Kobe Bryant, one of the most famous and popular athletes of the past several decades, died in the fiery crash of his private helicopter in Calabasas, California, Sunday. He was 41.
His daughter Gianna, 13, died with him. They had reportedly been en route to basketball practice at the Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks.
The crash, which happened on a hill near reality star Kourtney Kardashian's home, killed all nine aboard.
Birth of a Superstar
Born August 23, 1978, in Philadelphia, Kobe Bean Bryant was the youngest of the three children of NBA player Joe Bryant and his wife Pamela.
As a child, Bryant was an avid basketball player, keeping tabs on U.S. teams while he and his family lived in Italy, where he became fluent in Italian.
By 1991, when his father had retired from sports, the family relocated to a suburb of Philadelphia, where he was a star athlete and outstanding student in high school. A dominant athlete at 17, in 1996 he became the first guard drafted straight out of high school, signed to a multimillion-dollar deal by his favorite team — the Lakers.
When he began his career with the Lakers, Bryant was the youngest starter in the history of the sport. In his 20-year career with the Lakers, Bryant won five NBA championships and became recognized as one of the greatest players the sport had ever seen, widely referred to as his generation's successor to Michael Jordan. His career averages — 25 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.4 steals per game — back up the argument that he was not only one of the game's best, but also one of its most broadly talented.
Mere hours before his shocking death, Bryant took time out to congratulate LeBron James, who on Saturday surpassed Bryant's career-total of points (33,643). Bryant graciously tweeted, "Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother 💪🏾 #33644."
Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother 💪🏾 #33644— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 26, 2020
It became Bryant's final tweet.
The Bryants: A Love Story
Bryant married Vanessa Laine on April 18, 2001, a year and a half after meeting her. Bryant was 21 at the time they met and Laine just 17. Their youthful marriage sparked discord in Bryant's family and among his advisors. He would later skirmish with his parents over items they intended to auction, an incident that led to them apologizing.
Kobe and Vanessa became the parents of four daughters: Natalia, now 17, Gianna, Bianka, now 3, and Capri, born 7 months ago.
In September 2019, Bryant old "Extra" of his kids:
"[Capri] has been our best baby. She sleeps like six hours. She’s an absolute sweetheart.The big girls help around the house tremendously. Bianka absolutely loves her — the only challange we have is she wants to kiss her too much." He also said the couple were unsure if they'd keep trying for a boy. "[Vanessa] wants a boy more than I do. I’m comfortable having girls. It drives her crazy when I say that — she says, 'We’re gonna get five girls 'cause you spoke it to existence.'"
Bryant's stellar reputation took a hit in 2003 when he was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a 19-year-old hotel employee in Eagle, Colorado, where he was staying in advance of knee surgery. Though he maintained his innocence, he eventually apologized when the case was dropped because his accuser refused to testify. In his public apology, he stated, "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 Bryants announced in December 2011 that they intended to divorce, but by January 2013 had reconciled.
Kobe Bryant: Icon
The superstar had a lengthy and lucrative record of endorsement deals, including Nike, McDonald's, Vitamin Water, Turkish Airlines and many more. His own Kobe Inc. was launched in 2014 to exploit his own and other brands in the sports realm, and in 2016, he partnered with Jeff Stibel on the venture capital firm Bryant-Stibel.
He also founded Granity Studios, a multimedia company that produced an ESPN+ series called "Detail" and the kid-friendly podcast "The Punies."
As a noted philanthropist, he became the ambassador for After-School All-Stars (ASAS), started the Kobe Bryant China Fund, and helped raise a million dollars for the Call of Duty Endowment on behalf of veterans.
In 2018, Bryant won an Oscar for the animated short film "Dear Basketball," which was based on one of several book projects in which he'd involved himself.
With LeBron James having been recently attacked by commentator Laura Ingraham for being outspoken politically (she urged him to "shut up and dribble"), Bryant said in his acceptance speech, "As basketball players, we're supposed to 'shut up and dribble.' I’m glad we do a little bit more than that."
In a final, wide-ranging interview with USA Today published January 23, Bryant made clear the direction in which he was headed. Discussing his creative ventures post-basketball, Bryant — who was moving more and more into the world of entertainment, said, "It's fun to figure out the journey, but it’s also extremely frustrating. Things don't move as fast as you want them to. But that's okay.”
Watch "Extra's" past interviews with Kobe below.