Kobe Bryant Was An NBA Superstar Unlike Any Other

Basketball | 1/26/20

When the question of who are the greatest NBA players of all-time is asked, the name Kobe Bryant always comes up. The basketball icon retired from the sport he gave his blood sweat and tears to as the third-highest scorer of all-time. Off the court, Bryant was hailed as a family man whose dedication to his daughters was only rivaled by his love of basketball. When he did hang up his sneakers, Kobe became a businessman and artist, even winning an Academy Award. This is the life and legacy of Kobe Bryant, one of the most brilliant athletes to ever step on the court!

He Was Named After Expensive Beef

kobe byrant in an orange sweatshirt
John McCoy/Getty Images
John McCoy/Getty Images

Any foodie will tell you when they hear the word “Kobe” it refers to the finest beef available from Japan. Believe it or not, Kobe Bryant was named after this famous marbled meat. His parents saw the word on a menu at a restaurant and that was that.

His father also blessed Bryant with the middle name Bean, referring to his own NBA nickname of “Jellybean.” The NBA superstar was born in Philadelphia, but like his name, he grew up in unlikely circumstances in Italy.

His Dad Moved To Italy To Play Basketball

joe bryant is kobe's dad
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

When Kobe Bryant was six-years-old, his father moved the family to Italy to continue playing professional basketball. Joe Bryant had just retired from the NBA at the time, but still had the itch to play the sport he made his livelihood in.

In Italy, Joe played in both the Italian A1 and A2 Leagues for four different teams. He played in Italy for seven seasons before finally calling it a career. While growing up in Italy, Kobe Bryant became fluent in the native language and developed a deep passion for European soccer.

Bryant Won Seemingly Every High School Basketball Award

kobe bryant was a high school leged
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant moved back to the United States in 1991 and began playing basketball against what should have been equal talent. Of course, Kobe being Kobe, he was far and away the best player on the court and was handed just about every award and honor as a result.

After his senior season, Bryant was named the Naismith National Player of the Year and the Gatorade National Player of the Year. He also led his team to the state championship title and graduated as Southeastern Pennsylvania’s highest-scoring player of all-time.

He Wasn’t A Top-Ten Draft Pick

kobe bryant and michael jordan in 1997
VINCENT LAFORET/AFP via Getty Images
VINCENT LAFORET/AFP via Getty Images

After finishing his high school career, Bryant chose to skip college and go straight to the NBA. In 1996, he was shockingly taken with the 13th overall pick by Charlotte. Considering his legacy, it would be easy to assume Bryant was taken higher.

Charlotte then traded Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers in a move the franchise would probably like to take back. The young Kobe then started what wound up being a 20-year NBA career filled with some of the greatest moments in league history.

Kobe Made His “Decision” Before LeBron

kobe bryant and lebron james
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Long before LeBron James made his controversial “decision” on ESPN to sign with the Miami Heat, Kobe Bryant did the same thing. Full of high school arrogance and following in the footsteps of fellow NBA icon Kevin Garnett, Bryant held his own publicity stunt.

With cameras surrounding him at the Lower Merion High School gym, Kobe confidently said he was, “taking his talents” to the NBA. Bryant had scholarship offers from Duke and Carolina, but it’s hard to say he made the wrong decision looking back at it today.

He Wasn’t An Instant Succes

kobe bryant standing on the court in Miami
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

During Kobe Bryant’s first two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers he only started seven games. Entering the league at such a young age (18-years and 72-days) provided him a challenge unlike any he had ever experienced.

Bryant took advantage of his time on the bench and became one of the NBA’s most dynamic role players. Not only did he win a slam dunk title in his sophomore season, but he was also voted into the All-Star game as a starter and was the runner-up for the Sixth Man of the Year award.

Back-To-Back-To-Back Titles Weren’t Enough

kobe bryant and shaq on the bench
HEATHER HALL/AFP via Getty Images
HEATHER HALL/AFP via Getty Images

By 2000, Kobe Bryant had established himself as an NBA superstar. Coached by Phil Jackson and paired up with Shaq, the Los Angeles Lakers became an unstoppable force. The team won three straight NBA Championships. Shaq won the MVP award during the NBA Finals twice, though, leaving a bad taste in Kobe’s mouth.

Bryant longed for the spotlight and to prove that he was the reason the Lakers were so good. A feud between him and Shaq grew from the championship run, and a failure to win a fourth straight title led to Shaq getting traded in 1994.

His 81 Point Game Silenced The Doubters

kobe bryant during a game in 2006
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In 2006, two years after Shaq was traded, Kobe Bryant officially silenced any doubters he had left. Playing a game against the Toronto Raptors, Bryant exploded for 81 points. The total was the second-highest single scoring game in NBA history.

The Lakers failed to win the championship that season, although a few more rings for Bryant would come just a few seasons later. For those curious, the highest single scoring game of all-time occurred in 1962, when Wilt Chamberlain, playing for the Warriors, scored 100 points.

The Mamba Mentality

kobe bryant and his 24 jersey
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It was during the post-Shaq era that Kobe Bryant donned his now-iconic mamba mentality. He became known as the “Black Mamba,” and became an offensive juggernaut on the court, finishing the 2005-06 season averaging 35.4 points per game.

