Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

R.I.P. Kobe Bryant

Bryant in 2017 when the Lakers retired his jersey numbers.
Bryant in 2017 when the Lakers retired his jersey numbers.
Photo: Harry How (Getty Images)

As reported by TMZ, basketball legend Kobe Bryant has died in a helicopter crash. Not very many details have been released, but authorities have confirmed that the helicopter crashed somewhere in Calabasas, a suburb of Los Angeles, and that Bryant was among its five passengers—all of whom were killed. Bryant was 41.

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Bryant was undeniably one of the greatest professional basketball players of all time, winning five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and being named the NBA Finals MVP twice, an 18-time NBA All-Star (one short of a league record), and a four-time NBA All-Star Game MVP (a tie for the record). He also played for the U.S. basketball team at the Olympics and won gold medals in 2008 and 2012. Bryant even won an Academy Award in 2018 for Dear Basketball, an animated short based on a poem Bryant wrote for The Players Tribune in 2015 about his retirement from the NBA.

Born in Philadelphia in 1978, Bryant’s family moved to Italy when he was a young child so his father—former NBA player Joe Bryant—could play professional basketball there. There, he began to focus on learning how to play basketball, studying tapes of NBA games (including his longtime favorite team, the Lakers), and returning to the United States occasionally to play in summer leagues. Once the family moved back to America, Bryant began playing high school basketball and quickly made a name for himself as an extremely talented young player.

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Bryant chose to forego college in favor of going straight to the NBA, where he was picked up by the Hornets and then immediately traded to the Lakers as part of a draft deal. He was only 17 at the time, but over the next few years he would make a name for himself as one of the league’s brightest young stars—especially when paired with Lakers icon Shaquille O’Neal. Despite Bryant’s growing talent, the Lakers struggled to have much success until 1999 when legendary Bulls coach Phil Jackson joined the Lakers and utilized Bryant (now one of the top shooting guards in the league) and O’Neal to win three straight NBA championships, though O’Neal and Bryant famously butted heads as teammates. Bryant and the Lakers would also go on to win the title in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons.

After announcing his retirement in 2015, Bryant (who had developed a reputation for being a prickly teammate and opponent due to his drive for perfection and desire to win) was reportedly taken aback by how much he was celebrated by other teams and fans. His surprise may have also had something to do with the complicated legacy he had off the court, with Bryant having lost a number of his sponsorship deals (not to mention a lot of fan goodwill) over the course of a public sexual assault accusation in 2003. The charges were dropped when the accuser refused to testify, but Bryant settled a civil suit out of court and issued a public statement acknowledging that—while he believed his encounter with the accuser was consensual—he recognized that she did not feel the same way.

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Both of the player numbers he wore have since been retired by the Lakers, and he still stands as the team’s all-time leading scorer. Outside of basketball, and in addition to winning an Academy Award, Bryant had some tentative interest in launching a music career. Sony signed his high school rap group to a deal when he was just becoming an NBA superstar, but after his first single flopped in 2000, his debut album was abandoned and he was dropped by the label. He also released a career retrospective book called The Mamba Mentality: How I Play in 2018.

UPDATE: Multiple outlets have now confirmed that 13-year-old Gianna Bryant, one of Kobe Bryant’s four daughters, was also on the helicopter and died in the crash. Gianna Bryant was an aspiring basketball player herself, and the helicopter was reportedly taking them to a practice when it crashed.

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