I can not and will not ever act like I enjoy writing this article. Sadly this is a part of journalism, sports broadcasting and most importantly life. To Vanessa, Natalia, Bianca and Capri, my heartfelt condolences from my family to yours. This article is not something I’m doing to try and get attention, to be honest I’m pushing through to symbolize and honor what Kobe really stood for, hard work and persevere through adversity.
Kobe Bryant was born on August 23rd 1978 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Son of former NBA player Joe “jellybean” Bryant. Kobe was named after a town in Japan. Ironically Kobe is known for its marbled beef and amazing scenic views of mountains framing the harbor. Don’t see why it’s ironic? Good. Enjoy where I’m taking this.
In 1984 Joe Bryant would leave the NBA and move his career, and family to Reggio Calabria, Italy. He would become fluent in Italian and would also move to Pistoria and Reggio Emilia. Kobe would grow up around the game of basketball, he loved the feel of the ball, the noise in the gym of the nets “swooshing” or the different noises of the ball bouncing off hardwood or concrete. It became his passion, and in hindsight, would go on to start the next generation. Kobe would move back to America. He would return back to Philadelphia, and he would attend Lower Merion High School. It has been reported by Sports Illustrated about how Kobe Bryant would challenge a teammate to games of 100. The worst Kobe ever did in these games was win..yes win..100-12. Think about that. But another mind numbing high school approach Kobe had. He would go to the gym at 5a.m and would leave at 7a.m. But we all know the work ethic Kobe put in. USA Today’s Jason Jordan interviewed fellow teammate Gregg Downer about any stories of High School Kobe he would go on to state this “We were getting ready to play in the state semifinals in 1996, his senior year, and he had broken his nose a few days earlier in practice. He was experimenting with the face mask and it was hurting his peripheral vision; he really didn’t like it. After warming up with it he took it off in front of his teammates during our last few moments of preparation and threw it off the wall and said, “Let’s go to war!” That memory just kind of symbolized what a warrior he is and how much tolerance he has for pain. It was a very inspirational moment.” Kobe his senior year averaged 30.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4.0 steals and 3.8 blocked shots. Kobe would go on to play in the McDonald’s All-American game. Where he would shine. So naturally after an amazing senior season and shining against other elite high school prospects, the big question that faced Kobe was what’s next? College? NBA? Europe? All floated through the Mambas mind. Where would he go? Kobe has been on record saying Duke and North Carolina would lead the pack. However during his press conference at Lower Merion H.S Kobe, well he did the Kobe thing. He gave that beloved smile, and sent notice to a league with the likes of Gary Payton, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Karl Malone and oh yeah the guy Kobe was putting in tireless hours to one day perhaps pass…Michael Jordan. That’s right, Kobe announced he was declaring for the NBA.
Kobe was selected 13th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers. For those of you who are reading this assuming I told you the truth I’m gonna make you reread that sentence. Kobe was selected 13th overall. Fact. By the…drumroll insert here…Charlotte Hornets…well that’s how it happened don’t shoot the messenger. Knowing the Lakers had signed Shaquille O’Neal in the off-season, then GM Jerry West loved Kobe and his work ethic. Charlotte ironically now owned by Michael Jordan..traded away his heir apparent. So what’s the overhaul the Los Angeles Lakers had to give up? Vlad Divac. Tyler stop lying to us. Guys that’s the truth. As much credit as Jerry West deserves for being a basketball Einstein, again Kobe was not a sure thing. A lot of people questioned whether anyone could go from High School to the NBA, again Kobe embraced and accepted the challenge. Kobe his rookie year started a total of 6 games. And appeared in 71. Head Coach Del Harris did not want to start Kobe due to Eddie House and Nick Van Excel being more NBA ready. Kobe was the youngest player to ever play in an NBA game when he debuted. The following year, Kobe started in a grand total of 1 game, yes 1 game. And appeared in 79. Despite that 1 start Kobe would make the All-Star team, making him the youngest starter in All-Star Game history and yes competed and won the Slam Dunk Contest.
So after an All-Star season, and putting in hours and hours of work MORE than the rest of the team, Kobe would start the 98-99 season. Yes. But not for the reason you may think. Kobe on “All the Smoke” with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes Kobe shared the story of how he actually started. Noting that due to the lockout, and an injury, Kobe Bryant was forced to start. Kobe would average 19.9 points a game, on 46% shooting with 5.3 rebounds a game and 3.8 assists. There was a small starting point however during this time, during a scrimmage in practice, Kobe and fellow HOFer Shaquille O’Neal would get into a fist fight during practice. Nothing would come of anything at this point but going forward it is important to mention this for both Kobe and Shaqs history.
