As many have heard, American basketball legend Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter accident on Sunday, January 26 along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant and seven others. Kobe leaves behind an incredible legacy in his chosen sport, ranking as one of the best basketball players to ever live. And what a life it was…
Kobe Bryant Facts
1. Welcome to the World
Kobe Bean Bryant was born in Philadelphia on August 23, 1978. Basketball was always in Kobe’s blood. He was the only son and youngest child of Joe Bryant, a former player-turned-coach of the NBA, and his wife Pamela Cox Bryant. Not only that, but Kobe’s maternal uncle, John “Chubby” Cox, was also a NBA basketball player.
2. Going for Gold
Bryant didn’t just have a stellar career with the NBA. He was also lucky enough to represent his country in the Summer Olympic games on the US national basketball team. In fact, Bryant and the rest of his teammates won two gold medals for their efforts, dominating the sport in back-to-back Olympics in 2008 and 2012.
3. Starting Early
Bryant had a talent that everyone could plainly see—even from a very young age. He was famously drafted into the Charlotte Hornets right out of high school, which was an all-time first for a guard. When he played his first NBA game on November 3rd, 1996, he was the youngest person ever to play in the NBA. He was just 18 years, two months, and 11 days old at the time.
4. Different Ball, Different Sport
Kobe absolutely loved basketball, but it wasn’t the only sport he was dedicated to. He also learned to play soccer early on, and rooted for the Italian soccer club A.C. Milan.
Joe Bryant’s basketball career greatly influenced Kobe’s childhood. Although Joe retired from the NBA when Kobe was just six years old, Papa Bryant continued to play basketball professionally in Europe. The Bryant family moved to Italy for several years, and Bryant even learned to speak Italian while he was there. He considered his time in the city of Reggio Emilia as one the happiest periods of his childhood.
6. Laying the Foundations
Basketball became one of Bryant’s passions from a very early age. He began playing the sport at just three years old, and during his time in Reggio Emilia, he was convinced that he wanted to pursue it as a profession. His grandfather would even send him tape recordings of NBA games for his ambitious grandson to study.
7. VIP Access
Bryant was extremely close with the Lakers’ team photographer Andrew Bernstein. He even trusted Bernstein to take pictures of him during more private moments like his gym workouts in order to document his career while it played out. It was later Bernstein’s idea to use these pictures for an autobiographical book, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play.
8. Eye of the Tiger
For his part, Bernstein spoke glowingly of Bryant on several occasions, naming him “the most compelling athlete I’ve ever photographed in any sport.” When asked what his favorite picture of Bryant was, his answer was surprising. Instead of an action dunk shot, Bernstein chose a 2010 snap of an injured Bryant in a locker room at Madison Square Garden, icing his ankles and finger.
According to Bernstein, it was the determination and will to continue through injuries that he felt summed Bryant up the most as an athlete.
9. Food for Thought
Bryant’s full name, “Kobe Bean Bryan,” has interesting origins. His middle name “Bean” was actually a tribute to his father’s nickname “Jellybean.” Meanwhile, his first name comes from the famous Wagyu beef that comes from the Japanese region of Kobe. Bryant’s parents were inspired to use the name when they read it on a menu.
10. All I’ve Ever Wanted
Bryant played most of his legendary career with the LA Lakers, which was a dream come true for him. As a child, the Lakers were his favorite team.
11. Black Mamba
Bryant’s nickname was famously the “Black Mamba” both during and after his NBA basketball career. The name came from the intimidating and very deadly black mamba snake, particularly its ability to “strike with 99% accuracy at maximum speed, in rapid succession.” Yep, that sure sounds like Kobe to me. But it’s not the only meaning behind the name.
12. It’s All in Your Head
To go along with his “Black Mamba” nickname, Bryant also developed the “Mamba mentality,” which was his approach both to life and to sports. According to Bryant, the Mamba mentality “means to be able to constantly try to be the best version of yourself…It’s a constant quest to try to be better today than you were yesterday.” Bryant completely lived those words until his dying day.
13. Future Allies
In 1995, Bryant was playing basketball with the Adidas ABCD Camp for young and promising players. One of his teammates at the camp was none other than Lamar Odom, who later played alongside Bryant with the Lakers.
14. The Student and the Master
Like many other basketball fans, Bryant grew up watching Michael Jordan on TV. As we’ll get into further down this list, Bryant immediately felt a connection with Jordan’s gift for basketball and giving it his all during the games. Bryant was later able to play against Jordan in his early 20s before Jordan retired from basketball.
15. In the Limelight
Bryant first drew attention to his basketball playing skills when he joined Lower Merion High School’s team. Thanks in part to Bryant, the team won four consecutive basketball championships. Along the way, Bryant earned a number of honors for himself, which caused a lot of media attention for the young player. The rest was history.
16. High Roller
In January 2006, Bryant achieved the second-highest point performance during a single game in the history of the NBA. It was a game against the Toronto Raptors, and he scored a whopping 81 points during the course of the night. Only the equally legendary Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game surpassed that accomplishment.
