One of the greatest basketball players the sport has ever seen, Kobe Bryant was known as a deadly scorer and a tenacious player whose toughness knew no bounds
A tragic incident shattered hearts and left many grappled – Kobe Bryant, his second-oldest daughter, Gianna Bryant and seven others were travelling for a basketball game when the helicopter rammed into a hillside in thick fog in Calabasas, northwest of Los Angeles – killing all of them.
Back in 1996, a 17-year-old kid from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets just after his high school – making him the youngest player in NBA history. Kobe Bryant was immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for veteran center Vlade Divac. Lakers was at a juncture when it was looking for its next superstar to extend the run of legends to have played for them – Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. There was no doubt over Kobe's talent but his win-at-all-cost mentality alongside his ability to play despite injuries made him the legend he is today.
In addition to his NBA titles, he won two gold medals in the Olympics, two NBA Finals MVPs, a regular-season MVP in 2008 and also an Academy Award during his 20-year pro career. He led the league in scoring twice and retired with 33,643 points – third on the league's all-time scoring list until he was passed last weekend by his Lakers' successor LeBron James.
One of the most memorable games in NBA history came on January 22, 2006, when Bryant scored a humongous 81 points in a Lakers' 122-104 win over Toronto – unarguably one of his best performances too. Only Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game in 1962 tops this performance.
Bryant married his long-time American girlfriend Vanessa Laine in 2001. They had four daughters: Natalia (born in 2003), Gianna (2006), Bianka (2016) and Capri (2019). Being a father of four girls, Kobe would face numerous questions about not having a boy. In an interview last year, he said, "The best thing that happens is when we go out and fans will come up to me with Gianna standing next to me, many would be like, 'Hey you and V gotta have a boy and then have somebody carry on the tradition, the legacy'. Gigi (Gianna) would then pipe up, saying, I got this."
Gianna was shaping up to a star in the making and many of the people who have supervised her, including her father, admitted that. Earlier this month, Bryant posted a short video clip of Gigi in a game. The sequence: dribble-drive, pass to the corner, post up, wait for the ball to come back, catch, footwork and shoot the fadeaway only demonstrated that she had the right mentality, confidence, relentlessness, meanness and aggression to score. She was shaping up like her father to a great extent. Both were willing to outwork their opponents. Gigi knew who her father was and knew that meant a lot of eyeballs would be on her, that comparisons between her and her dad on the court were going to be inevitable. But, she 'didn't care'.
The Black Mamba's accolade-studded career did not come without controversy. In 2003, a 19-year-old hotel employee had accused Bryant of sexual assault. In his defence, he stated that the encounter was consensual and there lies no scenario of assault. The case was dismissed when the accuser failed to testify and charges were dismissed. Bryant did issue an apology but admitted no guilt.
It's hard to believe that a legend in the sporting world is gone in the blink of an eye – it was not long ago when the 41-year-old was scoring points and shattering records after records.