After that the Lakers never looked back. Kobe used his misused time on the bench as motivation. Brian Shaw, friend former teammate and coach of Kobe would tell stories of Kobes hard work. Brian Shaw during an interview with Business Insider would tell them a story of how he once found Bryant alone in the gym. Scott told Business Insider:
“I heard the ball bouncing. No lights were on. Practice was at about 11, it was probably about 9, 9:30. And I go out to the court and I look, and there’s Kobe Bryant. He’s out there shooting in the dark. And I stood there for probably about ten seconds, and I said, ‘This kid is gonna be great.'”
Before the start of the 1999-2000 season the Lakers and Jerry West would add their 3rd and final piece to the next NBA Dynasty. Head Coach, and zen master Phil Jackson. In Phil’s first year with Shaq and Kobe the Lakers would win the first of 3 NBA finals. 2000,2001,2002 Kobe added 3 rings to his resume. Another quick pivot here, because during this run is when tensions and hostility really grow between Shaq and Bryant. During 2000-2001 after winning the NBA Championship Shaq would come into camp out of shape. Due to this, and my biggest gripe against the whole “Shaq carried Kobe” argument, the triangle was now really a Kobe ran system. So much so that Shaq asked for a trade after Kobe dropped 38 points on Phoenix and Shaq contributed only 18. They would repeat. Tensions would diminish slightly the following year as Bryant and Jackson both suffered losses in their personal life. Also the country would be tested as a whole following September 11th 2001. Making LA forget their drama and focus on the job at hand. There’s the 3 peat. And that would be the last for Shaq and Kobe. However they would return to the NBA finals in 2004 with Shaq, Karl Malone and Gary Payton. They would be upset by the Detroit Pistons, and before long the Lakers dominance would end. And would go from the Shaq and Kobe era, and enter a Mamba.
This would be a very crucial and important pivot in both the Lakers and Kobe Bryant’s growth. The Lakers would trade Shaq to the Miami Heat. He would form another dynamic duo with future HOFer Dwayne Wade. The Lakers would get back Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a 1st round pick that the Lakers would draft Jordan Farmer with. Lakers brass would give Kobe the keys to the Laker franchise. They had little to doubt, the work ethic, the no excuses and the I am going to get this done attitude was what LA knew and saw and felt comfortable with going forward. During the run of 2004 Karl Malone would also feel the wrath of Kobe Bryant, the reason I’m including this brief story is to again shed light on who Kobe Bryant the man is. That again is more important than the player. Karl Malone, known to be a bit outspoken, hence voicing concern about Magic Johnson returning after announcing he had HIV, and having a child, as a 20 year old with a 13 year old. Vanessa Bryant, who had grown close to Karl and his wife, had seen Karl dressed in hunting gear, so she simply asked “What are you hunting” so the mature response any male would say surely would be “I am hunting for little Mexican girls.” And I do not believe in hearsay however Malone has for years never denied it and has said on numerous occasions that if Kobe has a problem he knows where to find him. The reason I bring up that story is not to bad mouth Kobe or even Karl Malone. But Kobe unfairly got this bad rap for being a “bad” teammate or “difficult.” But I ask you, would that not implode a locker room? Shaq, was getting jealous that the harder working player was becoming the offense. Karl Malone was hitting on his wife. What was he supposed to do? Would you be a good co-worker if someone hit on your wife or husband? Would you want the company going to the equally talented but lazier worker? The answers here are probably no. So why did Kobe’s reputation take such a bad wrap? Well..that’s the side of Kobe’s life and career that makes everyone look slightly different.
June 30, 2003. Kobe Bryant would be accused of sexual assault. Being that this case was dismissed due to the accuser refusing to take the stand, and it being 17 years later. And to the respect of Kobes daughters and wife I will not go into detail on this accusation. You are able to do your own research, Google is a thing. I refuse to pour salt on a very deep wound, no one mentioned it for years. If you’re reading this to talk about that I am sorry you’re reading the wrong article. But it was a part of his Lakers history.
