MNA Sports Desk: It’s hard to believe NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, whose prodigious talent and win-at-all-costs spirit made him one of the most famous and decorated athletes in history, is gone.
Still youthful at 41, Bryant — who died in a helicopter crash Sunday in California — looked like he could suit up and drop 30 points on a rival NBA team. It doesn’t seem that long ago that he was scoring 60 points in his final NBA game, soaking up the cheers of Los Angeles Lakers fans who worshiped him for two decades as one of the city’s favorite sons.
After his 20-year NBA career — all with the Lakers — Bryant is all but assured of being a first-ballot inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame later this year.
“He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force,” said fellow NBA icon Michael Jordan.
An 18-time All-Star, Bryant was known for his remarkable scoring ability — his turnaround jumper was nearly unstoppable — and his championship pedigree. He teamed with fellow All-Star Shaquille O’Neal to win three consecutive NBA titles from 2000 to 2002 and later won two more rings, in 2009 and 2010.
Known as the Black Mamba — a nickname he gave himself — Bryant twice led the NBA in scoring and won the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 2008.
Bryant’s daughter Gianna, 13, was with her father on the helicopter and was also killed in the crash, a source with knowledge of the situation told CNN.
“Kobe was so much more than an athlete, he was a family man. That was what we had most in common,” O’Neal wrote on Twitter Sunday. “We love our families. Whenever we got together I would hug his children like they were my own and he would embrace my kids like they were his.”
“The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in a statement.
“For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning. He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary. But he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability.”
Bryant married wife Vanessa in 2001. They had four daughters: Natalia (born in 2003), Gianna (2006), Bianka (2016) and Capri (2019).
He and his daughter Gianna were expected at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks for a basketball game scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Bryant was to coach his daughter’s team in the game.
Bryant said that he had watched little basketball after retiring — in 2018, he won an Oscar for best animated short for “Dear Basketball,” which was based on a poem he wrote — but Gianna’s love of the game sparked his interest in coaching her team.
The two were seen together at numerous NBA games recently, and videos of Gianna’s basketball skills went viral despite her just being 13.
Bryant described Gianna — who had WNBA aspirations — as “hellbent” on going to the University of Connecticut, the alma mater of Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore, two players Bryant recently told CNN “could play in the NBA right now.”
“The best thing that happens is when we go out and fans will come up to me — and she’ll be standing next to me — and be like, ‘Hey you’ve got to have a boy. You and V gotta have a boy and then have somebody carry on the tradition, the legacy,'” Bryant once said in an interview with ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel.
But, Bryant added, Gianna would then pipe up, saying, “I got this.”