Kobe “Bean” Bryant. Sports fans either idolized one of the NBA’s most beloved legends and five-time NBA World Champion— or hated his guts. Although any fan of basketball would have never wished to hear the news that Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other individuals were killed in a helicopter crash Jan. 26.
Basketball fans know what it felt like to shoot a piece of scrap paper into a wastebasket while shouting “Kobe” and hitting nothing but the bottom. The 20-year NBA veteran played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1996-2016 and introduced his own way of scoring to the league, which led to his extremely successful career. Bryant defined what it meant to play through blood, sweat, and tears through his Mamba Mentality which is an extremely scarce attribute among players. This type of DNA helped Bryant achieve his position as one of the most lethal scorers to lace up on the hardwood.
The world-renowned “Black Mamba” began playing basketball at the age of 3. Bryant lived most of his childhood in Italy where he began to expand his basketball skills. Before he reached high school, Bryant became fluent in Italian and Spanish. He would travel to the U.S. over the summers to participate in travel leagues in order to continue his training. Graduating from Lower Merion high school, Bryant managed to win a championship (‘96) before graduating and declaring for the NBA draft. Bryant became the sixth player in NBA history to enter the draft straight from high school.
Bryant was originally drafted in 1996 by the Charlotte Hornets and was immediately traded that same day to the Los Angeles Lakers. Being one of the few rookies in NBA history to be a starter in their first year, Bryant still saw himself on minute restrictions. This didn’t stop him from becoming the youngest NBA Slam Dunk Champion (‘97).
Even in the beginning stages of Bryant’s career, he was receiving comparisons as one of the greatest to ever do it since Michael Jordan. Led by one of the NBA’s most successful coaches, Phil Jackson, the 6-foot-6 guard sought his first NBA championship (‘00) in his fourth year as a player. Bryant is known as one of the only players to switch jersey numbers (8 and 24) throughout their career, although each jersey was stitched with success.
In his 10 years as No. 8, Bryant sought three NBA Championships (‘00-‘02), career nights such as his 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in 2006 (second-highest single-game record), eight NBA All-Star appearances, and 16,866 points. After the 2005-06 season, Bryant switched to his very first high school jersey number (24).
No. 24 was nearly identical to No. 8, if not better. Bryant received his first and only NBA Most Valuable Player award (‘08), 16,777 points which led him to become the youngest player to reach 30,000 career points, and two more NBA Championships (‘09,‘10). This reign of terror began to catch up to Bryant, with his body experiencing a decline after tearing his Achilles’ tendon in year 17. After enduring three separate season-ending injuries – achilles, knee, and shoulder – Bryant prevailed to continue proving his lethality.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist (‘08,’12), seeing a nine-time selection to the NBA All-Defensive team, 11 more All-Star appearances, and receiving two scoring titles (‘06,’07), knew his body could fight no more. At the age of 34, Bryant announced his retirement entering the 2015-16 season — his legacy shaping current NBA stars into what they are now.
Entering the 707th game of his career, nobody expected the performance of a lifetime. Who else but the player who received endless criticism throughout his career for “not passing the ball enough” would end his final game in purple and gold by dropping an astonishing 60 point performance (22 of 50 from the field). 23 of those points coming from a fourth-quarter explosion that led the Lakers to a comeback win over the Utah Jazz. After delivering one more offensive onslaught, Bryant stepped away from the game of basketball with a heartfelt speech, including an ending that will live on forever — “What can I say…Mamba out.”
In his 41 years of life, Bryant inspired individuals of all ages, domestic and foreign, women and men, about what it takes to truly love the game of basketball. The father of four, husband of 19 years, and mentor to millions dedicated thousands of hours to his craft to define what perseverance to become great was. The late legend will forever be known as one of the G.O.A.T.’s and his legacy will forever be taught throughout the game of basketball. Notorious for being one of the most ruthless athletes and competitors, Bryant made sure to pass his wisdom along in efforts to keep the Mamba Mentality from ever perishing.