Why? Why’s it so important? Well for those of you who know Bryant, it’s what turned him into the next phase. After being painted as a villain. And numerous outlets reporting his lack of warmth towards teammates. Kobe would look to study and analyze anything to be a better basketball player. For example, Kobe’s midrange game. This is how brilliant of a mind we are talking about. This man, this cerebral brilliant obsessed man, studied Cheetahs hunting to improve his fade-away jumper. Phillip Galanes, New York Times interview with Bryant was told how Bryant figures this out. “When you watch me shoot my fadeaway jumper, you’ll notice my leg is always extended. I had problems making that shot in the past. It’s tough. So one day I’m watching the Discovery Channel and see a cheetah hunting. When the cheetah runs, its tail always gives it balance, even if it’s cutting a sharp angle. And that’s when I was like: My leg could be the tail, right?” Amazing. But this would spark a deeper passion. And one that would change the NBA, and well frankly the world, forever. Kobe after watching Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” Kobe was interested in a code name. In an article with the New Yorker Kobe explained why he would create this persona. “The name just evokes such a negative emotion,” Bryant would tell the magazine. “I said, ‘If I create this alter ego, so now when I play this is what’s coming out of your mouth, it separates the personal stuff, right?’ You’re not watching David Banner — you’re watching the Hulk.” To follow up this segment Kobe was with friend Ahmad Rashad and would give the most Kobe-like quote yet. “When I step on that court, I become that. I am that killer snake. I’m stone cold, man.” So what type of mindset was he using? What ego did he adapt? Why’s it game changing? Because Mamba Mentality would change the league forever.
Mamba was in. And he was ready. After taking over the Lakers. Bryant took over the league. He would lead the league in scoring in both the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons.
On January 22,2006 Kobe showed the Mamba Mentality to the purest form. He would also drop the most memorable scoring performance of the century. Kobe would drop 81 points against the Toronto Raptors. He was 28-46. 60%…60% from the field and 7-13 from 3pt range. He would also drop 62 against the Dallas Mavericks on December 20th 2005. Why’s that impressive? He didn’t play the 4th Quarter!! Kobe would average 35.4 points per game in the 05-06 season, and 31.6 in 06-07. The following season 2007-08 Bryant would go on to win his first Most Valuable Player Award. However during this time Bryant would also ask the Los Angeles Lakers for a trade. Kobe wanted to be traded to the Chicago Bulls. Bryant was growing frustrated dragging teams with Kwame Brown, Smush Parker and company to the playoffs and being eliminated fairly early. During this time, Spurs, led by Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginòbili and Tony Parker would be a power house in the western conference. The Phoenix Suns would also become dominant led by 2x MVP and eventual teammate of Kobe, Steve Nash, would lead an upbeat offense that would take the league by storm. Nash, was not along either. Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, and Leandro Barbosa would also battle with Kobe. The Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks would also emerge as a team built well for postseason play as well. Jazz led by Andrei Kirilenko, with young upcoming guard Deron Williams, with Carlos Boozer Paul Millsap and Laker alum Derek Fisher. Dallas would be led by future Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki with Jason “the Jet” Terry, Jerry Stackhouse and Erik Dampier. So Kobe wanted out to be on a building team after he felt the Lakers grew complacent. There was a trade in place with the Detroit Pistons, Kobe would head to Detroit, Richard “Rip” Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and draft picks would go to the Lakers. Kobe said no, I gave you a list of teams I want to go to, Detroit was not that team. A Bulls trade never emerged as Chicago did not want to include a package involving Luol Deng. So what resolves the issue. The mamba would get his next co-star. A 7-foot Spanish forward from the Memphis Grizzlies, Pau Gasol.
The 2007-2008 season the Lakers would renew one of, if not the most historical rivalry in sports. They would go to the NBA finals against the Boston Celtics. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen made a big 4 that would run through the eastern conference like a knife going through butter. The Celtics would win the finals in 6 games. Giving Kobe his second loss in the finals. Bryant would be deeply annoyed by this. The Lakers legend would then go back to back finals where he would defeat the Orlando Magic…again not kidding..led by Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkolou. Bryant had gotten ring number 4. And more importantly ring number 1 without Shaq. Kobe was on a mission for at least 6, if you really know Bryant you know he wanted 8. Hence the number 8. But He would return to the finals one last time in 2010 to again take on those same Celtics. With the addition of Ron Artest, aka Metta World Peace. He would then go on to win ring number 5. Redeeming his loss to the Lakers biggest foe, and further cementing he did not need Shaq, Bryant was ready to win number 6, and three-peat for the second time, just like mike.