The next season Bryant averaged 31.4 points per game. If there was anything still evading him, it was his first title without Shaq. To help Kobe continue to ascend, the Lakers added Pau Gasol to the team and brought back Phil Jackson as the team’s head coach.

His Awards Shelf Is Stacked

kobe bryant with his awards
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images

You already know the awards Kobe Bryant won during his high school career, but are you aware of just how stuffed his awards shelf is? When he retired Bryant was one of the most distinguished NBA players of all time.

Bryant won five NBA Championship, two Olympic gold medals, four All-Star Game MVPs, one NBA MVP, 18 All-Star selections, 11 All-NBA First Team selections, two NBA Finals MVP awards, and you get the idea. If there was an award to win or honor to have during his NBA career, Kobe Bryant won it.

Two More NBA Titles Were Inevitable

kobe bryant NBA finals 2010
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant was never going to settle for winning three NBA Championships. Just a few years after Shaq was traded, Phil Jackson returned to the help bring the Lakers back to glory.

With Kobe Bryant as the team’s questioned leader, Los Angeles reached the Finals in 2008 and lost. Undeterred, the Lakers reached the Finals again in 2009 and won it all. Putting a cherry on top of the dynasty, and Bryant’s legacy, the team won it all again in 2010, giving the superstar a full hand of hardware.

From 33 To 8 To 24

kobe bryant in black and white
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Rob Carr/Getty Images

In high school, Kobe Bryant’s first jersey number was 24, but by the time he graduated, he was wearing 33. When he got to the NBA, he couldn’t wear the number 33 because the league had retired it in honor of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, so he chose the number 8.

For the first half of Kobe’s career, he proudly wore this jersey number. Then, during the 2006-07 offseason, he switched his number to 24. When he retired, the Los Angeles Lakers also retired both of the numbers on his back.

A Failed Music Career

kobe bryant celebrates
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Throughout his life, Kobe Bryant was more than just an athlete. He was also an artist who, early on his life, attempted a music career. In the mid-’90s, Bryant’s group was signed to Sony Records.

In 2000, Bryant planned to release his first solo album with Sony, changing his sound from underground to something more radio-friendly. The album’s first single “K.O.B.E” was a critical and commercial flop. Sony responded by burying the album, leading Bryant to form his own record label.

A Poetic Goodbye

kobe bryant during a press conference
Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant retired from the NBA in 2015. To give his final goodbye, he published Dear Basketball to the athlete run website The Players’ Tribune. In the poem he graciously wrote:

“From the moment I started rolling my dad’s tube socks. And shooting imaginary game-winning shots. In the Great Western Forum I knew one thing was real: I fell in love with you.” The poem was turned into a short film that was produced by Bryant in 2017.

An Unlikely Oscar

kobe bryant wins an oscar
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Turning his attention more artistic endeavors after retiring, Kobe Bryant took his ode to basketball and turned it into an animated short film. Glen Keane directed the animated featured while John Williams provided the score.

When Oscar nominations were announced in early 2018, Bryant’s film received a surprise nomination for Best Animated Feature. When Dear Basketball was announced as the winning film in the category, Bryant proved just how multi-talented he was.

Bryant’s Winning Statement

kobe bryant wins an oscar
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Winning an Academy Award was much more than just another feather in the cap of Kobe Bryant. When he stepped onto the stage to accept the award, he used it as vindication against anyone who had ever told athletes to “shut up and dribble.”

Bryant acknowledged how hard it can be for athletes to have to start over after retiring. Perhaps most surprisingly, Bryant said winning the Oscar was, “better than winning a championship … it’s crazy.”

Bryant’s Final Game Was A Career Statement

kobe bryant final game
Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant played his final NBA game on April 13, 2016. The Lakers played the Utah Jazz, and Bryant’s teammates made sure the ball was in his hands whenever they were on the offensive.

In total, Bryant took 50 shots in the victory, the most by any player in over three decades. He finished the night with 60 points, turning in what many consider to be the greatest final game in the history the of the NBA.

A Family Man

kobe bryant with his daughters
Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images
Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

Throughout his career, Kobe Bryant accomplished many things, including being the proud father of four girls. After the final buzzer went off on April 13th, Bryant made sure to mention his girls in his farewell speech.

The future Hall of Famer said, “The coolest thing is that my kids got to see me play the way I used to play. I told them, ‘I used to play like that quite often. So, YouTube it.'”

An Incredible Career Average

kobe bryant smiling
Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

When Kobe Bryant stepped on the court before his final NBA game, it looked he would retire averaging less than 25 points per game. While his career average would have been nothing to scoff it, pushing it to the quarter century mark would just be another impossible outcome Bryant ignored.

After scoring 60 points, Bryant made the impossible possible. For many fans, there will never be another player like Kobe. He was passionate, driven, gracious, and humble. He was also explosive, dangerous, agile, and effortlessly elite.

An End Too Soon

kobe bryant with confetti falling around him
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

On January 26, 2020, it was announced that Kobe Bryant had passed away in a helicopter crash in Southern California. The news shocked the sports world. The NBA made the tough decision to not cancel any games, leading many teams to hold moments of silence for their fallen friend.

Just 41-years-old, the loss of Kobe left the world without an artist who still had plenty to give. He may be gone, but his spirit and his memories will live on forever in the minds of family, friends, players, and fans worldwide.