1978-08-23 to 2020-01-26
U.S.Kobe Bean Bryant (August 23, 1978 – January 26, 2020) was an American professional basketball player. A shooting guard, Bryant played his entire 20-season career in the National Basketball Association (NBA) with the Los Angeles Lakers. He entered the NBA directly from high school and won five NBA championships. Bryant was an 18-time All-Star, 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, 12-time member of the All-Defensive Team, and the 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP). Widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, he led the NBA in scoring during two seasons, ranks fourth on the league's all-time regular season scoring, and ranks fourth on the all-time postseason scoring list. Bryant was the first guard in NBA history to play at least 20 seasons. According to Forbes, Bryant's net worth was estimated at $350 million in 2016.
Bryant was born in Philadelphia, the youngest of three children and only son of former NBA player Joe Bryant and Pamela Cox Bryant. He was also the maternal nephew of basketball player John "Chubby" Cox. His parents named him after the famous beef of Kobe, Japan, which they saw on a restaurant menu. His middle name, Bean, was derived from his father's nickname "Jellybean". Bryant's family was Catholic and he had always practiced his faith.
Bryant started playing basketball when he was aged three, and the Lakers were his favorite team when he was growing up. Bryant's grandfather would mail him videos of NBA games for Bryant to study. At an early age, Bryant also learned to play soccer and his favorite team was A.C. Milan. While living in Reggio Emilia he began to play basketball in earnest. During summers, Bryant would come back to the United States to play in a basketball summer league.
After two years they moved first to Reggio Calabria and then to Pistoia and Reggio Emilia. Kobe became accustomed to his new lifestyle and learned to speak fluent Italian. He was especially fond of Reggio Emilia, which he considered a loving place and where his best childhood memories were made.
Bryant earned national recognition during a spectacular high school career at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, located in the Philadelphia suburb of Lower Merion. He played on the varsity basketball team as a freshman. Bryant became the first freshman in decades to start for Lower Merion's varsity team, but the team finished with a 4–20 record. In the following three years, the Aces compiled a 77–13 record, with Bryant playing all five positions. During his junior year, he averaged 31.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 5.2 assists and was named Pennsylvania Player of the Year while also earning a fourth-team Parade All-American nomination, attracting attention from college recruiters in the process. Duke, Michigan, North Carolina, and Villanova were at the top of his list. However, after high schooler Kevin Garnett went in the first round of the 1995 NBA draft, Bryant also began contemplating going directly to the pros.
At Adidas ABCD camp, Bryant earned the 1995 senior MVP award while playing alongside future NBA teammate Lamar Odom. While in high school, then 76ers coach John Lucas invited Bryant to work out and scrimmage with the team, where he played one-on-one with Jerry Stackhouse. In his senior year of high school, Bryant led the Aces to their first state championship in 53 years. During the run, he averaged 30.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4 steals, and 3.8 blocked shots in leading the Aces to a 31–3 record. Bryant ended his high school career as Southeastern Pennsylvania's all-time leading scorer at 2,883 points, surpassing both Wilt Chamberlain and Lionel Simmons.
Bryant received several awards for his outstanding performance during his senior year at Lower Merion. These included being named Naismith High School Player of the Year, Gatorade Men's National Basketball Player of the Year, a McDonald's All-American, a first-team Parade All-American and a USA Today All-USA First Team player. Bryant's varsity coach, Greg Downer, commented that he was "a complete player who dominates" and praised his work ethic, even as the team's top player.
Ultimately, the 17-year-old Bryant made the decision to go directly into the NBA, becoming only the sixth player in NBA history to do so. Bryant's news was met with a lot of publicity at a time when prep-to-pro NBA players were not very common (Garnett being the only exception in 20 years). His basketball skills and SAT score of 1080 would have ensured admission to any college he chose, but he did not officially visit any campuses.
Bryant debuted in the Summer Pro League in Long Beach, California, scoring 25 points in front of a standing-room-only crowd. Defenders struggled to get in front of him, and his performance excited West and Lakers coach Del Harris. He scored 36 points in the finale and finished with averages of 24.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in four games.
The Lakers were looking to trade their starting center Vlade Divac for a player's draft rights to free up salary-cap space to make an offer to free-agent center Shaquille O'Neal. Bill Branch, the Hornets' head scout at the time, said that the Hornets agreed to trade their draft selection at #13 to the Lakers the day before the draft. Before the trade agreement, the Hornets never considered drafting Bryant. During the draft, the Lakers told the Hornets whom to select minutes before the pick was made.
