Kobe Bryant used a ferocious competitiveness and uncanny shooting touch to become an NBA icon, leaving behind a legacy that has influenced the newest generation of league talent and fans worldwide.
From his 81-point game, the second-best scoring performance in NBA history, to five NBA titles in 20 years of dazzling performances with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant delivered a relentless attitude that attracted a global following before his death on Sunday at age 41 in a helicopter crash.
Bryant joined giant centre Shaquille O’Neal to spark the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002, becoming at the age of 23 the youngest player to capture three titles.
A bitter feud with Bryant saw “Shaq” depart, with Bryant portrayed as never having had childish ways while O’Neal never outgrew them.
That left Bryant without the inside force needed to capture the crown until Spain’s Pau Gasol arrived, and the Lakers won titles in 2009 and 2010 with Bryant in command and later patching things up with O’Neal.
Bryant sparked the US Olympic team to gold medals at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics and became a global celebrity as much for his personality as his playmaking.
Bryant’s fierceness was legendary and led him to nickname himself the “Black Mamba” for his ability to strike quickly with deadly scoring accuracy.
There were spectacular nights, but nothing topped his 81-point effort against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006, a mark surpassed only by Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962.
Bryant scored 65 points in a 2007 win over Portland, then followed with 50 points against Minnesota, 60 at Memphis and 50 more against New Orleans — the third-longest run of 50-point games in NBA history behind two from Chamberlain.
Some say Bryant saved the best for last, scoring a league season-high of 60 points against Utah in his final NBA game in 2016, becoming the oldest player in league history to crack that milestone at age 37.
Bryant was an 18-times NBA All-Star who wore the jersey numbers 24 and 8 – both of which were retired by the Lakers – and continued the “Showtime” tradition of the storied franchise that has been home to the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal.
The fourth-highest scorer in NBA history with 33,643 points, Bryant only gave up the third spot on the list on Saturday night to LeBron James.
On Saturday, Bryant used Twitter to extend his congratulations to James: “Much respect my brother,” he tweeted.
A few hours later, Bryant perished in the crash, leaving behind a legacy that will live much longer than his 41 years.
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