(August 23, 1978 – January 26, 2020)
Former pro basketball player Kobe Bryant won five NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers while establishing himself as one of the game’s all-time greats. He died tragically in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020.
Who Was Kobe Bryant?
Kobe Bryant spent his early years in Italy and joined the NBA straight out of high school. A dominant scorer, Bryant won five NBA championships and the 2008 MVP Award with the Los Angeles Lakers. Although later seasons were marred by injuries, he surpassed Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA all-time scoring list in December 2014 and retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final game. In 2018, Bryant earned an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for Dear Basketball. On January 26, 2020, he was in a helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gigi and seven others.
In his second season with the Lakers, Bryant was voted a starter for the 1998 All-Star Game, becoming the youngest All-Star in NBA history at 19. The shooting guard then teamed up with superstar center Shaquille O’Neal to win three consecutive NBA championships and was voted first-team all-NBA from 2002-2004. He also inked multi-year endorsement deals with Adidas, Sprite and other top sponsors.
Although the Lakers struggled after O’Neal left in 2004, Bryant performed brilliantly. He scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in January 2006, the second-highest single-game mark in NBA history, and led the league in scoring that year and the next.
In 2008, Bryant was named Most Valuable Player and carried his team to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Boston Celtics. In the 2009 NBA Finals, the Lakers beat the Orlando Magic to win the championship. Shortly afterward, Bryant was part of the memorial service to honor friend and music superstar Michael Jackson. The following year, the Lakers won their second straight title by defeating the Celtics.
After suffering a torn Achilles tendon in April 2013, Bryant worked hard to return to the court before fracturing his knee just six games into the 2013-2014 season. The veteran All-Star surpassed Michael Jordan for third all-time on the NBA scoring list in December 2014, but his season ended due to injury for the third straight year when he sustained a torn rotator cuff in January 2015.
In November 2015, Bryant announced his upcoming retirement from the Lakers with a poem on The Players’ Tribune website, titled “Dear Basketball.” The athletic great soon sought the best in other fields to turn his poem into a short film, including Disney animator Glen Keane and composer John Williams.
The result was a beautifully rendered five-minute, 20-second film, which debuted at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. Oscar voters took note, leading to the unexpected sight of Bryant accepting an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at the 2018 ceremony.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s short films and animation branch also extended an invitation for Bryant to become a member of the organization. However, in June 2018 it was revealed that the Academy’s governors committee had rescinded the invitation, saying the retired basketball great needed to show more efforts in the field before being considered for membership.
Among his philanthropic endeavors, the basketball great partnered with the non-profit After-School All-Stars as part of the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation. He also ran an annual summer camp called the Kobe Basketball Academy.
On January 26, 2020, Bryant was onboard a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter that crashed in the Los Angeles suburb of Calabasas. Nine people, including Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna “Gigi,” died. The helicopter was on its way from Orange County to Thousands Oaks, California where Bryant was scheduled to coach a tournament game at Mamba Sports Academy.
“We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring husband, Kobe — the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet Gianna — a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to Natalia, Bianka, and Capri,” Bryant’s wife Vanessa posted on Instagram. “There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon.”
Bryant and his daughter were laid to rest in a private funeral on February 7, 2020. On February 24, they were honored in a memorial service at the Staples Center, with Beyoncé and Alicia Keys delivering musical tributes and Jordan, Shaq and wife Vanessa among those sharing emotional recollections of the basketball great and family man.