As a rookie in 1996–97, Bryant mostly came off the bench behind guards Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel. At the time he became the youngest player ever to play in an NBA game (18 years, 72 days; a record since broken by Jermaine O'Neal and former teammate Andrew Bynum), and also became the youngest NBA starter ever (18 years, 158 days). Initially, Bryant played limited minutes, but as the season continued, he began to see some more playing time.
By the end of the season, he averaged 15.5 minutes a game. During the All-Star weekend, Bryant participated in the Rookie Challenge and won the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest, becoming the youngest dunk champion ever at the age of 18. Bryant's performance throughout the year earned him a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team with fellow bench teammate Travis Knight.
The Lakers advanced to the Western Conference semifinals in the playoffs against the Utah Jazz, when Bryant was pressed into a lead role at the end of Game 5. Byron Scott missed the game with a sprained wrist, Robert Horry was ejected for fighting with Utah's Jeff Hornacek, and Shaquille O'Neal fouled out with 1:46 remaining in the fourth quarter. Bryant shot four air balls at the end of the game; the Jazz won 98–93 in overtime to eliminate the Lakers 4–1. He first missed a game-winning two-point jump shot in the fourth quarter, and then misfired 3 three-point field goals in overtime, including two tying shots in the final minute. O'Neal commented that "[Bryant] was the only guy who had the guts at the time to take shots like that."
In Bryant's second season, he received more playing time and began to show more of his abilities as a talented young guard. As a result, Bryant's point averages more than doubled, from 7.6 to 15.4 points per game. Bryant would see an increase in minutes when the Lakers "played small", which would feature Bryant playing small forward alongside the guards he would usually back up. Bryant was the runner-up for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award, and through fan voting, he also became the youngest NBA All-Star starter in NBA history. He was joined by teammates O'Neal, Van Exel, and Jones, making it the first time since 1983 that four players on the same team were selected to play in the same All-Star Game. Bryant's 15.4 points per game were the highest of any non-starter in the season.
The 1998–99 season marked Bryant's emergence as a premier guard in the league. With starting guards Van Exel and Jones traded, Bryant started every game for the lockout-shortened 50-game season. During the season, Bryant signed a six-year contract extension worth $70 million. This kept him with the Lakers until the end of the 2003–04 season. Even at an early stage of his career, sportswriters were comparing his skills to those of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. The playoff results, however, were no better, as the Lakers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals.
In November 1999, 21-year-old Bryant met 17-year-old Vanessa Laine while she was working as a background dancer on the Tha Eastsidaz music video "G'd Up". Bryant was in the building and working on his debut musical album. The two began dating and became engaged six months later in May 2000, while Laine was still a senior at Marina High School in Huntington Beach, California. To avoid media scrutiny, she finished high school through independent study. According to Vanessa's cousin Laila Laine, there was no prenuptial agreement. Vanessa said Bryant "loved her too much for one".
The duo of O'Neal and Bryant backed with a strong bench led to the Lakers winning 67 games, tied for fifth-most in NBA history. This followed with O'Neal winning the MVP and Bryant being named to the All-NBA Team Second Team and All-NBA Defensive Team for the first time in his career (the youngest player ever to receive defensive honors).
While playing second fiddle to O'Neal in the playoffs, Bryant had some clutch performances including a 25-point, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 block game in game 7 of the Western Conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers. He also threw an alley-oop pass to O'Neal to clinch the game and the series. In the 2000 Finals, against the Indiana Pacers, Bryant injured his ankle in the second quarter of Game 2 after landing on the Pacers' Jalen Rose's foot. Rose later admitted he placed his foot under Bryant intentionally. Bryant did not return to the game, and he also missed Game 3 due to the injury. In Game 4, Bryant scored 22 points in the second half and led the team to an OT victory as O'Neal fouled out of the game. Bryant scored the winning shot to put the Lakers ahead 120–118. With a 116–111 Game 6 victory, the Lakers won their first championship since 1988.
Statistically, the 2000–01 season saw Bryant perform similarly to the previous year, but he averaged six more points per game (28.5). It was also the year when disagreements between Bryant and O'Neal began to surface. Once again, Bryant led the team in assists, with five per game. The Lakers, however, only won 56 games, an 11-game dropoff from the previous year. The Lakers would respond by going 15–1 in the playoffs. They easily swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. In the semifinals round, the Lakers swept the Sacramento Kings. In-Game 4 against the Kings, Bryant recorded 48 points, 16 rebounds and 3 assists in a 119–113 series-clinching win. They swept the San Antonio Spurs in the conference finals to advance to the Finals, before losing their first game against the Philadelphia 76ers in overtime. They would go on to win the next four games and bring their second championship to Los Angeles in as many seasons. During the playoffs, Bryant played heavy minutes which brought his stats up to 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game. In the playoffs, teammate O'Neal declared Bryant the best player in the league. Bryant ended up making the All NBA Second Team and All NBA Defensive Team for the second year in a row. In addition, he was also voted to start in the NBA All-Star Game for the third year in a row (no game in 1999).
