Sports

Kobe Bryant: Life and Times of a Basketball Great

The candle, unceremoniously burnt out for legendary American basketball player, Kobe Bean Bryant, when on Sunday, January 26, 2020, his private helicopter crashed at Calabasas, California, United States of America, killing him and eight other occupants.

A legendary American professional basketball player, Bryant was born on August 23, 1978, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S, and spent his career, spanning two decades with the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA),winning five championships (2000–02 and 2009–10) in the bargain.

Kobe’s love for basketball was hereditary as his father, Joe Bryant, better known as Jelly Bean, was a professional basketball player who spent eight seasons in the NBA and eight more playing in Italy, where Kobe schooled.

When his family returned to the United States, the young Bryant played basketball at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, where he received several national Player of the Year awards and broke the southeastern Pennsylvania scoring record set by Wilt Chamberlain with 2,883 points. Bryant opted to forgo college and declared himself eligible for the NBA draft when he graduated from high school. The Charlotte Hornets chose him with the 13th pick of the 1996 draft. He was traded to the Lakers shortly thereafter and became the second youngest NBA player in history when the 1996–97 season opened. He quickly proved his merit with the Lakers and was selected for the NBA All-Star Game in just his second season, becoming the youngest All-Star.

He was forced to share the role of the Lakers’ star player with his popular and talented teammate Shaquille O’Neal. The two had an uneasy relationship, but they found success under the leadership of Phil Jackson, who became coach of the Lakers in 1999. Kobe, a shooting guard, and O’Neal, a centre, meshed into a remarkably effective combination, and, by the time he was 23, the Lakers had won three consecutive NBA championships.

After winning their third title in 2002, Bryant and the Lakers encountered difficulties. In the 2003 playoffs the Lakers were defeated in the second round. Several months later Bryant was accused of raping a young woman in Colorado. He maintained his innocence, and all charges were eventually dropped when the woman refused to testify after a monthslong campaign of harassment by fans of Bryant and some members of the media. (Bryant later apologized, admitting that he realized his accuser did not believe their sexual encounter was consensual, and a civil suit was settled in 2005.) The incident greatly tarnished his image. Led by Bryant, the Lakers returned to the finals in 2004, but they were upset by the Detroit Pistons. O’Neal subsequently was traded, and Bryant emerged as the team’s sole leader.

Bryant led the league in scoring during the 2005–06 and 2006–07 seasons, and in 2008 he was named the league’s MVP for the first time in his career. He won his fourth NBA title in 2009, and he was named the finals MVP after averaging a stellar 32.4 points per game in the series. He led the Lakers to their third straight Western Conference championship in 2009–10, and he was once more named NBA finals MVP after the Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in a seven-game series. The Lakers won division titles in each of the following seasons but were eliminated in the second round of each postseason. He retired following the last regular-season game of the 2015–16 season.

In addition to his professional accomplishments, he was a member of the gold medal-winning U.S. men’s basketball teams at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the 2012 London Olympic Games. In 2015 Bryant wrote the poem “Dear Basketball,” and two years later it served as the basis for a short film of the same name, which he also narrated. The work won an Academy Award for best animated short film. In 2018 Bryant published the book The Mamba Mentality: How I Play, in which he described his approach to basketball; the title reflected a nickname he bestowed upon himself during his playing days, “The Black Mamba.” On January 26, 2020, Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter were among a group traveling to a girls basketball game in a helicopter when it crashed, killing all nine people aboard.

Kobe Bryant would be remembered by not only the basketball world, but all lovers of sports and achievement. He is survived by his wife of 20 years, Venessa Laine Bryant, and three children as one of his daughters, Gianna, perished with him in the ill-fated helicopter flight.

Adieu!

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