Kobe Bean Bryant, from high school to a glittering 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, was among nine people who died on Sunday north of Los Angeles in a helicopter crash.
Kobe Bryant, 41, was many things: one of the greatest players in basketball history, a five-time NBA champion, Olympic gold medalist, a fluent speaker of multiple languages, a resident of the world, an Oscar winner, the self-described Black Mamba that started as a nickname and became his brand, someone so good he had two numbers retired by the Los Angeles Lakers.
Bryant’s early days
Kobe Bean Bryant, the son of former NBA player Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, was born in Philadelphia in August 23, 1978 while his father played for the NBA's 76ers, the child named for the Japanese beef seen on a menu and his father's nickname.
The elder Bryant played from 1984 to 1991 in Italy, giving young Kobe a global worldview as he grew up dreaming of following his dad into the NBA.
"When I was growing up in Italy it opened up a whole new world to me and I thought anything was possible," Kobe told AFP in 2009.
Bryant became one of the first NBA players to seek out a growing fan base in China, blogging for hinese internet giant SINA in 2009.
"As a kid growing up I never in my wildest dreams thought I would have this big fan base halfway around the world in Beijing and Shanghai," Bryant told AFP.
Words can't describe the pain I'm feeling. I loved Kobe - he was like a little brother to me.
Kobe Bryant used a ferocious competitiveness and uncanny shooting touch to become an NBA icon, leaving behind a legacy that has influenced the newest generation of league talent and fans worldwide.
From his 81-point game, the second-best scoring performance in NBA history, to five NBA titles in 20 years of dazzling performances with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant delivered a relentless attitude that attracted a global following before his death Sunday at age 41 in a helicopter crash.
Bryant joined giant center Shaquille O'Neal to spark the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002, becoming at the age of 23 the youngest player to capture three titles.
5Bryant won five NBA championships.
A bitter feud with Bryant saw "Shaq" depart, Bryant portrayed as never having had childish ways while O'Neal never outgrew them.
That left Bryant without the inside force needed to capture the crown until Spain's Pau Gasol arrived and the Lakers won titles in 2009 and 2010 with Bryant in command and later patching things up with O'Neal.
Bryant sparked the US Olympic team to gold medals at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics and became a global celebrity as much for his personality as his playmaking.
Bryant's fierceness was legendary and led him to nickname himself the "Black Mamba" for his ability to strike quickly with deadly scoring accuracy.
There were spectacular nights but nothing topped his 81-point effort against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006, a mark surpassed only by Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game in 1962.
Bryant scored 65 points in a 2007 win over Portland, then followed with 50 points against Minnesota, 60 at Memphis and 50 more against New Orleans - the third-longest run of 50-point games in NBA history behind two from Chamberlain.
Some say Bryant saved the best for last, scoring a league season-high 60 points against Utah in his final NBA game in 2016, becoming the oldest player in league history to crack that milestone at age 37.
"I love everything about this game," Bryant famously said. "For me, it's not a part of life, it is life, and it's a part of me."
In all, Bryant finished with 33,643 points, 7,047 rebounds and 6,306 assists over 1,346 career NBA games. He was an 18-time NBA All-Star, the 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player, the NBA Finals 2009 and 2010 NBA MVP and matched a record as a four-time NBA All-Star Game MVP.
• Named NBA Finals Most Valuable Player in leading Lakers to titles in 2009 and 2010
• Earned Olympic gold medals with USA at 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics
• Named NBA regular-season MVP in 2007-08 season and a record-tying four-time NBA All-Star Game MVP • 2002, 2007, 2009 and 2011
• On January 22, 2006 scored a career-high 81 points in Lakers' 122-104 victory over Toronto, second-most points in a game in NBA history
• In 2018, his movie "Dear Basketball" won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
• Selected with 13th overall choice by Charlotte Hornets in 1996 NBA draft, becoming the 27th player to join NBA straight from high school.
• Acquired by Lakers shortly after draft
• Named an NBA All-Star 18 times • 1998 and 2000-2016
• Two-time NBA scoring champion • 2006 and 2007
• 1997 NBA Slam Dunk Contest winner
• Had both his jersey numbers, 8 and 24, retired by the Lakers, an unprecedented move
• Scored 33,643 points, grabbed 7,047 rebounds and passed off 6,306 assists over 1,346 career NBA games
• Scored a season-high 60 points in his last NBA game on April 13, 2016 in a 101-96 Lakers' victory over Utah, becoming the oldest player in NBA history to score 60 points at 37 years and 234 days
Sexual assault controversy
But it wasn't a smooth path to stardom. In addition to nagging injuries that slowed his later seasons, Bryant faced a major rape controversy that delivered a body blow to his endorsements image.
