Jan 29th, 2020, 05:09 PM

The Life of Kobe Bryant

By Adaeze Nwokolobia
Image Credit: Pixabay
From small-town hero to big-shot legend, Bryant wasn't just a basketball player.

On Sunday 26 January, 11:24 am PT, TMZ was the first to report a helicopter crash with no survivors. Reports revealed that Ex-NBA star, Kobe Bryant had been killed alongside his thirteen-year-old daughter, Gianna. The two, along with seven others, had been heading to a basketball tournament in Thousand Oaks, California before the helicopter nose-dived into a mountain in the Calabasas area. 

Kobe Bryant was a well-known basketball player whose death has affected the basketball community, the black community, and the world. Many people around the world have since sent tributes recounting his story, which remains a source of hope and inspiration. 

After the announcement of Kobe's passing, former U.S. President Barack Obama took to Twitter to give his condolences. He referenced Kobe's skyrocketing success in business and leadership after retirement as a meaningful second act. Kobe's second act can be seen in his transition from a highly admired athlete on the court to a noteworthy non-athletic career. But his story is not so linear. Like most legends, Kobe's story had a jagged pattern of his highs and lows.

Lone Player to Small-Town Sports Hero

Before becoming a household name, Kobe Bryant was the only black boy on an Italian youth basketball team. In 1984, when Kobe was six years old, his father Joe "Jelly Bean" Bryant, who was also a basketball player, moved his family to Italy to play for the national league. They moved from town to town before settling in Reggio Emilia. There, Kobe joined the basketball team at twelve years old and learned how to play. 

Davide Giudici, a longtime friend, and a former teammate, in an interview, stated that Kobe worked hard training and teaching himself basketball. 

''At the end of our training, the rest of us would just go watch TV or do other things. Kobe, instead, would go home and keep training with the basket his father put up for him in his garden." 


Giudici further states that Kobe always said he would play for the NBA, while the others laughed or teased him. Regardless of the skepticism and negative outside voices, Kobe would soon grow up to be more than a celebrated basketball star. He would become a legend. 

In 1996, at a press conference, 17- year-old Philadelphia native Bryant announced to the world that he was not going to attend college and instead was going to "take his talent to the NBA." Bryant was drafted by the NBA straight out of high school. At the time of Bryant's graduation, the Lower Merion High School graduate was Philadelphia's all-time lead scorer.

Everyone watched his games and followed his high school career. He soon became a small-town sports hero but before the fame, he was the only black boy in an Italian youth basketball team whom many never thought will never be a star. 

Following Bryant's death, Italian youth Coach Andrea Menozzi stated  “Kobe wasn’t known as an NBA star in Reggio Emilia. He was the kid that all the fans knew and saw at the arena when his father played,” 

It was later claimed that he was resented in his Philadelphia hometown because he felt bigger than the town itself while playing in glamorous LA. In turn, the little black boy grew up to be a sports giant among the obscure small Italian town.

Passed Over Rookie to Lakers Legend 

In a tweet thanking the Lakers for drafting him, Kobe reminisced about the time he had been overlooked by the Charlotte Hornets. 

Despite being an all-time lead scorer from Philadelphia at the time, Bryant was first drafted with the Charlotte Hornets as the 13th overall pick of the 1996 draft. He was then traded quickly to the Los Angeles Lakers for the hotshot center, Vlade Divac. Kobe's NBA debut was not particularly remarkable at the time, with no scores and a short place on the bench. However, he worked his way up and gained his recognition after winning the 1997 slam dunk contest. 

Bryant then went ahead to win 5 NBA championships, NBA's Most Valuable Player Award (M.V.P.) for the 2007-2008 season, and the NBA finals M.V.P award again in 2009 and 2010. He was the only player in history to play 20 seasons with the Lakers. 

In 2006, He earned an 81-point game scoring title, the second-highest single-game total in NBA History. Later down the line, the Lakers eventually retired Bryant’s No. 24. Los Angeles along with Bryant’s original No. 8, in 2017 in respect of his legendary accomplishments in the NBA. 

Controversial Sportsman

In 2003 a sexual assault complaint was filed against Kobe Bryant by a 19-year-old hotel concierge in Colorado. Bryant had arrived in Vail, Colorado for a knee operation. He had checked into the Cordillera Lodge and Spa in Edwards where he met the unnamed employee. 