Bryant and Laine married on April 18, 2001, at St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in Dana Point, California. The wedding was not attended by Bryant's parents, his two sisters, his longtime advisor, and agent Arn Tellem, or his Laker teammates. Bryant's parents were opposed to the marriage for a number of reasons. Reportedly Bryant's parents had problems with him marrying so young, especially to a woman who was not African-American. This disagreement resulted in an estrangement period of over two years, which ended when the couple's first daughter was born.
In the 2001–02 season, Bryant played 80 games for the first time in his career. On January 14, 2002, Bryant recorded a then career-high 56 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists in a 120–81 win over the visiting Memphis Grizzlies. He continued his all-round play by averaging 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. Bryant also had a career-high 46.9% shooting and once again led his team in assists. While making the All-NBA Defensive team again. The Lakers won 58 games that year and finished second in the Pacific Division behind in-state rival Sacramento Kings. Bryant was suspended one game after he punched Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers after the Lakers' March 1, 2002 victory over the Pacers.
He claimed his first All-Star MVP trophy after a 31-point performance in Philadelphia when he was loudly booed by fans as they had throughout the game, stemming from his earlier comment to a 76ers heckler during the Finals that the Lakers were "going to cut your hearts out".
The road to the Finals would prove a lot tougher than the record run the Lakers had enjoyed the previous year. While the Lakers swept the Blazers and defeated the Spurs 4–1 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Lakers did not have a home-court advantage against the Sacramento Kings. The series would stretch to seven games, the first time this had happened to the Lakers since the 2000 Western Conference Finals. However, the Lakers were able to beat their division rivals and make their third consecutive NBA Finals appearance. In the 2002 Finals, against the New Jersey Nets, Bryant averaged 26.8 points, 51.4% shooting, 5.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists per game, which included scoring a quarter of the team's points. At age 23, Bryant became the youngest player to win three championships. Bryant's play was notable and praised for his performance in the fourth quarter of games, specifically the last two rounds of the playoffs. This cemented Bryant's reputation as a "clutch player".
After years of steady improvement, Bryant became one of the premier shooting guards in the league, earning appearances in the league's All-NBA, All-Star, and All-Defensive teams. The Lakers became championship contenders under Bryant and O'Neal, who formed a legendary center-guard combination. Jackson utilized the triangle offense that he implemented to win six championships with the Chicago Bulls; this offense would help both Bryant and O'Neal rise to the elite class of the NBA. Three championships were won consecutively in 2000, 2001, and 2002, further cementing this view
In the summer of 2003, the sheriff's office of Eagle, Colorado, arrested Bryant in connection with an investigation of a sexual assault complaint filed by a 19-year-old hotel employee. Bryant had checked into The Lodge and Spa at Cordillera in Eagle County in advance of undergoing knee surgery nearby. The accuser stated that Bryant raped her in his hotel room the night before Bryant was to have the procedure. Bryant admitted to an adulterous sexual encounter with his accuser but denied her sexual assault allegation.
Bryant was closely scrutinized and criticized during the 2004–05 season with his reputation badly damaged from all that had happened over the previous year. A particularly damaging salvo came when Jackson wrote The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul. The book detailed the events of the Lakers' tumultuous 2003–04 season and has several criticisms of Bryant. In the book, Jackson called Bryant "un-coachable".
Jackson's contract as coach was not renewed, and Rudy Tomjanovich took over. O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, and Brian Grant.The following day, Bryant declined an offer to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers and re-signed with the Lakers, on a seven-year contract.
The accusation tarnished Bryant's reputation, and the public's perception of him plummeted; his endorsement contracts with McDonald's and Nutella were terminated. Sales for Bryant's replica jersey fell significantly. However, in September 2004, the assault case was dropped by prosecutors after the accuser decided not to testify at the trial. Afterward, Bryant agreed to apologize to her for the incident, including his public mea culpa: Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter. The accuser filed a separate civil lawsuit against Bryant, which the two sides settled privately.