17. Going for the Gold
When he first began playing for the NBA, Bryant set a simple goal for himself: “Win as many championships as possible.” He was especially motivated by watching Michael Jordan win six championships during his NBA run. This particular ambition eluded Bryant, however, as he “only” managed to secure five championships.
18. The Next Generation
The After-School All-Stars (ASAS) is a non-profit organization that focuses on providing after-school programs to tens of thousands of kids across 10 American states. Until his death, Bryant was the official ambassador for ASAS.
19. No Stopping Me
One of Bryant’s records as a basketball player was being the oldest person to achieve 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in a game. He was 36 years old at the time.
20. Music to My Ears
During his high school years, Bryant was part of the rap group CHEIZAW. They were successful enough that Sony actually signed them—but the record label was hiding a dark secret. They actually only wanted Bryant since his star was on the rise, and planned to drop the rest of the group. In 2000, a now-solo Bryant released the single “K.O.B.E.,” though it didn’t really take off.
21. Going out in Style
When Bryant played his last NBA game on April 13, 2016, he scored a season-high 60 points in the match, leading the Lakers to victory. True to his legendary reputation, he was the oldest player to ever score that many points in a single game at 37 years old.
22. Down and out
On April 12, 2013, Bryant suffered one of the worst injuries of his basketball career. While playing against the Golden State Warriors, he went for an incredible seven uninterrupted quarters—and this during a season where he was usually playing at least 40 minutes a game. But it all caught up with him, and he tore his Achilles tendon.
He immediately received surgery the following day, but he wasn’t well enough to even return to practice until November. Still, there was a bright side to all this…
23. Suit up
Despite Bryant’s injury, there was a silver lining to tearing his Achilles tendon. In 2014, he announced that he’d formed Kobe Inc. with a business team to guide him. Bryant had thoughts of becoming a businessman since 2000, but it wasn’t until he’d been forced to let his injury heal that he moved past the planning stages. As he joked, “there is only so many Modern Family episodes a person can watch.”
24. Brains and Brawn
Not only did Bryant show incredible athletic promise, he was no slouch in other areas of school. In fact, he scored an impressive 1080 on his SAT. Despite this, Bryant didn’t go to any college, preferring to move straight to professional basketball instead. I think in this one case, we can all say that was probably the right choice.
25. On the Shoulders of Giants
Bryant is currently in the fourth spot for all-time NBA scorers—and just one day before his fatal crash, fellow NBA superstar LeBron James surpassed Bryant for the number three spot. Though he was competitive to his core, Kobe had nothing but praise for King James. He tweeted out a congratulations to LeBron and thanked him for “moving the game forward.”
26. Whirlwind Romance
In 1999, Bryant was 21 years old, firmly established with the NBA, and was recording with Sony Entertainment. During his recordings, he met 17-year-old Vanessa Laine while she was on the set of the music video for “G’d Up” as a background dancer. The two of them began a passionate relationship—and they were engaged just six months later.
27. Romeo and Juliet
Sadly, two people objected to Bryant’s engagement to Vanessa: his own parents. Allegedly, Joe and Pamela Bryant took issue with how young the couple were—and they took their disapproval to heartbreaking levels. When Vanessa and Kobe married in 2001, none of his immediate family came. He only reconciled with his mother and father two years later, after he and Vanessa had their first daughter.
28. I’d Like to Thank My Agent
In 2018, Bryant added “Oscar winner” to his list of accomplishments. His 2017 animated short film Dear Basketball paid tribute to his love of the sport, and Bryant took on both writing and narrating duties for the movie. The Academy Awards duly honored it, and it nabbed the golden statuette for Best Animated Short Film.
29. Family Man
Together with his wife Vanessa, Bryant had four daughters: Natalia, Gianna, Bianka, and Capri. Heartbreakingly, Capri Kobe, or “KoKo,” is still just an infant; she was born just last year in June.
30. They’ll Be Writing Songs About Me…
Besides Bryant’s own contributions to music, his name has graced the titles of other songs. In 2009, Lil Wayne released his song “Kobe Bryant.” The following year, Sho Baraka’s album Lions and Liars included the song “Kobe Bryant On ’Em.”
31. Poetic Justice
In November 2015, Bryant announced his decision to retire after one more NBA season. But because this is Kobe, he didn’t do it just any old way. Rather than a press conference or a tweet, he posted a poem on the Players’ Tribune website. His poem, “Dear Basketball,” included the verses “My heart can take the pounding / My mind can handle the grind / But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”
32. A Clash of Titans
When Bryant first joined the LA Lakers, he and established star Shaquille O’Neal got into a feud for the ages. Kobe was an upstart, trash-talking young buck, which rubbed Shaq the wrong way. Their disagreements actually partly led to O’Neal eventually getting traded to the Miami Heat—but Bryant, O’Neal, and the Lakers still won three consecutive championships from 2000-2002.
33. The Grown-ups Are Talking
In one interview, Bryant was asked about the rumor mill surrounding himself and O’Neal’s tumultuous relationship. According to Bryant, they were never friends because they had very different approaches to playing and weren’t afraid to butt heads over it. At the end of the day, however, Bryant still had a lot of respect for O’Neal.
