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Kobe Bryant – basketball superstar and global icon

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant   | Photo Credit: Reuters

The ‘Black Mamba’ was poised to receive the Holy Grail of basketball – entering the prestigious Hall of Fame later this year

The news of retired basketball superstar Kobe Bryant killed along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and others in a helicopter crash has shocked the world. Bryant was poised to receive the Holy Grail of basketball – entering the prestigious Hall of Fame later this year.

Instead, the world will mourn the tragic and premature death of a once-in-a-generation basketball achiever, a five-time National Basketball Association (NBA) championship winner, a former NBA Most Valuable Player, 11-time All NBA first-teamer, 18-time All Star, 9-time All NBA Defensive Team member and owner of other accomplishments.

For all these accolades, Bryant, who wanted to be called the “Black Mamba”, will be known for being the closest to basketball’s best-ever player – Michael Jordan. Bryant was Jordanesque (both were 6’6’’ tall and listed at 220 pounds for large parts of their career) in most aspects of his game – he could score in the paint, rattle the rims with dunks, shoot the three from the perimeter, hit contested shots with a defender’s hand in his face, take over during clutch moments and play the closer, rev up his defensive intensity when needed and bottle up opponent wing players; all of which contributed to his winning five championships with the only team he played for – the Los Angeles Lakers. He was also Jordanesque in his maniacal intensity, whether it was in turning up for practice and goading his teammates to improve, using the NBA off-season to add newer aspects to his repertoire, working on his physical fitness in order to compete and play gruelling minutes game after game and in his dedication to win it all.

Watch | The life of Kobe Bryant
 

Bryant came up just short in the Jordan comparison on one key metric – efficiency. His devotion to doing-it-all led him to take outrageous shots and complaints about hogging the ball and despite his humongous success, he didn’t really scale the Jordan peak. That accolade could be soon owned by current day Laker great LeBron James, but Bryant’s stardom and popularity was as high as any other NBA superstar’s and will remain so. Bryant’s legacy firmly establishes him among the top dozen NBA players ever, with some situating him closer to the Top 6 – a spectacular feat for a player who joined the league right after finishing up high school and remaining with the Lakers all his career.

O’Neal-Bryant dynasty

Kobe’s game also evolved over the years since his NBA entry. In his keenness to emulate Jordan, he started off as a gunner – who could forget his air ball shots against Utah Jazz in the 1997 playoffs? Under the tutelage of coach Phil Jackson, though, Bryant mellowed and bought into the team concept and soon formed a dominant partnership with the-force-of-nature center Shaquille O’Neal. The O’Neal-Bryant dynasty lasted till 2004 with three consecutive championships between 2000 and 2002. Bryant and the Lakers were down and out till Jackson returned as coach again in the late 2000s and forged yet another winning team, this time revolving around Bryant’s stardom and leading to two more championships in 2009 and 2010.

Mourners gather in Microsoft Square near the Staples Center to pay respects to Kobe Bryant after a helicopter crash killed the retired basketball star, in Los Angeles, California, U.S.

Mourners gather in Microsoft Square near the Staples Center to pay respects to Kobe Bryant after a helicopter crash killed the retired basketball star, in Los Angeles, California, U.S.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

In the later phase of his career, Bryant had his detractors who focussed on his return to “hero-ball”, seeking to do it all by himself, instead of buying into Jackson’s winning recipe, the “Triangle Offence”. But even Bryant’s outrageous shot-taking and his endeavour for oneupmanship on the court had its benefits. With defenders drawn to him, Bryant’s misses increased the probability for an offensive rebound for his teammates – something that teammates like Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom feasted on.

Genial and urbane

Off the court, the genial and urbane Bryant was a global icon. Having been brought up as a child in Italy, where his father Joel “Jellybean” Bryant played professional basketball, Kobe was fluent in Italian and Spanish, which helped him reach out to legions of fans in Europe and Latin America. His image suffered a huge blemish after he was accused of raping a 19-year-old in 2003. Bryant always maintained that he had only engaged in consensual sex. After the accuser refused to testify in court, he reached a civil settlement and apologised for the acts, but the incident hurt his legacy both on and off the court. The incident coincided with a tumultuous season for the Lakers in 2004, who disbanded with the departure of the other superstar Shaquille O’Neal.

In his twilight years, the Lakers were a much weaker squad and Bryant played out his career after suffering a devastating Achilles heel injury. His last game with the Lakers as a 38-year-old, however, was memorable – he scored 60 points in a win against the Utah Jazz even as the Lakers finished with a dismal 17-65 record.

Academy Award

After retirement, Bryant focused on venture capital, investing in different businesses such as media, data and technology and also won the Academy Award for the best animated short film, ‘Dear Basketball’ in 2018. His 13-year-old daughter Gianna was also an aspiring basketball player and had her life tragically cut short along with her father’s yesterday.

Vanessa Bryant, from left, Kobe Bryant, Natalia Bryant and Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant at the world premiere of "A Wrinkle in Time" in Los Angeles. File photo.

Vanessa Bryant, from left, Kobe Bryant, Natalia Bryant and Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant at the world premiere of "A Wrinkle in Time" in Los Angeles. File photo.   | Photo Credit: AP

 

For a basketball fan, the enduring memory of Bryant would be the shooting guard dribbling the ball down court, swarmed by defenders, going past the paint and pulling up a mid-range elbow jumper for a two pointer with the clock running out. The mid-range pull-up jumper was his go-to move, a shot that he could probably take blindly. He was equally adept at taking fade-aways (another Jordan signature) and using elegant footwork and vertical hang-time to gain space and score at the rim. A man all about balletic grace and robotic intensity, it is unfortunate that his life has been cut short by a tragic accident.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 1:52:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/kobe-bryant-basketball-superstar-and-global-icon/article30663163.ece

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