The 2005–06 season marked a crossroads in Bryant's basketball career. Despite past differences with Bryant, Jackson returned to coach the Lakers. Bryant endorsed the move, and by all appearances, the two men worked together well the second time around, leading the Lakers back into the playoffs. Bryant's individual scoring accomplishments posted resulted in the finest statistical season of his career. On December 20, 2005, Bryant scored 62 points in three quarters against the Dallas Mavericks. Entering the fourth quarter, Bryant outscored the entire Mavericks team 62–61, the only time a player has done this through three quarters since the introduction of the shot clock.
It was reported that Bryant would change his jersey number from 8 to 24 at the start of the 2006–07 season. Bryant's first high school number was 24 before he switched to 33. After the Lakers' season ended, Bryant said on TNT that he wanted 24 as a rookie, but it was unavailable, as was 33, retired with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bryant wore 143 at the Adidas ABCD camp and chose 8 by adding those numbers.
By the end of the 2005–06 season, Bryant set Lakers single-season franchise records for most 40-point games (27) and most points scored (2,832). He won the league's scoring title for the first time by averaging 35.4 points per game, becoming just the fifth player in league history to average at least 35 in a season. Bryant finished in fourth place in the voting for the 2006 NBA Most Valuable Player Award but received 22 first-place votes—second only to winner Steve Nash.
On January 22, 2006, Bryant scored a career-high 81 points in a 122–104 victory against the Toronto Raptors. In addition to breaking the previous franchise record of 71 set by Elgin Baylor, Bryant's 81-point game was the second-highest point total in NBA history, surpassed only by Chamberlain's 100-point game in 1962. Whereas Chamberlain was fed repeatedly by teammates for inside shots in a blowout win, Bryant created his own shot—mostly from the outside—in a game which the Lakers trailed at halftime by 14 and did not pull away until the fourth quarter. Chamberlain, playing in an era when the games were paced faster and scoring opportunities were more plentiful, accounted for 59 percent of his team's points in Philadelphia's 169–147 win, compared to Bryant scoring 66 percent of the Lakers' 122 points.
On January 28 while attempting to draw contact on a potential game-winning jump shot, he flailed his arm, striking San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginóbili in the face with his elbow. Following a league review, Bryant was suspended for the subsequent game at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks. The basis given for the suspension was that Bryant had performed an "unnatural motion" in swinging his arm backward. Later, on March 6, he seemed to repeat the motion, this time striking Minnesota Timberwolves guard Marko Jarić. On March 7, the NBA handed Bryant his second one-game suspension. In his first game back on March 9, he elbowed Kyle Korver in the face which was retroactively re-classified as a Type 1 flagrant foul.
During the 2006–07 season, Bryant was selected to his ninth All-Star Game appearance, and on February 18, he logged 31 points, 6 assists, and 6 steals, earning his second career All-Star Game MVP trophy.
On December 23, 2007, Bryant became the youngest player (29 years, 122 days) to reach 20,000 points, in a game against the New York Knicks, in Madison Square Garden, after scoring 39 points to go along with 11 rebounds and 8 assists. This record has since been broken by LeBron James. On March 28, Bryant scored a season-high 53 points to go with 10 rebounds in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Lakers defeated the Spurs in five games, sending themselves to the NBA Finals, against the Boston Celtics. This marked the fifth time in Bryant's career, and the first time without O'Neal, that he made the NBA Finals. The Lakers then lost to the Boston Celtics in six games.
On June 23, 2008, he was named to the USA Men's Senior National Team for the 2008 Summer Olympics. This was his first time going to the Olympics. Bryant scored 20 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter, along with six assists, as Team USA defeated Spain 118–107 in the gold medal game on August 24, 2008, for its first gold medal in a worldwide competition since the 2000 Olympics. He averaged 15.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists while shooting .462 from the field in eight Olympic contests.
In the playoffs, the Lakers defeated the Utah Jazz in five games and the Houston Rockets in seven games in the opening two rounds. By finishing off the Denver Nuggets in the Conference Finals in six games, the Lakers earned their second straight trip to the NBA Finals. The Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic in five games. Bryant was awarded his first NBA Finals MVP trophy upon winning his fourth championship, achieving series averages of 32.4 points, 7.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks. He became the first player since West in the 1969 NBA Finals to average at least 32.4 points and 7.4 assists for a finals series and the first since Jordan to average 30 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists for a title-winning team in the finals.
A week later, Bryant suffered an avulsion fracture in his right index finger in a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Despite the injury, Bryant elected to continue playing, rather than take any time off to rest the injury. Five days after his finger injury, he made another game-winning shot, after missing an opportunity in regulation, this time against the Milwaukee Bucks in an overtime game.
On the Western Conference Finals, where they faced the Phoenix Suns. In Game 2, Bryant finished the game with 13 assists, setting a new playoff career-high; it was the most assists by a Laker in the playoffs since Magic Johnson had 13 in 1996.
