From Lower Merion prodigy to NBA superstar; memorial set for Kobe Bryant and crash victims on Feb 24
LOS ANGELES, CA --
KOBE BRYANT DIES IN HELICOPTER CRASH
Kobe Bryant, retired NBA player and former Laker legend, and his second-oldest daughter Gianna were among nine people killed on Sunday, January 26 in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
The helicopter departed John Wayne Airport at 9:06am on Sunday, where it had passed over Boyle Heights, near Dodger Stadium, and circled the Glendale community just moments before the crash.
At approximately 9:47am, the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter carrying Bryant and his entourage crashed about 20 miles from Mamba Sports Academy, Bryant's basketball training complex in Thousand Oaks.
Bryant was 41 years old and had been retired from the NBA since the 2015-2016 season. He lived just south of Los Angeles in coastal Orange County and often used helicopters to save time and avoid traffic.
He often traveled to practices and games by helicopter and continued this pattern well after retirement to attend business ventures.
He had four daughters with his wife, Vanessa and had dedicated himself to boosting women's sports in recent years as he focused on coaching and mentoring his daughter Gianna and her basketball team. The morning of the crash, Bryant and fellow passengers aboard the flight were en route to an afternoon basketball game being held at the Mamba Sports Academy.
Kobe Bryant leaves behind an unforgettable legacy as he has been one of the most forward-thinking superstars of the NBA. Ironically, just a day earlier, his name dominated headlines as LeBron James passed Bryant's career point total of 33,643 points to move into third place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. In response to this moment, he shared congratulatory remarks via his Instagram and Twitter accounts to LeBron James, which became his final post and tweet following the news of his death.
News of Kobe Bryant's death traveled quickly as the nation mourned and paid tribute to the NBA legend. Celebrities took to Twitter to express their condolences and concerns about Bryant's untimely death.
The NFL Pro Bowl held a moment of silence and tribute in honor of the Laker basketball legend that led to "Kobe" chants from the crowd.
A moment of silence was held before the Toronto Raptors game against the San Antonio Spurs. Both teams let the 24-second shot clock run out at the start of their game to honor Bryant. This trend followed around the NBA as teams also began holding the ball backcourt for an 8-second violation to also honor Kobe Bryant.
The following night at the Grammy Awards saw many recipients pay tribute to the former Lakers superstar as it was held at the Staples Center Arena, where he played. Hundreds of fans gathered outside the venue to mourn his death as makeshift memorials appeared all throughout the world.
A public memorial has been set for 10 a.m. on February 24 to honor Kobe Bryant, his daughter and all seven passengers that died in the crash. The significance of the date was chosen by Bryant's wife in honor of No. 2 worn by Gianna, No. 24 worn by Kobe and 20 as representation of the years he spent playing for the Lakers.
Lower Merion's Prodigal Son
Born on August 23, 1978 to Pamela and Joe Bryant, Kobe grew up in Italy with his two sisters when his dad's NBA career concluded in 1983. It was here where Kobe began to hone in on his basketball skills and even absorbed the culture enough to learn the language of Italian. His family returned to the states and settled in Lower Merion where he was primed for a record setting high school tenure.
As a four-year starter, Bryant set a career scoring record with 2,883 points surpassing Wilt Chamberlain in the Philadelphia area. As a senior, he averaged 30 points a game, led his team to the state championship and won the Naismith High School Player of the Year Award.
At 6'6, he played all five positions on the court in the high school. He was swift, intelligent and physically gifted. A high school standout, Kobe was heavily recruited by Villanova, Duke, Michigan, and North Carolina among dozens of other schools. He was even invited to participate in a workout by 76ers coach John Lucas. It was the remarks by Lucas that inspired Bryant's choice to opt to enter the NBA Draft.
The Mamba Mentality
Kobe Bryant's accomplishments extends well beyond his career as a basketball player. His legacy can be summed up in four numbers: 17, 81, 60 and 20.
A prodigy at Lower Merion High School, Bryant leaped into the NBA in 1996 at the age of 17. The Lakers had worked out a pre-draft arrangement behind the scenes with the Charlotte Hornets, who selected Bryant with the 13th pick in the first round. The trade was finalized in July, while Kobe was still 17 years old. Due to his age, his parents had to initially co-sign his three-year, $3.5 million deal.
Just barely 18 years old and fresh out of high school, he was the youngest player in the history of the NBA at that time. It wasn't long before his name stood out among the elite. His basketball talents, especially his high-flying dunks and athletic flair, was made for the Lakers. He started only six games his first season and averaged just 7 points, but went on to win the All-Star Game's Slam Dunk Contest and made the All-Rookie Team. But the best was yet to come.