During check-in, she led him to his room. Bryant then asked her to return later for a private tour of the lodge and she did. He invited her into his room and they started kissing. However, what happened after became the crux of a media-heavy sexual assault case

Bryant later issued a statement apologizing to the woman, while claiming he truly believed the encounter was consensual. The controversy over the manner was magnified as the record of his statement to the police showed he did not explicitly ask for consent. At the time, the concept of consent was not as widely understood or spoken about as it is today. 

His defenders, including fans, claim that it was an entrapment situation where historically, a white woman falsely accuses a black man of sexual violence. The case was eventually dropped after the witness refused to testify. 

Although the case was settled out of court, it cast a shadow over his career. However, to cope with one of the most turbulent times of his life Kobe assumed a new persona. In a 2014 interview with the New Yorker, he said he got the inspiration for his moniker "Black Mamba", one of the world's deadliest snakes, after watching Quentin Tarantino's 2003 popular movie "Kill Bill. 

"Black Mamba" was the code name of a deadly assassin in the movie and this moved Kobe to adopt the moniker for himself. The moniker was a fast, focused, and non-defeatist persona which helped Kobe become the champion he is seen as today. 

 All-Around Champion: International Sports, Business, Entertainment, Philanthropy 

After the stain on his career led to the end of endorsement deals and boycotts, Bryant went on to win gold medals for the U.S.A Basketball team in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. 

Bryant then went on to create Granity Studios which produced most of his work, including his podcast "The Punies" and New York Times best-selling book series The Wizenard Series: Training Camp. His interest in producing sports-centered stories stemmed from his desire to portray the African American community in a good light. 

In 2018, Bryant won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for his 2017 film "Dear Basketball" which he wrote, narrated and produced. "Dear Basketball" was based on a poem announcing his retirement from basketball. The film also earned other awards such as the Telly award and World Animation Celebration.

Regardless of the success outside of his basketball career, his ugly past resurfaced. After his 2018 Oscar nomination was announced, a petition quickly spread to have his nomination rescinded based on his 2003 sexual assault charge.

Bryant was also a well-known philanthropist who donated to charities such as Cathy's Kids and supported educational programs like the After-School All-Stars and invested in his community through his low-cost Mamba Sports Academy and Cancer Research. He spent twenty years working with Make-A-Wish foundation and spending time with critically ill children. 

Kobe Bryant proved to not only be a legendary sportsman but also a savvy businessman who worked as a venture capitalist investor, brand-builder, and coach. Bryant was able to establish numerous endorsement deals with companies such as Nike, McDonald's, Sprite, and others. Furthermore, he partnered with Nike and the L.A. Boys and Girls club to launch a youth basketball league called the Mamba League.

Revered Family Man

Bryant was a dedicated family man and considered his family to be a very important part of his existence. In a Jimmy Kimmel interview, he says he frequently used helicopters as a way to bypass traffic and spend more time with his family. His middle child, Gianna, was bound to continue her father's legacy.

His support and commitment to women's basketball games started with his daughters. Bryant's pride in his familial dedication was prevalent to those around him. Many fans recount this as an important part of his legacy.

AUP Athletics Director, basketball player, and Kobe Fan, Ashkan Shalbaf, paid his respects to the basketball legend in a written statement.

"Kobe Bryant grew up from a young, hot-headed and ambitious man to a mature, exemplary leader and father, putting his family and daughter first and giving back to society [..] He was an inspiration on and off the court. I watched him play growing up, and I use him regularly as an inspiration off the court, for example when discussing leadership with captains of AUP teams..." 


Kobe's abundance of qualities have been a large part of the devastation that many are still experiencing across the globe. People all over the world recount that they grew up watching Kobe Bryant play and felt inspired by him.

His influence spans across nations with the Italian basketball league declaring a week of mourning for him and a moment of silence at every game. The impact of his loss is felt not only on a national level but also, a transnational level.

Celebrities and cities across the globe have sent in tributes. 

The tributes below are in part testamentary to his legendary status. 

Individual Tributes

Many remember his great accomplishments as a basketball player. But his rise to stardom is just as important and inspiring to millions of young people. He was the youngest opposition guard to be drafted and many doubted his success. Nevertheless, he passionately worked his way from a small-town sports team in Philadelphia, to a big shot national legend.

Rest in Peace Kobe.