Kobe Bryant was among 9 people tragically killed when a helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California on Sunday morning. The NBA legend’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was also among those killed in the crash, which makes the event all the more horrific.
The entire world has mourned the loss of Kobe, Gianna and the 7 others that lost their lives in the days since the tragedy. Bryant is widely considered to be among the best players in the history of the NBA, but his legacy extends far beyond basketball. The 41-year-old was a devoted father to 4 young daughters, and he was just beginning to embark on his post-playing career at the time of his shocking death.
Current and former players all over the NBA have paid tribute to Kobe and Gianna over the last couple of days. Several teams have started games by accepting 24-second shot clock violations in honor of one of Bryant’s retired jersey numbers. Members of the Detroit Pistons donned jerseys featuring both of Kobe’s numbers prior to Monday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie has already changed his own jersey from No. 8 to No. 26 because he believes no player should ever wear Kobe’s No. 8 in the NBA again. The Dallas Mavericks announced Sunday night that they will be retiring Bryant’s No. 24, as well.
We wanted to take the time to share some of Kobe’s finest moments on and off the basketball court. This obviously won’t do Bryant’s fascinating life the full amount of justice it deserves, but here’s to one of the greatest players that ever lived.
10. Kobe’s Focus
Kobe Bryant was compared to Michael Jordan throughout his playing career for a number of reasons. Both guys were physically comparable (6’6″, 220 pounds) and Kobe made no secret of the fact that he modeled his game after Jordan’s. It was evident if you saw him play.
Jordan is renowned for his laser-like focus. Kobe was the same way. He was known to get up well before dawn in order to start his workout regimen, even after his playing career ended. It’s that focus that helped Kobe become one of the greatest players the game has ever seen.
Take this hilarious moment from a game back in 2010 as an example. Kobe was sitting next to Chris Rock and David Spade as he gets ready to re-enter the game. Rock is chatting Kobe’s ear off about something, yet Kobe seemingly had no idea that the comedian was even there at all:
remember when chris rock was tryna talk to kobe on the sideline but kobe was so in the zone he just completely ignored him lmao pic.twitter.com/0VzVeozvro
— 🥃💨 (@mattwhitlockPM) January 26, 2020
Kobe was cool. Nothing seemed to phase him. Noted tough guy Matt Barnes tried to get Kobe to flinch during a game between the Lakers and Magic, yet Kobe wasn’t having any of it:
— Alv (@Alvmainee) January 28, 2020
Kobe had no time for your shenanigans, Matt Barnes.
9. Kobe’s MVP Campaign
It’s hard to believe that Kobe Bryant won just 1 MVP award over the course of his 20-year career. He helped the Lakers win 5 championships during his tenure, yet Shaquille O’Neal was largely credited with being the driving force for the first 3 titles. The Lakers struggled a bit after trading O’Neal in 2004, and they didn’t win another championship until a year after Pau Gasol joined Bryant in 2008.
While Kobe never won a title as the lone superstar on the Lakers’ roster, those years he played without O’Neal or Gasol were some of the most fun-to-watch of his career. It seemed as though Kobe hit a game-winning shot every other night during some of those prolific campaigns.
Kobe was finally rewarded with his first and only MVP trophy following the 2007-08 season. Bryant helped lead the Lakers to a 25-11 record before starting center Andrew Bynum was lost for the year with a knee injury. The Lakers traded for Gasol shortly thereafter, and the new dynamic duo led the team to a 57-25 record and the top seed in the Western Conference.
That wasn’t the most prolific statistical campaign of Kobe’s career, but he still averaged 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. The Lakers wound up losing in 6 games at the hands of the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals that year, but Kobe would go on to win the fourth and fifth titles of his career in the 2 seasons that followed.
8. Kobe Bryant, Oscar Winner
Bryant was different from a lot of athletes in that he had major aspirations for his life outside of sports. Lots of NBA stars stay around the game after they retire. Some go into coaching. Some go into NBA front offices. Others take on broadcasting.
Bryant was still around the game plenty, but he had plenty of other interests. One of those was filmmaking. Before he retired, Kobe wrote a poem called “Dear Basketball” which detailed his lifelong love of the game. After seeing the film “Duet,” Bryant said that he approached the movie’s animator, Glen Keane, about potentially turning the poem into a short film.