At the age of 19, he became the youngest starter in the All-Star game. By age 21, he was an NBA Champion. Paired with Shaquille O'Neal as a teammate, they won three consecutive titles from 1999-2002. Bryant averaged a combined 25 points a game per season.
In the years to come, he would surpass those figures more than 12 times as he was recognized as the NBA's leading scorer in both 2005-06 (35.4) and 2006-07 (31.6). He went on to win five titles with the Los Angeles Lakers, but one of his most memorable moments did not involve any of his titles or the playoffs.
The Iconic 81-Point Game
It was January 22, 2006. The Lakers faced off in a matchup against the Toronto Raptors. Kobe went on to score 81 points on 28-of-46 shooting, including 7-of-13 from behind the arc and 18-of-20 from the foul line in a 122-104 comeback victory at home.
No one had scored that many points since Wilt Chamberlain's record-setting 100 point night in 1962. The accomplishment even stunned Bryant himself. His performance remains the second highest single-game point total in NBA history as no one has scored more points since then.
The Man, The Myth, The Black Mamba
Kobe had a striking professional resume. In addition to his five NBA titles, he won two Olympic gold medals, recognized twice as the league's scoring leader, won the 2008 season MVP and two NBA Finals MVP awards. Additionally, he was an 18-time All-Star and won 11 times First-Team All NBA accolades. But his defense was nearly as impressive as his offense. He made a total of 12 All-Defensive Teams, more than any other guard.
As he accumulated points and fame, Kobe picked up another nickname. Aside from teammates dubbing him as Frobe during an era where he rocked an afro and wore jersey number 8 or being called Bean by relatives, he began referring to himself as the "Black Mamba," a particularly deadly and aggressive snake. This nickname came well beyond the days of being called "Showboat" and "Vino." In addition to having a name known for being sport's most relentless competitor, he was known for his ability to play through injuries.
A series of injuries dampened his performance throughout his final three seasons. Late in the 2012-13 season, a torn left Achilles' tendon managed to slow him down the longest. A stubborn and hard-headed Bryant refused to accept the on-court diagnosis and continued to play before being pulled off the court and escorted to the locker room for evaluation. It was this particular injury that knocked Bryant off his feet.
In November 2015, he revealed that it would be his final season. He announced his retirement through a letter entitled "Dear Basketball," published on The Players Tribune website. The 2015-16 farewell season served as a coronation to his basketball greatness.
The Farewell Season
On April 13, 2016, Bryant played in his final game as an NBA player and Laker. His performance provided a fitting farewell as he scored 60 points as the Lakers defeated the Utah Jazz, making him the oldest to reach that total at age 37.
His unforgettable farewell game upstaged the defending champion Golden State Warriors, who had defeated the Memphis Grizzlies on the same night to secure the best single-season record in league history (73-9). He went full "Mamba Mentality," a philosophy he embraced as an approach to life that required extreme focus, discipline and enthusiasm for taking on all corners of life, as his basketball finale was all too fitting.
The best part is that Bryant accomplished all of his great feats for one team. After being traded by the Charlotte Hornets to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Vlade Divac, he dedicated over 20 years of faithfulness to the purple and gold franchise. He became one of the only two players to ever play for one team for at least 20 years.
As Jerry West envisioned, Bryant helped to restore the Lakers to glory with his drive and determination to rival Michael Jordan as he became an ambassador and the new face of the NBA.
Bryant willed his teams to the championship and his titles secured his place among the game's legends. He belongs in the same conversation with Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and anyone else.
He walked into retirement with an unmatched legacy that persuaded the Lakers to retire both jersey numbers he wore for two decades: No. 8 and No. 24 in September 2017. He will be remembered as a great scorer, tenacious defender and most of all as a winner - in both life and on the court.
Trendsetter On And Off The Court
Even after retirement, Bryant continued to produce. Fans tried to decipher his post-NBA plans and every move as everyone watched to determine his future. Would he coach? Own a team? Become a Hollywood actor? He could have done it all, and maybe would have.
He founded Granity Studios, a multimedia company, and produced content for ESPN through his "Detail" series that analyzed professional athletes' performance and "The Punies, " a kids and family friendly podcast.
In 2018, he won an Oscar, Sports Emmy and Annie Award for Best Animated Short Film for Dear Basketball, an animated short about his relationship to the game of basketball.
He opened two training facilities called the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks and Redondo Beach, oversaw his storytelling company and coached his daughter Gianna's AAU basketball team called "The Mambas."
His dedication to Gianna was coaching her to watching Lakers and UConn basketball games with her courtside.
From that came a wider commitment to women's basketball as Kobe became an advisor to the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks and held coaching camps for younger players.
Though his life was cut short, the prime of his basketball career was not. Even though, Kobe Bryant still had so much more to give. He leaves behind his wife, Vanessa, and three surviving daughters - Natalia, Bianka and Capri.