Kobe Bryant, winner of the Best Animated Short Film award for 'Dear Basketball,' attends the 90th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre on March 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Matt Sayles/A.M.P.A.S via Getty Images)
On 26 January 2020, basketball lovers across the world lost one of the game’s best, the legendary, 18 time all-star, 41-year old retired Laker Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash. His 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others also died in the accident in Calabasas, California. While the sexual assault charges brought against him may have put a blemish on his hoop career, there’s no denying that Bryant was one of the best to ever hit the court. During last season’s all-star game, Bryant was named as one of the National Basketball Association’s top 75 all-time best players.
His last professional game.
The end of a mind-blowing 20-year career came on 13 April 2016 for his 1 346th and final game. Bryant had announced at the beginning of the season that he would be retiring. Injuries had plagued him and he had said that he had nothing else to prove. He was proud of what he had accomplished and he was ready to put it all to rest.
In an interview with former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, the Inside The NBA co-host asked Bryant live on air if he could drop 50 points in that game. Bryant smiled and said, “No, absolutely not.” It was a fair answer, he hadn’t recorded a 50-point game the entire season, and it was his worst point average in his entire career. For a home game against the Utah Jazz, not only did Bryant give O’Neal his 50-point request but went on to put on a show and ended the game with 60 points.
Passing Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list
Asked who he would like to play against in a one-on-one game if he was in his prime, Michael Jordan replied, “That list is very long. I’d start off with Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Kobe Bryant in his prime, LeBron James in his prime, Dwyane Wade in his prime, Carmelo Anthony, that’s a good start. I don’t think I’d lose, other than to Kobe Bryant because he steals all of my moves.”
Knowing how competitive Jordan is, the mere thought that he considers Bryant to be the only one who could beat him is the ultimate compliment, from one who is considered by most people to be the best to ever play the game. Bryant has always seen Jordan as a hero and a mentor, and the more they got to know each other, a friend. Bryant would call Jordan at all kinds of crazy hours to ask him questions on the game, always wanting to better his game and being humble enough to learn from those he respected.
On 14 December 2014, Bryant scored 26 points in a win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, surpassing Jordan on the NBA all-time scoring list. He retired being third on the list with only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone ahead of him.
In 1960, Laker legend Elgin Baylor held the record for the most points by a single player in a game against the New York Knicks with a 71-point performance. The following year, Wilt Chamberlain, playing for the Philadelphia Warriors against the Lakers, in a three-overtime game, put up 78 points, to break Elgin’s record. In March of 1962, against the Knicks, Chamberlain broke his own record and put up an outstanding 100 points. That record still hasn’t been broken to this day.
On 22 June 2006, Bryant made history by becoming the only other player to cross the 80-point mark and setting the second-highest scoring performance in a single game, putting up 81 points in a 122-104 win against the Toronto Raptors. Bryant seemed to be on top of the world, “To sit here and say I grasp what happened, that would be lying. Not even in my dreams.”
There have been many memorable duos in the NBA — Magic Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar, Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Malone and John Stockton, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker as well as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. One of the most celebrated duos in NBA history is Bryant and O’Neal.
They won three world titles together. O’Neal, considered the most dominant player ever, always finished those winning years with bigger point and rebound averages than Bryant. Bryant started feeling the frustration of not being able to reach his potential under O’Neal shadow and this brought a lot of tension between the two all-stars.
After eight years of playing together, O’Neal left to join the Miami Heat. Bryant would win two more championships without O’Neal and win his only most valuable player (MVP) award in 2008. A lot of people, including Bryant himself, believed that he should have won more MVPs, he had this to say, “It is because I played with Shaq. It’s that simple. A lot of the time, we cancelled each other out. I sacrificed a lot playing with him.”
12 three-pointers in one game
The major difference between today’s game and the game of the 1990s and early 2000s is how much the three-point shot is used. That change is mainly attributed to Golden State Warriors star point guard Steph Curry, who holds the record for the most three-point shots made. Curry’s idol, Reggie Miller, said “Curry is the best shooter of all time.”
In the era that Bryant played in, the three-point shot was starting to be used slightly more. Bryant was not known for taking a lot of three-point shots, his game was mostly mid jumpers and breaking down defences going for dunks and lay-ups with his athleticism. On 14 April 2016, however, Bryant made 12 three-point shots in one game and broke Dennis Scott’s record of 11. In a win against the Seattle Supersonics, Bryant came alive, at some point making nine straight three-pointers. He ended the game with 45 points, shooting 57%.
Winning an Academy Award
After retiring from a successful 20-year-long basketball career, Bryant set his sights at a film career. When people asked him what he was planning to do with his life after basketball, he said “I want to be a writer and a storyteller.”
He started Granity Studios, a multimedia original content company focused on creating new ways to tell stories around sports. In 2018, Bryant won an Academy Award for best animated short film for Dear Basketball, a film that he wrote and produced. The film was based on a poem the two-time Olympics gold medal winner wrote for The Players Tribune to announce his retirement. It was an inspired ode:
From the moment
I started rolling my dad’s tube socks
And shooting imaginary
In the Great Western Forum
I knew one thing was real:
I fell in love with you.A love so deep I gave you my all —
From my mind & body
To my spirit & soul.