Bryant, a father of four who married wife Vanessa in 2001, faced his darkest hour in 2003 when he was arrested in Colorado over a sexual assault complaint filed by a 19-year-old hotel employee where Bryant was staying ahead of knee surgery.
Bryant was accused of rape. He admitted to adultery, but said he did not commit rape. In 2004, the case was dropped after the accuser refused to testify in a trial and Bryant issued an apology saying he could understand how she might feel there was not consent.
A separate civil suit was settled under terms kept private.
In 2011, Bryant made an apology for using a gay slur to describe a referee and paid a $100,000 fine imposed by the NBA.
Knee and ankle injuries mounted as years began to take a toll on Bryant. He missed most of the 2013-14 season with a left knee injury and much of his penultimate campaign with a torn right rotator cuff, then announced his retirement by saying, "My body knows it's time to say goodbye."
New chapter as a retired NBA player
It was April 14, 2016. It was the first full day of Kobe Bryant's new chapter as a retired NBA player. All he had done the night before was score a mind-boggling 60 points in his farewell game, not getting out of Staples Center until around midnight.
His staff at Kobe, Inc. were certain they would beat their boss to the office that morning. They were wrong. He beat everyone there by two hours. ``We have a lot of work to do,'' Bryant told them.
Even in retirement, Bryant found no substitute for hard work. Kobe Bean Bryant was many things: one of the greatest players in basketball history, a five-time NBA champion, Olympic gold medalist, a fluent speaker of multiple languages, a resident of the world, an Oscar winner, the self-described Black Mamba that started as a nickname and became his brand, someone so good he had two numbers retired by the Los Angeles Lakers.
And he never stopped. Basketball was his obsession for 20 years in the NBA. Storytelling was the obsession for the rest of his life.
Bryant won an Oscar for ‘Dear Basketball’, a 2017 animated short film which he wrote and narrated, and was directed and animated by Glen Keane, with music by John Williams.
Bryant's helicopter flew in fog that grounded other choppers
The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and eight others that crashed into a rugged hillside outside Los Angeles was flying in foggy conditions considered dangerous enough that local police agencies grounded their choppers.
The helicopter plunged into a steep hillside at about 9:45 a.m. Sunday with an impact that scattered debris over an area the size of a football field and killed all aboard. The accident unleashed an outpouring of grief from admirers around the country who mourned the sudden loss of the all-time basketball great who spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. The cause of the crash was unknown, but conditions at the time were such that the Los Angeles Police Department and the county sheriff's department grounded their helicopters.
The Los Angeles County medical examiner, Dr. Jonathan Lucas, said the rugged terrain complicated efforts to recover the remains. He estimated it would take at least a couple of days to complete that task before identifications can be made.
Dubai Crown Prince mourns Kobe Bryant
Sports world and beyond reacts to Kobe Bryant's death
Reaction from the basketball world and beyond on the death of retired NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash on Sunday:
Bryant, a five-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers and two-time Olympic gold medallist, died in a fiery helicopter crash in suburban Los Angeles that also claimed the life of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others.
"We laughed and joked about the Mamba mentality. We're all going to need it right now," an emotional Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before his team played the Magic in Orlando in one of eight NBA games on the night.
"The NBA family is devastated," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. "For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning.
"He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game."
Six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan said Bryant would be remembered as one of the game's greatest.
"Words can't describe the pain I'm feeling," Jordan said. "I loved Kobe - he was like a little brother to me."
That sentiment was echoed by Shaquille O'Neal - who won three NBA titles and also famously feuded with Bryant in Los Angeles.
The grief was felt beyond the basketball court.
"The world lost a legend today, but the impact and legacy he leaves behind will last forever," Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao - an avid basketball fan - tweeted.
Brazilian footballer Neymar dedicated his second goal in Paris Saint-German's 2-0 victory at Lille to Bryant, calling his death "deeply saddening for the world of sport and for all of us - not just for basketball fans but for everything he did for sport."
Golf superstar Tiger Woods, whose professional career started the same year as Bryant's, recalled competitive qualities that echo those of Woods himself.
"The fire," Woods said of what he most remembered of Bryant. "He burned so competitively hot. He had such a desire to win. He brought it every night."
"Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act," former US President Barack Obama, another keen basketball fan, tweeted.
Priyanka Chopra's special way of paying tribute to Bryant at Grammys
Actress Priyanka Chopra paid tribute to the late basketball star Kobe Bryant in a special way at the Grammys.