“Dear Basketball” wound up serving as Kobe’s retirement announcement. Keane put pencil to paper on illustrations to be played alongside Kobe’s audio narration of the poem. Composer John Williams was brought on to put a score on the film, which subsequently went on to win the Academy Award for best animated short in 2018.
Not every Basketball Hall of Famer doubles as an Oscar winner. A huge part of what makes Bryant’s early death so tragic is that we’ll never be able to see what else he had in store.
7. Free Throws on a Torn Achilles
The NBA has a rule that says any player that gets fouled must shoot the ensuing free throws. If the player that gets fouled does not take the free throws, that player is not eligible to return to the game.
Bryant sustained what appeared to be a potentially serious calf injury during the Lakers’ game at home against Golden State in April of 2013. We had no way of knowing at the time, but Kobe had actually sustained a torn Achilles on the play. A torn Achilles is one of the more devastating injuries an athlete – particularly a basketball player – can suffer. We have seen countless examples of players struggling to ever return to 100 percent after enduring an Achilles injury.
Kobe went down on a drive to the rim after taking contact from Harrison Barnes in the fourth quarter. He immediately favored his left heel before getting up and limping around gingerly. He had to be feeling a ton of pain at the time, yet he certainly didn’t show it. Bryant calmly knocked down a pair of free throws to tie the game before departing for the locker room.
If nothing else, nailing the free throws immediately after enduring a devastating injury was a perfect example of Kobe’s toughness and desire to win at all costs.
6. Kobe’s Fifth Championship
Bryant won the NBA title in a quarter of his pro seasons with the Lakers. 5 titles over the course of 20 years is a remarkable run of success. The Lakers won 65.8 percent of all games Bryant played, which gives him the fifth-highest winning percentage in NBA history. Only Shaq (.665), Tim Duncan (.694), Tony Parker (.695) and Manu Ginobili (.702) finished their careers having won a higher percentage of their games.
Bryant led the Lakers to the championship for the fifth and final time in his career in 2010, when LA was able to topple their oldest rivals. Kobe averaged 28.6 points, 8 rebounds and a shade under 4 assists per game in the Lakers’ 7-game triumph over the Boston Celtics.
The Lakers were staring a 3-2 series deficit in the face as they returned to Southern California for Games 6 and 7, yet Bryant was able to help the team rally back to win the franchise’s 16th NBA title.
5. Kobe’s Humility
All of the circumstances surrounding Bryant’s untimely death are bizarre, but one of the weirdest aspects of the timing involves LeBron James. The night before the helicopter crash, James passed Bryant on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
Kobe finished his career with the third-most points in NBA history (33,643). It’s incredibly ironic considering Bryant essentially passed the torch to James as the face of the NBA upon his retirement. LeBron signed with the Lakers in the summer of 2018 in order to help restore the franchise to greatness. The Lakers have endured several lean years since Bryant’s retirement, but the addition of James and Anthony Davis has the franchise back on track.
Wearing the Lakers uniform, James passed Bryant on the all-time scoring list on Saturday night in Philadelphia. LeBron commemorated the occasion by writing “Mamba 4 Life, 8/24 KB” on his shoes. LeBron reflected on his achievement with some heartfelt comments after the game.
James said, “It’s just too much. It’s too much. The story is too much. It doesn’t make sense. Just to make a long story short, now I’m here in a Lakers uniform, in Philadelphia, where he’s from. The first time I ever met him, gave me his shoes on All-Star Weekend. It’s surreal. It doesn’t make no sense, but the universe just puts things in your life. And I guess when you live in the right way, when you just give it everything to whatever you’re doing, things happen organically. “And it’s not supposed to make sense, but it just happens. And I’m happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant, one of the all-time greatest basketball players to ever play, one of the all-time greatest Lakers. The man has two jerseys hanging up in Staples Center. It’s just crazy.”
Not 12 hours later, Kobe was gone.
Fittingly, Bryant’s final Twitter post, which was written late Saturday night, was essentially a passage of the aforementioned torch:
Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother 💪🏾 #33644
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 26, 2020
4. 60 Points in 3 Quarters
As you just read, Kobe Bryant scored an awful lot of points in the NBA. He finished his career with a whopping 60 60-point games, which is an absolutely astounding achievement.
