Kobe Bryant was a hero to basketball fans in the U.S.A. and around the world. They were devastated to learn about the former NBA star’s death in a helicopter crash on 26 January, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others.
Her coaches said Gianna, the second-oldest of Bryant's four daughters, was destined to follow in her father’s footsteps, although she had only been playing for a couple of years. Her first sporting love had been soccer.
Kobe had retired in 2016 but had taken up coaching, including his daughter’s team. Two of her teammates also died in the fatal crash.
There are NBA players, NBA stars and NBA legends. Bryant was definitely in the last category. No more than one or two players in a generation reach those heights. He was spoken of in the same breath as Michael Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James. The sort of players whose fame spreads far beyond the realm of basketball or even sports fans.
Bryant grew up in Europe, the family following his father’s post-NBA basketball career.
Kobe himself had an atypical career. He chose to forgo the standard route of college basketball despite several offers of scholarships, preferring to go straight into the professional league from high school. And he played with the same team for his entire career, the LA Lakers. He won the NBA Championship title five times with the team, as well as two Olympic gold medals, in 2008 and 2012.
He played in the NBA All-Star game 18 times, winning the MVP (Most Valuable Player) award in 2008. On 16 February, during this year's All-Star weekend in Chicago, it was announced that the All-Stars MVP award will be renamed in Bryant's honour.
Off the court, a shadow was thrown over his career when he was charged with sexual assault in 2003. His accuser, a 19-year-old spa employee, ultimately refused to testify, allegedly after initmidation by Bryant's defence team, but Bryant settled a civil suit with her and publicly apologised.
As well as a charitable foundation, his coaching and basketball summer camps, Bryant had been working on producing films.
When he announced his retirement from the Lakers, he did so with a poem, entitled "Dear Basketball". He worked with animator Glen Keane to turn it into a short film, which won an Oscar in 2018. It includes the lines:
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.
As it turned out, the time left to savor was tragically short.