On January 26, 2020, the NBA firmament saw one of its brightest stars go out. Kobe Bryant, former Los Angeles Lakers player and one of the best basketball players in history, lost his life in a plane crash in Calabasas, California, at the age of 41.
Bryant’s untimely demise shocked the entire sports world and made many look back on his memorable career.
These are some of the milestones that made Kobe Bryant a shooting legend.
1. “Three-peat” with the Lakers
After the withdrawal of Magic Johnson and the decline of the well-known Lakers of the showtimewho dominated the American league in the 1980s in an unforgettable competition with the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles franchise had been looking for a way to return to the top of the NBA for several years.
For a hobby accustomed to being at the top, the drought of titles became unbearable.
A wiry kid from Philadelphia who had wowed many with his talents in his days at the high school He was going to be the one who would lead the return of the Californians to the top.
Bryant was a precocious phenomenon from the beginning and became the first baseman to reach the NBA without having gone through college basketball, a trend that would become more common over the years.
After a few seasons of acclimatizing to the demands of the professional league, Bryant knew how to put himself in charge of the dominant team that the Lakers managed to build in the late 1990s.
Seconded by the physical power and forcefulness of Shaquille O’Neal under the board and the wisdom from the bench of Phil Jackson, the legendary coach who had directed Michael Jordan’s unstoppable Bulls, Bryant was the leader that led those in gold and purple to conquer three consecutive champion rings.
The feat of three-peatthe achievement of three consecutive titles, placed Bryant’s Lakers at the level of the best teams in NBA history.
2. The 81 points to the Raptors
On January 22, 2006, Bryant stunned fans around the world when he scored 81 points in a regular season game against the Toronto Raptors at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
So beat the scoring record in the history of the angelina franchise and reached the second highest individual score in NBA history, behind only the 100 points that Wilt Chamberlain managed to score in a game in 1962.
No one has achieved numbers like Bryant’s in modern American basketball. Lakers owner at the time, Jerry Buss, said after witnessing Bryant’s display: “It was like seeing a miracle”.
3. The umpteenth resurrection of the Lakers
Things changed in Los Angeles after the successes of the legendary team of Shaq and Kobe. The center went to Miami and Jackson temporarily left the bench.
But Kobe continued to be the pillar of the Californian franchise, also in a new, more difficult stage.
Fewer and fewer professionals finish their careers in the same team, but Kobe -o “the black mamba” as he was already known- he played his 20 professional seasons with the Lakers jersey, which made him an idol and an example of fidelity for fans.
Through thick and thin, he became the soul of the Lakers and part of the heart of a city hooked on basketball and entertainment.
Through some troubled seasons, Bryant sustained the team with his unstoppable forays and improbable jump shots, earning his presence on the team again and again. All-Star game (the game of stars) that every year brings together the best players in the NBA.
In 2008, his Lakers reached the final again, but were defeated by Kevin Garnett’s Celtics.
In 2009 the Californians, who had incorporated the Spanish center Pau Gasol, managed to proclaim themselves champions again and would do so again the following season. Bryant had 5 camp ringsEona figure within the reach of very few.
4. Two golds with the United States
Like other American professional basketball legends, Kobe Bryant wanted to defend the colors of his country at the Olympic Games, the great event of world sport.
In Beijing 2008 and London 2012, Bryant was one of the protagonists who defeated the Spanish team in both finals, adding to his already impressive record two Olympic gold medals.
His 20 points in the 2008 final proved crucial in giving the United States the win for good.
5. A leader unable to give up
The last years of Bryant’s career were marked by injuries, but also then he showed the persevering and winning character that teammates and rivals always recognized him.
In 2013, when the Lakers were going through another rough patch, Bryant again pushed himself to keep them going.
In the midst of criticism of his then-coach, Mike D’Antoni, for overloading the star with minutes on the court to get a team that had a mediocre roster afloat, Kobe’s Achilles tendon ruptured in a game against the Golden State Warriors.
After the injury, he would never be the same again.
Although he was reluctant to throw in the towel and, after undergoing surgery and going through a difficult recovery, returned to the fields.
In 2016, finally, punished by recurring injuries, he announced that he would retire at the end of the season.
The matches he played until his final goodbye became in a succession of spontaneous tributes from fans.
6. The champion conquered Hollywood
Few athletes have starred in a step into the world of cinema as successful as that of Kobe Bryant.
Determined after his retirement from the courts to pursue a career in business and as an entrepreneur, Bryant shocked the world in 2018 when his animated short film Dear basketball (“Dear Basketball”) was awarded with a EITHERscar.
In the film, Bryant reads the farewell letter that he wrote to what for years was his sport and his passion, and moved the jury of the most important awards in the film industry.
His triumph at the gala in Los Angeles bolstered Bryant’s image as a Californian icon and was seen as the start of a promising artistic and business adventure away from the trading floor.
A shadow in the palmares
Bryant’s brilliant sports career was overshadowed in 2003 when a young employee of a hotel in Colorado accused him of sexual assault.
The woman did not want to testify in court and the case was finally closed.
Bryant later apologized: “She didn’t and doesn’t see this incident the way I did.” A subsequent civil lawsuit was finally resolved by an out-of-court settlement.
The legacy of a legend
Words of admiration for Bryant have multiplied after the news of his death was released.
Those who knew him are looking for a way to put into words the biography of a champion which is already part of sports history.
But perhaps it was he himself who best summed up why Kobe Bryant reached so high.
When the Lakers retired his jersey in 2017, a customary NBA tribute to players who mark an era, Kobe said:
“Those times you get up early and work hard, those times you stay up late and work hard, those times you feel tired and don’t feel like working, but you push yourself and work; those times are actually the dream.”
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