Kobe enrolled into Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, just outside of Philadelphia.
Although the team struggled during Kobe’s freshman year (going 4-20), things started to pick up as well as Kobe’s stats. During his junior year, Kobe averaged 31.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game and was named Pennsylvania Player of the Year. During his senior year, Kobe averaged 30.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game to go along with 4.0 steals and 3.8 blocks per game as well while leading Lower Merion High to a 32-3 record and a state title. He received any accolades and awards such as being named Naismith High School Player of the Year, the Gatorade’s Men’s National Basketball Player of the Year, was named to the McDonald’s All-American team and USA Today’s All-USA First Team.
Kobe was sought out by many college programs. The ones who tried to pursue him the most was Duke with coach Mike and University of Kansas with Roy Williams. But at the same time, Kobe saw that Kevin Garnett decided to go pro out of high school in the 1995 NBA Draft. Following in the same manner as Garnett, Kobe declared himself for the 1996 NBA Draft out of high school.
Kobe worked out for a lot of teams but one team that he desired to play for was the Los Angeles Lakers. Then-Lakers general manager Jerry West attended many of Kobe’s pre-draft workouts and saw the McDonalds All-American potential at the NBA level. Wanting him for the Lakers, West sought a draft-day trade with the Charlotte Hornets after they had drafted Kobe at 13th overall. West sent C Vlade Divac to Charlotte in exchange for the trade rights to Kobe.
After the draft, Kobe sat in West’s office alongside his parents. He was offered a rookie 3-year, $5 million. Because he wasn’t 18 yet, Kobe had to cosign his rookie contract with his parents.
In his first game with the Lakers that year, Kobe played just 6 minutes and 22 seconds off the bench against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He got just 1 block, 1 rebound, and 0 points as the team ended up winning 91-85. He wouldn’t score his first points in the NBA until 3 days later when he scored 5 points off the bench for the Lakers in an 88-78 loss to the Charlotte Hornets. Kobe ended up finishing his rookie year playing in 71 games (6 starts), averaging just 15.5 minutes per game while getting 15.5 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game. He also appeared in 9 playoff games with the Lakers that year, playing 14.8 minutes per game while averaging 8.2 points, 1.2 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game as well.
Following a successful 1997/98 NBA season that saw his first NBA All-Star game, Kobe was named the starting shooting guard for the Lakers. However, he only appeared in 50 games that year as the season was cut short due to the 1998/99 NBA Strike that year. During his full year as a starter, Kobe averaged 19.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.8 steals in 37.9 minutes per game in 50 games (starting in all 50) for the Lakers.
During the 1999/00 NBA season, there was a coaching change for the Lakers as former Chicago Bulls head coach Phil Jackson took over. During that season, Kobe played in 66 games (starting 62) while averaging 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 38.2 minutes per game. He was named to the All-Star team that year as well as All-NBA Third Team.
In the postseason, the Lakers went on a run as they defeated the Sacremento Kings in the First Round 3-2, the Phoenix Suns in the Semifinals 4-1, and the Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference Finals round 4-3 to earn the right to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Final against the Indiana Pacers. In the NBA Finals, the Lakers were able to beat the Pacers 4-2 in the series to reclaim. During that playoff run, Kobe played in 22 games (22 starts) including 5 games in the NBA Finals where he averaged 39.0 minutes, 21.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
That NBA Finals trophy would mark the beginning of an illustrious career for Kobe filled with awards, trophies, and accolades galore.
But as time wore on, age started to catch up as well as injuries.
During the 2013-14 NBA season, Kobe only played 6 games while missing time due to an achilles injury and then a lateral tibial plateau fracture in his left knee. Then during the following 2014-15 season, Kobe could only play in 35 games as he suffered a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. At that time, the Lakers were also in decline as well as they began to suffer multiple losing seasons.
Finally, during the 2015-16 season, Kobe announced to the NBA world that he planned to retire at the end of the season. In his final year with the Lakers, Kobe played in just 66 games (starting all of them) while averaging 28.2 minutes, 17.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game. He was also voted to the All-Star Game and became the oldest player in NBA history to score 60 points at 37 years and 234 days when he dropped 60 pints in a 101-96 victory over the Utah Jazz on April 13 in the season finale.
Overall, Kobe played 20 illustrious seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. He played in 1346 games, starting in 1198 of them and had a career average of 36.1 minutes, 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.4 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game.
The following is where he was listed in NBA career rankings:
4th in points scored (33,643)
14th in games played (1,346)
7th in games played (48,637)
6th in field goals made (11,719)
3rd in free throws made (8,378)
16th in steals (1,944)
1st in tenure with a single team (20 years)
His accolades included being a 5-Time NBA Champion (2000-02, 2009, 2010), named NBA MVP Finals (2009, 2010), a NBA League MVP (2008 where he averaged 26.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and also had 1.5 steals per game), and was named to 18 NBA All-Star Teams (1998, 2000-2016) where he was MVP in 4 of those All-Star Games (2002, 2007, 2009, 2011). Kobe was named to 11 All-NBA First Teams (2002-04, 2006-13), 2 All-NBA Second Teams (2000, 2001), 2 All-NBA Third Teams (1999, 2005), and the 1997 NBA All-Rookie Second Team as well as 9 NBA All-Defensive First Teams (2000, 2003, 2004, 2006-11) and 3 NBA All-Defensive Second Teams (2001, 2002, 2012).
He was also the NBA scoring champion in 2006 (35.4 points per game) and in 2007 (31.6 points per game) as the 1997 NBA Slam Dunk Contest Champion during All-Star week that year. Both his Laker jersey numbers of 8 and 24 are retired.
Kobe was also apart of 2 Olympic Men’s Basketball teams as well, winning gold in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and in the 2012 London Olympics. He also won a gold medal for the US Men’s team in the 2007 FIBA tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada as well.
But even after he hung up his sneakers, the Black Mamba still was winning awards. In 2018, Kobe added an Oscar to his resume from the 2018 Academy Awards for Best Animated Short Film for a six minute animated film called “Dear Basketball”, which was based on a poem that he wrote for the Payers Tribune back in 2015 when he announced his retirement.
Kobe continued his association with the sport of basketball as he became a mentor for many young players like LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jayson Tatum, and others. Everybody respected him and wanted to emulate how he played the game, including having the ‘Mamba Mentality’ that made Kobe both famous to his fanbase and infamous to others.
Cold and cut-throat, focused and determined, respected and revered, praised and despised. When the Lakers played, all eyes were focused on the Black Mamba as everybody watched to see when he would go off on a scoring tear and which the poor soul was going to be the one to defend him. While many have compared Michael Jordan and LeBron James to one another, the only one in the NBA that was truly worthy of being on the same NBA plateau was Kobe, a boy out Philly who became a man on the court.
Kobe is survived by his wife Vanessa Laine Bryant and his 3 daughters, Bianka Bella Bryant, Nataia Diamante Bryant, and Capri Kobe Bryant, his 2 sisters Sharia Bryant and Shaya Bryant, and his parents Joe Bryant and Pam Bryant.
Thoughts and prayers to the Lakers organization, the NBA, and those who were inspired, played with, played against, and who were close to the Black Mamba as they had lost one of their own.
Thoughts and prayers to the Bryant family as well as their friends and loved ones as they had just lost two family members in a horrible tragedy.
Goodbye Kobe. We're all going to miss you.
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