As people who love all sports, and people who enjoy watching different sports, including the sport of basketball, we could all speak for each other that we were all stunned, saddened, and shocked to hear of the news on Sunday January 26, 2020 (Monday January 27, 2020 Australian time) that a true basketball and sporting legend Kobe Bryant had perished in a beyond horrific helicopter crash in the city of Calabasas, which is about a 90 minute drive to the west of Los Angeles in the state of California in the United States.
The tragedy also claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant’s 13-year old daughter Gianna, a basketball prodigy in her own right who had dreams of playing in the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association, as well as playing college basketball with the University of Connecticut Huskies, as well as seven other people, including the pilot, all extraordinary in their very own way, all on their way to Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, which is close to a two-hour drive west of Los Angeles, for a junior basketball tournament.
And, I would like to send my condolences and best wishes to the Bryant family, and every other family affected by this unfathomable tragedy!
However, it is the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant at the age of just 41, that has shocked the entire world, and although he had finished his basketball career on the court, he had started to create an incredible legacy away from the court!
Let’s have a look at the life, the legacy, and the standing in sporting history of the one and only Kobe Bean Bryant!
Kobe Bryant grew up in Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania as the only son, and the youngest of three children to Joe and Pamela Bryant. Joe was himself a former NBA player during the mid-to-late 1970’s and early 1980’s with the Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers, and Houston Rockets before playing with a number of clubs in Italy.
It was during the time when his father was playing for the Clippers that Kobe, at the age of three, started to play basketball, and supported the Los Angeles Lakers. At the age of six, the Bryant family moved to Italy as Kobe’s father Joe continued his basketball career, and during this time in Italy, Kobe began to play the game of basketball more seriously, and also learned how to play football, supporting A.C. Milan.
At the age of 13, the Bryant family moved back to Philadelphia, and Kobe attended Lower Merion High School where he would gain national attention across the United States for his performances, in particular in his junior year, where he averaged 31.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game, and in his senior year, where he averaged 30.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4 steals, and 3.8 blocked shots per game on-route to taking Lower Merion High School to their first state championship in 53 years in 1995-96, winning countless awards, and finished his high school career as the all-time leading scorer in the history of Southeastern Pennsylvania basketball with 2,883 points, surpassing both Wilt Chamberlain and Lionel Simmons, who both played in the NBA, with Chamberlain considered the greatest player of his generation, with Chamberlain’s NBA career spanning from 1959 to 1973, and Chamberlain was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978.
In 1996, in an NBA Draft which featured future Hall Of Famers Allen Iverson (Pick One), Ray Allen (Pick Five), and Steve Nash (Pick 15), as well as other well-credentialed players such as Shareef Abdur-Rahim (Pick Three), Stephon Marbury (Pick Four), Antoine Walker (Pick Six), Peja Stojaković (Pick 14), Jermaine O’Neal (Pick 17), Žydrūnas Ilgauskas (Pick 20), and Ben Wallace (Undrafted), Bryant was selected at Pick 13 by the Charlotte Hornets, before being immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, where his rise to super-stardom and future Hall Of Fame status would begin!
20 years later, when he retired the sport that he loved at the end of the 2015-16 NBA season, Bryant had won five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010), equal-14th for most NBA championships as a player, the same amount as Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson achieved (all with the Lakers), and one behind the amount of championships won by Hall of Famer’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen!
Bryant was also a two-time NBA Finals MVP (2009, 2010), voted the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2008, as well as voted into the NBA All Stars game on 18 occasions (1998, 2000-16), the second-most of all-time (behind Abdul-Jabbar), receiving the MVP award in the All Stars game four times, the equal-most alongside Bob Pettit. And, from the 2020 NBA All-Stars game onwards, the MVP award in the NBA All-Stars game will be known as the NBA All-Star Game Kobe Bryant Most Valuable Player award, the first of which was won by Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers.
In addition to this, Bryant was selected to the All-NBA First Team on 11 occasions (2002-2004, 2006-2013), the equal second-most alongside Hall of Famer Karl Malone, and one behind LeBron James (12 occasions), and Bryant’s total appearances (15 occasions) across the All-NBA First, Second, and Third teams is the equal-most alongside James, Abdul-Jabbar, and Tim Duncan, and was selected to the NBA All-Defensive First Team nine times (2000, 2003, 2004, 2006-2013), the equal-most along Hall of Famer Gary Payton, Jordan, and Kevin Garnett.
Bryant, who averaged 25.0 points per game in a regular season career spanning 1,346 matches, and 25.6 points per game in a post-season career spanning 220 matches, is fourth on the list for the most total points scored in NBA history (33,643), ahead of Jordan (32,292), and behind Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Malone (36,928), and James (33,817), with James moving into third ahead of Bryant the day before Bryant and his daughter Gianna, along with seven others were tragically taken away from this world.
This is before we get to the two Olympic gold medals he won with Team USA in Beijing 2008, and in London 2012, with Bryant being the captain of Team USA in 2008 in Beijing, and then the announcement since his passing that he will be inducted posthumously into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a part of the Class of 2020.
However, Kobe Bryant was starting to develop a grand legacy away from the court, winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2018 for his 2017 film Dear Basketball, which he wrote and narrated, as well as creating the Mamba Sports Academy alongside Chad Faulkner to help not only develop the basketball stars of the future, but to also develop them into great humans.
And, that is what Kobe Bryant was, a great human, a wonderful man, a marvellous father, a tremendous husband, and an icon to the highest of distinctions both on and off the court!
And, as far as comparing him to the all-time greats in his sport, the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Bob Pettit, Karl Malone, LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Gary Payton, and Kevin Garnett, as well as with the all-time greats across all sports, the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Rod Laver, Serena Williams, and Steffi Graf in tennis, Pele, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in football, Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali) in boxing, Michael Phelps in swimming, Usain Bolt in athletics/track sprinting, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in golf, Sir Donald Bradman in cricket, Babe Ruth in baseball, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost, Sebastian Vettel, and Ayrton Senna in motorsport among a whole host of others who I haven’t mentioned, Kobe Bryant sits comfortably among this group as one of the greatest athletes of all-time!
However, as far as taking his contribution away from the sporting arena into account, he was well on his way to becoming the greatest sportsperson of all-time, both on and away from the sporting arena!
It is sad that this Kobe Bryant legacy away from the court won’t be fully fulfilled, and that he won’t be able to see his Mamba Sports Academy grow bigger and bigger as it helps the future stars of tomorrow in both men’s basketball (NBA) and women’s basketball (WNBA).
However, it is an even greater tragedy for everyone that we won’t get to Gianna Bryant, a talent destined for stardom, develop into the beautiful woman that she would have become, and see her develop in the sport that she loved so much under the tutelage of her amazing father, a proud Girl Dad, embracing the Mamba Mentality that took her father to greatness of the highest levels!
Kobe Bryant will always be remembered as one of sports greatest-ever men, and his memory will live on for generations to come right around the world!