The annual ceremony isn't only focused on music, as news broke earlier on Sunday that Bryant and his daughter had passed away in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
Many took to the star-studded ceremony to pay their respects to the NBA legend, including Diplo, Billy Ray Cyrus, Lil Nas X, Common and Priyanka.
The Indian actress took a moment to style her decorated nails with the number "24" written on her index finger, reports eonline.com.
That number belonged to Bryant, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers for 20 years before he retired in 2016.
"RIP Mamba," Priyanka shared on Instagram Story with a purple heart emoji, alongside an image of her tribute.
While attending the 2020 Grammys, she walked arm-in-arm with her husband and singer Nick Jonas.
She wore a custom Ralph & Russo design, which featured a plunging neckline and also included diamond-adorned pieces, fringe sleeves and intricate embroidery.
"This guy," she shared on Instagram, with a photo of her and her beau striking a pose hours before making their way to the event.
The couple walked the red carpet with the Jonas Brothers and their spouses. Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner, Kevin and Danielle Jonas all arrived to the star-studded event together.
Bryant's death draws tributes from Asian fans, politicians
Kobe Bryant was a hugely popular figure in Asia, no more so than in China where basketball rivals soccer as the most popular sport.
However, his death Sunday in a helicopter accident comes at an awkward time between the country and the league. National broadcaster CCTC pulled all NBA games off the air following a tweet in October from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressing support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests.
The Chinese Basketball Association, led by former Rockets MVP Yao Ming, announced it would suspend all cooperation with the Texas-based team. Yao and the association have yet to comment on the crash Sunday in California that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other people.
However, Yi Jianlian, the other Chinese player to find major success in the NBA, took to China's Weibo micro-blogging site to praise Bryant for teaching him the value of persistence.
"Thank you! Kobe! Hope father and daughter continue to enjoy basketball in heaven! We will always remember you!," wrote Yi, who signed with six different NBA teams, including briefly the Lakers in 2016. "Rest in peace to the legend," he added in English.
Bryant's popularity among Chinese fans was rivaled only by Yao, LeBron James and Michael Jordan. His playing appearances, including the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics won by the U.S., were far exceeded by his promotional appearances in the country, both on behalf of his own brand and basketball generally. At a 2013 Lakers preseason game against Golden State in Beijing, the arena rang out with chants of "Kobe! Kobe!'' despite the injured superstar not even having suited up for the game.
Commemorations begin rolling in online, many of the accompanied by photos of Yao and Gianna with the letters R.I.P. Others showed the two dressed in uniform walking away into clouds under a basketball net.
For our generation, our memories of the NBA begin with Jordan, and move through Kobe and Yao Ming. You were a part of our youth. Already missing the bright sun of Kobe. Go well,'' wrote commentator "ZhanHao'' on the popular Twitter-like Weibo messaging service.
"Your willpower has inspired a generation. Thank you,'' wrote "Teacher Kai Ting.'' "I hope there is basketball in heaven. Kobe just went to another world to play basketball with his daughter,'' wrote "Cici's green paper.''
The Australian Open tweeted its condolences to the grieving families, and Romania's Simona Halep said after winning her fourth round match that Bryant's death was a huge loss for the world, for the sport. Australian tennis legend Rod Laver tweeted he was "terribly sad to wake up to this news.
In Taiwan, where the NBA also is an enormous draw, President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted that her "thoughts go out to the Bryant family & the families of all those who lost loved ones today."
"Kobe inspired a generation of young Taiwanese basketball players, & his legacy will live on through those who loved him," Tsai wrote.
Philippine presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo noted that Bryant had been a frequent visitor to the Philippines. "He was well-loved by his Filipino fans," Panelo said in a statement."
On the hard court, he was a sight to behold with his dexterity and accuracy in sinking that ball in the ring. He was a master of his craft. The basketball world has lost one of its legendary greats," Panelo said. "The Palace extends its deepest condolences to the family, friends, colleagues, loved ones and fans around the globe who Kobe left behind. We share in their grief."
In Japan, Tetsunori Tanimoto, an official at the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association, in Kobe, central Japan, expressed his deep condolences for Kobe Bryant's death.
"He helped make Kobe Beef known throughout the world,'' he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press Monday.
Kobe got his name, the legend goes, after his father ate Kobe beef during a visit to Japan and loved the taste.
Tanimoto, who watches NBA games on TV but has never met Bryant, said people know the story about how Bryant got his name.
"We have always felt a closeness to him,'' he said. "It is so sad. And we offer our deepest condolences.''