The Lakers went on to win the series in six games capturing the Western Conference Championship and advancing to the NBA Finals for a third straight season. In a rematch against the 2008 Champion Boston Celtics, Bryant, despite shooting 6 for 24 from the field, led the Lakers back from a thirteen-point third-quarter deficit in Game 7 to win the championship; he scored 10 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 15 rebounds. Bryant won his fifth championship and earned his second consecutive NBA Finals MVP award. This marked the first time the Lakers won a Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. Bryant said that this was the most satisfying of all of his five championships.
Bryant, selected to his 13th straight All-Star game after becoming the leading vote-getter, had 37 points, 14 rebounds, and three steals in the 2011 All-Star Game and won his fourth All-Star MVP, tying Hall of Famer Bob Pettit for the most All-Star MVP awards.
On April 13, 2011, the NBA fined Bryant $100,000 for directing a gay slur at referee Bennie Adams in frustration in the previous day's game. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation praised the NBA's decision to fine Bryant, and the Human Rights Campaign said that Bryant's language was a "disgrace" and "distasteful". Bryant stated that he was open to discussing the matter with gay rights groups and wanted to appeal his fine. He later apologized for the use of the word. Bryant and other Lakers appeared in a Lakers public service announcement denouncing his behavior.
Bryant was called "one of the greatest players in the history of our game" by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, and The New York Times wrote that he had "one of the most decorated careers in the history of the sport." Reuters called him "arguably the best player of his generation", while both Sporting News and TNT named him their NBA player of the decade for the 2000s. In 2008 and again in 2016, ESPN ranked him the second-greatest shooting guard of all time after Jordan. Players including Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, and Derrick Rose called Bryant their generation's version of Jordan. The Press-Enterprise described Bryant as "maybe the greatest Laker in the organization's history". He was the Lakers' all-time leading scorer, and his five titles are tied for the most in franchise history. Both numbers he wore during his career, 8 and 24, were retired by the Lakers on December 18, 2017.
On December 5 against New Orleans, Bryant became the youngest player (34 years and 104 days) in league history to score 30,000 points, joining Hall of Famers Chamberlain, Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Karl Malone as one of five players to reach that milestone.
On November 30, 2014, in a 129–122 overtime victory against the Toronto Raptors, Bryant recorded his 20th career triple-double with 31 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds. At age 36, he became the oldest NBA player to achieve 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in a game.
On November 29, 2015, Bryant announced via The Players' Tribune that he would be retiring at the end of the season. In his poem titled "Dear Basketball", Bryant wrote that he fell in love with the game at age six; "A love so deep I gave you my all/From my mind & body/To my spirit & soul." The 2015–16 season "is all I have left to give./My heart can take the pounding/My mind can handle the grind/But my body knows it's time to say goodbye./And that's OK./I'm ready to let you go."
In the season finale on April 13, Bryant scored an NBA season-high 60 points against Utah in his last NBA game, outscoring the entire Jazz team 23–21 in the fourth quarter, in the Lakers' 101–96 victory. He became the oldest player to score 60 or more points in a game at 37 years and 234 days old. The Lakers finished the season with a 17–65 record, their worst record in franchise history.
On October 23, 2018, Bryant's book The Mamba Mentality: How I Play, with photographs and afterword by Andrew D. Bernstein, an introduction by Phil Jackson, and a foreword by Pau Gasol, was published by MCD / Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. The book looks back on his career with photos and his reflections.
At 9:06 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on January 26, 2020, a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter departed from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, with nine people aboard: Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, six family friends and the pilot. The helicopter was registered to the Fillmore-based Island Express Holding Corp., according to the California Secretary of State business database. The group was traveling to a basketball game at Bryant's Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks.
At 9:45 a.m. the helicopter crashed into the side of a mountain in Calabasas, about 30 miles (48 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, and caught on fire. Bryant, his daughter, and the other seven occupants were killed. This also started a quarter-acre bush fire. At 9:47 a.m. authorities were called. Personnel from the Los Angeles County Fire Department attended the scene, and paramedics rappelled from a helicopter to the scene to look for survivors. The fire was difficult to extinguish due to the presence of magnesium, but the fire had been extinguished by 10:30 a.m. Initial reports indicated that the helicopter crashed in the hills above Calabasas in a heavy fog. Witnesses reported hearing a helicopter struggling before crashing.
On January 28, Bryant's identity was officially confirmed using fingerprints. The following day the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner stated that the official cause of death for him and the eight others on the helicopter was blunt force trauma.