24/05/2024

Remembering Kobe Bryant.

“When we are saying this cannot be accomplished, this cannot be done, then we are short-changing ourselves, 

“My brain, it cannot process failure. It will not process failure. Because if I have to sit there and face myself and tell myself, ‘You are a failure,’ I think that is almost worse than dying.”

These are the words of the late, great Kobe Bean Bryant, an athlete that transcended the mindset and sacrifice to get where he wanted to go both on and off the basketball court. 

Kobe was a winner in every sense of the word. His five championship rings and 18 all star appearances across his 20 seasons in the NBA is a testament to his dedication to perfecting his craft and not accepting failure.

This everlasting legacy on the sporting world is what made the morning of the 27th of January 2020 (in Australia) one of complete and utter tragedy as the news filtered through that Bryant, his daughter Gianna and eight other individuals had lost his lives.

The aftermath of this tragic event was one of immense grief as notable figures from a variety of fields across the globe took the time to reflect on the impact Kobe had both on their lives and the world in general. 

So, as we reach the one year anniversary of his passing, we remember Kobe Bryant and the indelible mark he left.

From Italy to the NBA 

Born in Philadelphia, the game of basketball was instantly instilled in Bryant’s with his father Joe being an NBA player in the 1970s. 

Beginning to play the game at just three years old, Bryant would find his passion for the game while living in Italy as the family followed his father’s professional career, by which he played for four teams in the European league over eight seasons. 

Eventually moving back to the US for high school, he quickly began to garner national attention as a basketball prodigy, playing at Lower Merion High School in the suburbs of Philadelphia. 

There, Kobe would receive countless accolades with the most notable being named the Naismith Prep Player of the Year and a McDonald’s All American 1996. 

Leaving school, it was clear Bryant was destined for great things as he skipped the traditional route of attending a college and opted to nominate for the NBA draft as a high school graduate in 1996. 

With many unsure of where to take Kobe due to his youth and rawness, he would be left on the board until the 13th pick where the Charlotte Hornets selected the young high school prospect in a deal to send him to the Los Angeles Lakers on draft night. 

Donning the purple and gold for the first time on that fateful June night in New Jersey, Bryant would begin a 20 year journey with the Lakers that would see his drive and will to succeed result in him becoming a revered figure in the franchise’s history. 

Adapting to the league and early success with Shaq

Joining the game’s biggest star at the time Shaquille O’Neal at the Staples Centre, it would take time for Bryant to develop at NBA level as coming off the bench to start the 1996/97 he would become the youngest player to participate in an NBA game. 

Despite playing restricted minutes, he would show flashes of brilliance in his rookie season before truly announcing himself to the world on All Star Weekend in 1997 where at just 18 years old he took out the fan favourite dunk contest in spectacular fashion. 

Bryant would continue to develop his body and game through these early seasons, as he quickly grew in confidence and began to build a rapport with O’Neal that would jolt the road to success for the Lakers squad. 

At just 21 years old, Bryant had already proven himself to be one of the game’s brightest young stars and his undeniable potential would attract six time championship coach Phil Jackson to take up the Lakers coaching role in 1999.

This would be the final piece of the puzzle to push this young team over the line and into a championship contender, as a prime O’Neal and Bryant began their three year domination over the NBA. 

Beginning in 2000, the Lakers would put together an astonishing three-peat as Bryant got his first taste of winning with finals victories over the Indiana Paces, Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets. 

Through this period, Bryant’s fame would rise to remarkable levels with his incredible mindset and determination to win lead him to give himself the nickname “The Black Mamba”.

Overcoming adversities to rise to the top again 

However, despite this success, obstacles would quickly appear for the young star who’s relationship with O’Neal would sour due to a clash of egos which ultimately resulted in a separation following the 2004 season. 

Moving into the mid 2000s, Kobe’s Lakers found themselves out of championship contention with his best efforts as the team’s sole offensive star yielding indifferent results as he became frustrated with the organisation. 

Putting together superhuman efforts such as an 81 point performance against the Toronto Raptors at the Staples Centre in 2006, the Lakers simply could not return to the top of the mountain which prompted Kobe to demand a trade following the 2006/07 season.

With the focus on the sporting world firmly fixed on him and the Lakers organisation as they successfully dealt with their issues and power forward with a new look team around him. 

With Jackson still at the helm, they would acquire the services of up and coming Spanish forward Pau Gasol who would act as Kobe’s wingman, quickly resulting in a turn around in fortunes for the fabled franchise. 

They would return to the top of the tree in the Western Conference in 2007/08 and face historic rivals Boston in a brutal six game series, by which this gallant Lakers team could not get over the Celtics big three in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. 

However, Bryant once again had a young exciting core around him which continued to grow into the 2008/09 season where they again topped the Western Conference with a 65-17 record and proceeded to march through the playoffs. 

They would face an inexperienced Orlando Magic team in the finals, where Kobe would show his brilliance and average 32.4 points a game to claim his fourth title and first without O’Neal. 

The Lakers would continue this dominance into the 2009/10 season, as they would again dominate the West and find themselves in a position to exact revenge over Boston in what became a legendary seven game series. 

With everything on the line, Bryant would come up huge through this series and drag his Lakers teammates over the formidable Celtics lineup, claiming his second-straight finals MVP on his way to a fifth NBA championship. 

Injury struggles and a storybook ending 

With his legacy as an NBA legend set in stone, Bryant would continue to lead an ageing squad through the 2010’s with mixed results. 

Injuries would begin to engulf the veteran throughout his final six seasons in the NBA, with consistent knee troubles and a torn achilles in 2013 seeing the Lakers fall from contention in the Western Conference and into a state of mediocrity. 

As the franchise entering its rebuild, he would continue to stay loyal to the purple and gold and begin nurturing the team’s up and coming youth as he continued to battle his way through injury and compete to the best of his ability. 

Age would eventually catch up with the ever determined Bryant who announced prior to the 2015/16 that it would be his last in the NBA, resulting in what was an incredible farewell tour across the league.

Despite finishing with a lacklustre 17-65 record, the season would include numerous highlights with the All Star game in Toronto a particularly touching tribute to the 20 year career of the Lakers legend. 

It would be his final NBA game against the Utah Jazz on April 13, 2016 that would go down in folklore, as with a star studded crowd at the Staples Centre watching on he would produce one last masterpiece. 

At the ripe old age of 37, Bryant would lead a remarkable second half comeback as he took the reigns for one last time and torched the Jazz scoring 60 points including countless clutch last quarter shots to seal that one final victory. 

With the crowd in a state of disbelief and utter elation, Bryant would proclaim one last statement before ending his storied career, capping 20 years of blood, sweat and tears in the pursuit of perfection. 

“Mamba Out” 

A lasting legacy 

Remembering Kobe Bryant following his on-court career became a journey that few believed he would take.  

Most notable was his production of animated short film Dear Basketball in 2017, where the 18-time All Star poetically professed his love for the game in a beautiful montage that earned him an Oscar at the 90th Academy Awards. 

However, his greatest work following his career came in the space of promoting women’s basketball and loving and caring for his family of girls. 

Whether it was coaching his beloved daughter Gianna through her journey as an up and coming basketball player of assisting in women’s programs across the world, Kobe was a pioneer in this space who’s legacy will never perish. 

This love for women came out through a touching tribute following his death by ESPN anchor Elle Duncan, who whilst fighting back tears proclaimed her experience with the Kobe. 

“Be thankful you’ve been given that gift because girls are amazing,” he said. 

“I would have five more girls if I could, I am a girl dad.” 

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