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Obituary: Kobe Bryant

Record-breaking giant of basketball was mourned by millions


Tragedy: Kobe Bryant with his daughter Gianna, who also died in last week’s helicopter crash. Photo: USA TODAY Sports

Tragedy: Kobe Bryant with his daughter Gianna, who also died in last week’s helicopter crash. Photo: USA TODAY Sports


Tragedy: Kobe Bryant with his daughter Gianna, who also died in last week’s helicopter crash. Photo: USA TODAY Sports

Kobe Bryant, who has died in a helicopter accident in California aged 41, was among the greatest players to have graced a basketball court, and was a household name to millions of fans, from Malibu to Manila.

Basketball is by most measures, after association football, the second or third most-followed sport in the world. It is not only hugely popular in America but also in China, as well as in much of Asia and southern Europe.

The game has enjoyed enormous growth around the globe in the last two decades - those in which Bryant was arguably its dominant force and its most recognisable star.

Even to the uninitiated, the bare statistics of his career convey the extent of his success, which was remarkable not least for its longevity.

Bryant spent all his 20 years as a player with the same team, the Los Angeles Lakers, becoming as much a symbol of the city as of the club.

With them, he won five NBA championships, and for a record 18 consecutive seasons was voted on to the All-Star team. At 18 he was the youngest player to both appear and start in an NBA game; at 37 he was the oldest player to score 60 points in a match.

He was also the youngest man to reach the 30,000-point mark in his career, and until the eve of his death, when his tally of 33,643 was surpassed by LeBron James, who inherited his mantle as basketball's leading talent, Bryant ranked third in the all-time list of points scored.

What was remarkable about Bryant was that this was achieved without the outlandish natural gifts of the likes of Michael Jordan or James.

At 6 ft 5 in he was tall, but not freakishly so, and therefore the skill that shone from him - unusually he was adept both in defence and attack - was the product of practice and of an unrelenting desire to win. The nickname he revelled in was 'Mamba'.

While criticised for being selfish, for believing that with the ball in his hand he could turn the team's fortunes, Bryant was also known for consistently making game-winning shots under pressure.

The combination of this ability and his charisma brought him record earnings, too. No sooner had he signed his first contract - in fact, he was under-age and his parents signed for him - than Adidas, the sportswear firm, contracted him for $48m over six years.

By 2010 he was the third highest-paid athlete behind Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan and in 2013 received a basic salary of $48m from the Lakers. His total earnings from endorsements were latterly estimated at $680m; rather more than, say, Harry Kane, and enough to give an idea of the global scale of the game and his own appeal within it.

Kobe Bean Bryant was born in Philadelphia on August 23, 1978. His parents chose his forename after seeing the famed Japanese beef on a restaurant menu, while his middle name honoured his father's own nickname of 'Jellybean'.

Joe Bryant was himself a basketball player, and when Kobe was six the family moved to Italy so his father could continue his professional career. Kobe grew up in several cities, notably Reggio Emilia, which he came to regard as his childhood home. He first held a basketball at three and would practise throws with a ball made from a rolled-up pair of his father's socks.

After returning to Pennsylvania for high school, it became evident that Bryant was the outstanding talent of his generation. Highly unusually for the time, he decided to turn pro on graduating, rather than hone his talent at university, and in 1996 he was traded to the Lakers in a deal with the Charlotte Hornets, who had drafted him. Kobe was still 17.

He came to real prominence around the turn of the millennium. Only five basketball players can be on court at any one time, making it as much an individual as a team sport. Bryant's position was shooting guard, a pivotal one requiring him both to intercept attacks and to score points.

Between 2000 and 2002 the Lakers won three consecutive NBA titles, establishing Bryant as the sport's new luminary despite a growing rift with his more senior, and equally famous, team-mate, Shaquille O'Neal.

In 2003 his name was severely tarnished after he was arrested and accused of sexual assault at a hotel in Colorado, where he had gone for knee surgery. Several of his endorsements were cancelled - Bryant was by then married - but his accuser decided not to testify in a criminal court and the charges were dropped.

Between 2005 and 2007 he was the league's top scorer, and in 2006 he notched 81 points in a single game, against the Toronto Raptors.

Meanwhile, with the US team, Bryant won gold at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

He and his wife Vanessa (nee Laine) were married in 2001. She filed for divorce in 2011 but they were reconciled in 2013. She and their three other daughters (the youngest born last year) survive him.

Kobe Bryant died on January 26, 2020.

© Telegraph