KOBE Bryant may be gone, but his illustrious basketball career is forever etched in NBA history.
Generations of NBA fans reminisced on the countless memories left by the former Los Angeles Lakers icon following the news of his tragic death at the age of 41.
Kobe and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were tragically killed along with nine others who were aboard a helicopter that spiraled and crashed in Calabasas, California on Sunday.
Throughout his 20-year NBA career, Kobe was notorious for his relentless work ethic and dedication to success.
“Those times when you get up early and you work hard,” he said during his jersey retirement ceremony in 2017.
“Those times you stay up late and you work hard. Those times when you don’t feel like working.
“You’re too tired. You don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway.
“That is actually the dream.”
The 18-time all-star would show up two hours early to 7am practices, and as a high schooler would make his teammates stay after to play him one-on-one until someone reached 100 points.
Former Lakers head coach Byron Scott would find an 18-year-old Kobe drenched in sweat in a dark gym practicing fundamentals two hours before his teammates arrived, according to Inc.
“I can’t relate to lazy people. We don’t speak the same language,” the NBA legend once said.
“I don’t understand you. I don’t want to understand you.”
Four years after joining the Lakers, Kobe won his first NBA championship with coach Phil Jackson.
He would go on to “three-peat” with Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, winning the NBA Finals three years straight from 2000 to 2002.
Kobe was famously captured crying in the Lakers’ locker room after the 2001 NBA Finals while holding the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Though people initially assumed he cried tears of joy, he revealed to Sports Illustrated in 2012 he was sad because he couldn’t relish his accomplishment with his father.
At 21, Kobe got engaged to Vanessa Laine, causing a fallout with Joe, who disapproved of his son’s relationship.
He went against his father’s wishes and married Vanessa in 2001, who he built a family with throughout their marriage of over two decades.
The couple had four daughters – Natalia Diamante, Gianna Maria-Onore, Bianka Bella, and Capri Kobe.
Kobe inspired Gianna to pursue basketball like her father, and she dreamed of one day suiting up for the UConn Huskies.
Although he had fallen out with his parents in 2013 over his family secretly selling his personal memorabilia, he considered them his “backbone.”
“My parents are my backbone. Still are,” said Kobe.
“They’re the only group that will support you if you score zero or your score 40.”
Although his intense attitude occasionally alienated his teammates, it ultimately earned him the respect of his peers.
He famously beefed with Shaq for years, even suggesting at one point that his former teammate could have worked harder during their time together on the Lakers.
The two eventually buried the hatchet and reconciled before his death, according to Heavy.com.
Born Kobe Bean Bryant in 1978, the future NBA Hall of Famer lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania until the age of six, when his father – former Philadelphia 76ers star Joe Bryant – retired from basketball and moved the family to Rieti, Italy.
Young Kobe – who first picked up a basketball at only three years old – learned to speak fluent Italian while his father played in Italy’s A1 and A2 basketball leagues.
During the summers, he traveled back stateside to play in a summer league.
The sport quickly became a refuge for the child prodigy, who often spent his days at the playground imagining he was playing in an NBA Finals game – something he’d accomplish seven times in his short life.
“When I would get really down, I could always pick up a basketball and go to the playground and shoot and just put myself in the scenario of being in a finals game,” he told 60 Minutes in 2001.
He returned to Philadelphia to attend Lower Merion High School, where he was the first freshman in decades to start on the varsity team.
Kobe ended his high school career as Southeastern Pennsylvania’s all-time leading scorer, according to his alma mater’s website.
The 17-year-old high school senior shelved his dreams of attending college to go pro in 1996 – an unprecedented move at the time – becoming only the sixth player in NBA history to do so.
He was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets but was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Lakers to become the nucleus of what would morph into one of the most well-known dynasties in professional sports.
In 2006, he recorded one of the greatest single-game performances in the NBA when he exploded for 81 points against the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center.
Two years later, he won the gold with Team USA when they defeated Spain in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.
He would add a second gold medal to his collection four years later in London before retiring from the league in 2016, NBC Philadephia reported.
Kobe is best known for his athletic prowess on the hardwood, but his persona has transcended basketball and influenced countless athletes around the world.
In 2017, he became the only player in the league to have both of his jerseys retired.
He became the first NBA player to win a championship and an Academy Award in 2018, when he won the Oscar for best short film.
Paris St. Germain stars Neymar and Kylian Mbappe paid homage to the NBA great upon hearing the news of his death on Sunday.
Similarly, superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi commemorated the “legend” and “inspiration” in social media posts of their own.
The Black Mamba’s legacy continues to live on through the Mamba Sports Academy, which he opened in 2018 to train athletes who aspired to greatness, much like his younger self.
“MAMBA Sports Academy is a natural expansion of my commitment to educating and empowering the next generation of kids through sports,” he told Bleacher Report in 2018.
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