34. Still Got It
Later on in his basketball career, Kobe took to calling himself “Vino” instead of “Black Mamba.” Why? He said he was “aging like a fine wine.” Oh, Kobe.
35. Cool for School
As a part of the “Mamba mentality,” Bryant also founded the Mamba Sports Academy, where he coached his daughter Gianna. Sadly, the Mamba Sports Academy had a role to play in his tragic end…
36. Proud Dad
Kobe’s second-eldest daughter Gianna Bryant, or “GiGi,” was also pursuing basketball as a future career before she perished alongside her father. Kobe was not only supportive of his daughter’s sports ambitions, he also acted as the coach of her middle school team. In one interview, he confirmed that GiGi was planning on carrying on his legacy, and wanted to play professionally.
37. Full Circle
Heartbreakingly, GiGi Bryant’s sports nickname mirrored her father’s “Black Mamba” moniker: Kobe called her “Mambacita.”
38. Transcending Borders
Maybe surprisingly, Bryant was extremely popular in China, and over 10 million Chinese people reportedly watched his final game in the NBA.
39. The Last One to Wear It
During his time with the Lakers, Bryant wore #8 and then #24. When he retired, the Lakers duly retired not one, but both those numbers to pay tribute to their all-star player. Then, in honor of Bryant’s tragic passing, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban also announced that the #24 would be retired on his team, so nobody else can wear it in the future.
40. Eight Is Great
When Bryant chose #8 when he made it onto the Lakers, he had two reasons for doing so. For one thing, he’d worn that number when he played basketball in Italy during his childhood. Another reason why he chose #8 is because it was the sum of all the numbers he wore during his time at the Adidas ABCD camp (1, 3, and 4).
41. Meet Your Heroes
Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were two of the best basketball players to ever grace the court—and they had something else in common. They both were legendary trash-talkers. Kobe proudly admitted he “played mean” during his career, and Jordan infamously loved to get in other players’ faces in his day. In one encounter, Jordan joked that he wanted to “find out what you got” to Kobe.
When Bryant called his hero’s bluff and challenged him right back, Jordan was full of admiration.
42. Iron Will
One of Bryant’s qualities that people loved most was his determination to play his best in every single game. According to Bryant, he held himself to such a high standard because of his memories as a kid going to watch basketball games and marvelling how the players gave it their all, never letting injury or sickness get in the way of giving the fans what they came to see.
43. A Black Spot
Kobe may have been a great man, but he wasn’t a perfect man. In 2003, scandal erupted when a young hotel worker accused Bryant of a non-consensual bedroom encounter. Bryant eventually gave a very public and remorseful apology to the woman—and to his wife Vanessa—for the adulterous relationship, though he maintained he had thought it was consensual.
44. Keep Your Head in the Game
Even as a teenager, the young Bryant always spoke about keeping business and pleasure separated in order to stay grounded and consistently good. In fact, when he first started playing basketball in the NBA, his fellow teammates were a little daunted by how hard he worked and how serious he was. However, Bryant always saw it as doing what he loved as best he could.
45. Dating a Star
Before he met Vanessa, Kobe actually had a star-powered love life. In high school, he dated the R&B singer Brandy Norwood, and even took her to prom.
46. Together Forever
Bryant and Vanessa Laine went through a lot to be together, but they were still standing strong when he died. In fact, just weeks before the fatal helicopter crash, Bryant wrote his wife an incredibly touching tribute. Eight weeks ago, he posted on Instagram for their 20th anniversary: “On this day 20 years ago,” he wrote, “I met my best friend, my Queen.”
47. Fateful Trip
On January 26, 2020, Bryant boarded a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter. Aside from Bryant, there was one pilot and seven other passengers in the helicopter, including his daughter GiGi. Flying from John Wayne Airport, California, their destination was a basketball game in Newbury Park at Bryant’s own Mamba Sports Academy.
48. Worst Case Scenario
Tragically, the helicopter carrying Bryant and the other passengers never reached its destination. Around 40 minutes into the flight, the helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California and caught fire. Everyone aboard lost their lives, including the 41-year-old Bryant. As of this writing, it remains unknown whether the helicopter was able to send a distress call before the crash.
49. Visibility Down
The incident is still under investigation, but some clues are starting to emerge. Though it’s unknown how much this affected the helicopter, the flight path was under heavy cloud cover at the time Bryant took off. That day, the Los Angeles Police Department had actually grounded its own choppers because of the poor conditions.
50. The News That Shook the World
The heartbreaking nature of Bryant’s passing has sent shockwaves around the world, far beyond sports circles. The current and two former US presidents publicly expressed their sorrow. People close to Bryant have also spoken out about their pain at his loss. As his hero-turned-colleague Michael Jordan said, “Words can’t describe the pain I am feeling. I loved Kobe—he was like a little brother to me.”
Rest in Peace, Kobe, GiGi, and the other passengers.