Bryant would form another super team. With Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest and Steve Nash. The Lakers seemed poised for another ring. With the season being a huge disappointment due to injuries and chemistry issues. However the Lakers were playing their best basketball of the season the final month and a half and were emerging as a possible 8th seed. Kobe playing every minute of every game for most of the season drew ire from basketball experts. However Kobe being Kobe would fight through, and sadly cost him his last chance at a ring, tearing his Achilles against Golden State.
Kobe would return faster than expected from this injury only a few months later to be sidelined again by a fractured kneecap. Kobe would return and monitor his minutes as he planned to retire. In typical Kobe fashion he went out on top. Kobe in his final game, dropped 60..yes..60 points. Mamba mentality on full display.
Kobe was known as a warrior further cementing his legacy, whether it was playing with injuries or inspiring teammates by being the first one in the gym or the last to leave. Bryant would play with numerous injuries, develop a historic clutch gene only shared by a select few. Bryant would retire an 18x All Star, 2x scoring champ, 5x NBA Champion, 15x All NBA, 12x All Defensive Team, 4x All Star Game MVP, 07-08 MVP, 2x Finals MVP, Leading scorer in Los Angeles Lakers history, and 3rd all time leading scorer. Now 4th all time since being passed by Lebron James. And just to add a little more Gold..to this Lakers trophy case, he also helped USA win 2 Gold Medals.However all the accolades and accomplishments still don’t surpass one thing..his work as a Husband and Father to Vanessa, Natalia, Giana, Bianca and Capri.
Kobe after retiring would not stop being in the eyes of entertainment. Kobe would only go on to win an Oscar for “Dear Basketball.” Kobe would also fall in love with basketball again. Why? Because Kobe’s 2nd daughter Gianna, “Gigi” would fall in love with basketball. Kobe also would facilitate a raise for WNBA players, knowing Gigi was on her path to becoming a young Kobe herself, even got nicknamed Mambacita. Tragically, January 26th Kobe Bryant, his daughter Giana, and 7 other civilians were taken from us. Moms, Dads, Sisters, Brothers, Husbands, Wives, Children. In a fatal helicopter crash on the way to an AAU practice before the game. This was nothing new however for Kobe, flying. He would start taking helicopters from his house, to practice, or games, then go back home to spend more time with his family. Kobe would tell stories about how he would tell Vanessa “I don’t want to sit in traffic if it saves me time to pick me daughters up from school, I’ll do it.” No story of Kobe hurt more than ESPN’s Elle Duncan. Who would explain she was waiting to interview Kobe and after waiting she no longer had to approach Kobe. Kobe addressed her. She was 8 months pregnant at the time, and Kobe was enamored with the fact that she was pregnant. Kobe would ask “what are you having?” Mrs Duncan would reply “ A girl”. And that’s when the famous line Kobe uttered would started trending and become a hashtag cemented in society. “ Girls are awesome, I would have 5 more girls if I could, I’m a girl dad.” This segment on ESPN, forever changed my mind. I am, was, and will be, one of Kobe’s biggest advocates and supporters. I always found it rude, unjustified and quite frankly uneducated when people would bash Bryant for his playing style. The man studied and worked harder than anyone this league has seen, dare I even say more than Jordan. But when Duncan gave her story of her only encounter with Byrant, it made me realize, Kobe was not this warrior, or robotic basketball zombie we all painted him as. (On the court, he is still all of these things.) Remember how embarrassed he was when the Colorado incident was announced, because he unintentionally made national news and his family would have to deal with it. Remember how angry Bryant got as Karl Malone hit on his wife, remember how proud and joyful he was when he would talk about his daughters, and his wife. Kobe was a robot. Kobe was the man we all should want to be. Devoted to his craft, passionate, cerebral, intuitive, and yes a bad bad bad somebody on the court for 48 minutes. I will forever thank Kobe for the life lessons he has taught me. Passion, put 110% in to whatever you do. Work hard. Work harder when you feel weak. And love your family.
Real quick, I too would like to share my Kobe story. Working at a town street fair, a sports venue was selling a plaque of all athletes. Kobe had just torn his Achilles, so I bought this plaque. One day thinking me and Kobe would talk about the cards the plaque has on it. And maybe even sign it. To be honest it is still in the wrapping, and it will always be. And one day I will tell Kobe this story, and we will laugh and joke about life in general. Until that day. Mamba thank you. Prayers to Vanessa, Natalia, Bianca and Capri Kobe Bryant. You are all in our prayers. No other way to end this except how Kobe would want.