Who Was Kobe Bryant? Biography, Career, Stats, Retirement, Wife, Children, Death

Kobe Bryant grew up in Italy and entered the NBA straight out of high school. Bryant was a formidable scorer for the Los Angeles Lakers, winning five NBA titles and the MVP Award in 2008. Despite injuries in his later seasons, he passed Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA all-time scoring chart in December 2014 and retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final game. Dear Basketball won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2018. Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gigi, and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020.

Early Life

Kobe Bean Bryant was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on August 23, 1978. Bryant, named after a Japanese city, is the son of former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant.

After retiring from the NBA in 1984, the elder Bryant moved his family to Italy to play in the Italian League. Bryant was an avid basketball and soccer player growing up in Italy alongside two athletic elder sisters, Shaya and Sharia. When the family relocated to Philadelphia in 1991, Bryant joined the Lower Merion High School basketball team, which he led to four consecutive state titles. With his sights set on the NBA, he began working out with the 76ers.

Despite having strong GPA and SAT scores, Bryant chose to enter the NBA straight out of high school. He was drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 NBA draft and later traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.

NBA Career and Stats

Bryant was selected as a starter for the 1998 All-Star Game in his second season with the Lakers, making him the NBA’s youngest All-Star at the age of 19. The shooting guard then won three straight NBA titles with superstar center Shaquille O’Neal, and he was named first-team all-NBA from 2002 to 2004. He also signed multi-year sponsorship deals with Adidas, Sprite, and other major brands.

Despite the fact that the Lakers struggled when O’Neal left in 2004, Bryant excelled. He set an NBA record with 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in January 2006, the second-highest single-game total in NBA history, and led the league in scoring the following year and the year after.

Bryant was selected Most Valuable Player in 2008, and he led his team to the NBA Finals, where they were defeated by the Boston Celtics. The Lakers won the NBA Finals in 2009, defeating the Orlando Magic. Soon later, Bryant attended a memorial service for friend and music legend Michael Jackson. The Lakers won their second straight championship the following year, defeating the Celtics.

Bryant was a member of the United States Olympic teams in 2008 and 2012, capturing gold medals with teammates Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony, among others.

Bryant battled hard to return to the court after tearing his Achilles tendon in April 2013, but he fractured his knee just six games into the 2013-2014 season. The veteran All-Star passed Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA scoring list in December 2014, but his season was cut short for the third time in a row when he tore his rotator cuff in January 2015.

Retirement

Despite returning in time for the start of the 2015-2016 NBA season, Bryant struggled alongside his young Lakers teammates. He stated in November 2015 that he would retire at the end of the season. “This season is all I have left to give,” he stated on the website of The Players’ Tribune. “My heart can withstand the pounding, my mind can endure the toil, but my body knows it’s time to say good-by.”

The announcement sparked outrage, particularly from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “With 17 NBA All-Star selections, an NBA MVP, five NBA championships with the Lakers, two Olympic gold medals, and a relentless work ethic, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game,” Silver said. “Whether he’s competing in the finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game.”

Bryant captivated a sold-out Staples Center crowd and fans everywhere in his final game, scoring 60 points and leading the Lakers to a victory over the Utah Jazz on April 13, 2016. Bryant’s sixth 60-point game of the season.

Bryant addressed the audience following the game. “I can’t believe how fast 20 years went by,” he said. “This is insane… and to be standing at center court with you guys, my teammates behind me, appreciating the journey that we’ve been on — we’ve had our ups and downs.” The most essential thing, I believe, is that we all stuck together throughout.”

O’Neal, Phil Jackson, Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, and Magic Johnson were among the Laker legends who paid respect to Bryant. “We are here to celebrate greatness for the past 20 years,” Johnson added. “Excellence for the past 20 years.” Kobe Bryant has never cheated the game, and he has never cheated the fans. He’s played with an injury, he’s played wounded. And we’ve got five championship banners to prove it.”

Academy Award for ‘Dear Basketball’

Bryant announced his retirement from the Lakers in November 2015 with a poem titled “Dear Basketball” on The Players’ Tribune website. The athletic legend quickly sought out the greatest in other professions to help him adapt his poetry into a short film, including Disney animator Glen Keane and musician John Williams.

The finished result was a stunning five-minute, 20-second film that premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. Oscar voters took notice, resulting in Bryant unexpectedly accepting an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at the 2018 ceremony.

Bryant has also been invited to become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ short films and animation branch. However, it was revealed in June 2018 that the Academy’s governors committee had retracted the offer, stating that the retired basketball legend needed to put in more effort on the court before being considered for membership.

S**ual Assault Charge

Bryant was charged with one count of s**ual assault on a 19-year-old female hotel worker in Colorado in July 2003. Bryant claimed he was guilty of adultery but not of rape. Bryant’s case was dismissed in 2004, and he resolved a civil complaint filed against him by a hotel worker out of court.

Philanthropy

As part of the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation, the basketball legend collaborated with the non-profit After-School All-Stars. He also ran the Kobe Basketball Academy, an annual summer camp.

Wife and Children

Bryant married Vanessa Laine, then 19, in April 2001. Natalia Diamante (b. 2003), Gianna Maria-Onore (b. 2006, d. 2020), Bianka (b. 2016), and Capri (b. 2019) were born to the marriage.

Death

Bryant was aboard a Sikorsky S-76 aircraft when it crashed in the Los Angeles suburb of Calabasas on January 26, 2020. Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna “Gigi” were among those killed. Bryant was on his way from Orange County to Thousands Oaks, California, where he planned to coach a tournament game at Mamba Sports Academy.

“We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring husband, Kobe — the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet Gianna — a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to Natalia, Bianka, and Capri,” Bryant’s wife Vanessa posted on Instagram. “There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon.”

Bryant and his daughter were buried in a private ceremony on February 7, 2020. They were remembered in a memorial service at the Staples Center on February 24, with Beyoncé and Alicia Keys performing musical tributes with Jordan, Shaq, and wife Vanessa among those sharing poignant memories of the basketball legend and family man.

Bryant was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on April 4, 2020.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined in February 2021 that pilot Ara Zobayan was “flying under visual flight orders, or VFR, which legally prohibited him from penetrating the clouds,” which likely caused him to become disoriented.

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