Kobe Bryant was the fair heir to Michael Jordan, a scoring assassin who could rip a defender’s heart out by way of a devastating dunk, or an elusive fadeaway jump shot from the baseline, his singular work of art. He won five NBA championships, made 18 All-Star teams, won an MVP award, two scoring titles, two Olympic gold medals and just last night was passed by LeBron James on the NBA’s all-time scoring list: Kobe Bryant finished with 33,643 points, good for fourth.
Bryant craved competition and broke down basketball like a scholar; his brain was as elevated as his body. Bryant skipped college to take over the NBA, but after one conversation with him, you just sensed he would have thrived in the classroom, the boardroom or any path he chose.
Kobe Bryant dunks the ball at his Lower Merion, Pa. high school gym during a practice on Jan. 19, 1996.
Kobe Bryant was complicated. Never cuddly, he could be ruthless to his underperforming teammates. Critics called him selfish, and knocked him for not passing the ball. He embraced his villainy, real or supposed, creating a pop philosophy he called “The Mamba Mentality.” It was an approach to life that required extreme focus, discipline, and enthusiasm for taking on all comers.
“I always aimed to kill the opposition,” he once wrote. The Mamba grew into an iconic persona all its own.
Now, the world can’t fathom that it’s gone.
Kobe Bryant, 17, holds his Los Angeles Lakers jersey during a news conference, on July 12, 1996.
In one of the most stunning and tragic losses in the history of sports and global celebrity, Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles on Sunday, along with eight others, including his daughter Gianna, 13. Bryant was 41 years old. Though he wasn’t cut down in the prime of his basketball career, Bryant had so much more to give. For example, he won an Oscar in 2018 for Best Animated Short Film, Dear Basketball. Deciphering Bryant’s post-NBA plans became a parlor game among Kobe-watchers. Would he coach? Own a team? Go Hollywood mogul? He could have done it all, and maybe would have. He leaves behind his wife, Vanessa, and three surviving children.
Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks with his daughters Gianna, 8, Natalia, 12, and wife Vanessa during the basketball game against the Indiana Pacersin Los Angeles, on Nov. 29, 2015
Kevork Djanzesian—Getty Images
Bryant was the son of Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant, a former NBA player, and Pam Bryant. Part of Kobe’s childhood was spent in Italy, where his father also played professionally. The family eventually settled outside Philadelphia, where Bryant became a high school phenom. In 1996, in a move that changed basketball forever, Bryant decided to skip college for the NBA. The year before, Kevin Garnett had become the first player to make the direct jump in 20 years, but he was nearly 7-feet tall. Never had a guard skipped college. But Bryant was that confident in his ability. He taught a generation of players to grab their opportunity, to “get theirs.” In the ensuing years, LeBron James and others decided to forgo college ball because they saw Bryant succeed.