One of the more memorable 60-point showings came in Dallas against Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks in December of 2005. Bryant scored 62 points that night, which was a career-best for him at the time.
Most impressively, all of Bryant’s 62 points came in the first 36 minutes of the game. Bryant drilled a 3-pointer with 4.4 seconds left in the third quarter to give him 62 on the night. That gave him more points than the entire Mavericks team, which had put just 61 points on the board through the game’s first 3 quarters.
However, Kobe did not reenter the game because the Lakers had built such a sizable lead. Less than a month later, Bryant would eclipse that career-high scoring output in epic fashion. More on that a little later.
3. Kobe’s Finale
Kobe’s 60th and final 60-point game came in the last NBA game he ever played. The Lakers were well out of playoff contention by the time April rolled around, but the season finale against the Utah Jazz was must-see TV because it was Kobe’s grand finale.
As you may have expected, Kobe capped his career in the most Kobe way possible. The 37-year-old became the oldest player in league history to reach the 60-point plateau in a game, as his remarkable showing helped the Lakers win just their 17th game of the season, 101-96.
Gordon Hayward, who suited up for the Jazz that night, recalled earlier this week that Utah wasn’t taking it easy on Kobe just because it was his last game. The Jazz were actively trying to slow him down, yet they were no match for Bryant in one of the most remarkable performances of his storied career.
2. 81 Points
Wilt Chamberlain scored an NBA record 100 points in a single game back in 1962. The game wasn’t televised back then, and it happened in front of just a few hundred people in a little arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Many believe Wilt’s accomplishment is one of the most unbreakable records in sports. Since then, no player has come all that close to challenging the record.
In January of 2006, Kobe Bryant became the most serious challenger to Wilt’s mark. The 70-point mark has been crossed 6 times total, but no player since Wilt had cracked 80. That changed when Bryant poured in 81 points in the Lakers’ 122-104 drubbing of the Toronto Raptors at home.
The craziest aspect of the game is that Kobe actually had to lead the Lakers back from a deficit. The final score looks lopsided in LA’s favor, but Toronto actually led for much of the game. Bryant wound up with 81 points on 28-of-46 shooting, including 7-for-13 from 3-point territory. Kobe also canned 18 of his 20 free throw attempts, and 55 of his 81 points came in the second half alone.
Guys like LeBron, James Harden, Steph Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo are some of the greatest scorers in the NBA today, yet it’s fair to wonder whether any of them would be capable of matching Kobe’s infamous personal record.
1. Kobe the Dad
As mentioned, Kobe transitioned from a hard-nosed, gritty player to a dedicated father more smoothly than many probably anticipated. Bryant was known for his extreme work ethic and tenacity as a player, but he had clearly mellowed out after hanging up his sneakers. In the couple of years he was able to enjoy following his retirement, Kobe was most often seen in public with at least one of his 4 little girls.
It was obvious that Kobe embraced his new role as full-time father. He and Gianna were joined by a few of Gianna’s basketball teammates and their parents on the helicopter, on their way to Thousand Oaks for a basketball game at Kobe’s Mamba Sports Academy. Kobe said that Gianna’s love for basketball reminded him of himself as a child, and the 2 were frequently seen together sitting courtside at games all over the country.
One of our final images of Kobe Bryant wasn’t him slashing, scoring, or winning.
It was teaching, coaching, and parenting. pic.twitter.com/V3VfChPLAJ
— Mitch Fick (@MCFick) January 26, 2020
On a recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kobe relayed a story about how Gianna had hoped to follow in his own footsteps as a basketball player:
this video went from being empowering and endearing just to downright heartbreaking… rip gianna and kobe 💔pic.twitter.com/xMwPQsTVN4
— ༄ (@judesfrqncis) January 26, 2020
ESPN anchor Elle Duncan shared her story of the only time she ever met Kobe, which showed just how much he loved being a “girl dad:”
The Kobe story Elle Duncan shared on Sportscenter was so heartfelt and heartbreaking, more people need to see it.
— Gian Cruz (@gianorama) January 28, 2020
Rest in peace, legend.