Kobe’s re­lent­less spirit in­spired NBA fans, play­ers

Kuwait Times - - Sports -

WASH­ING­TON: 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 Sun­day at age 41 in a he­li­copter crash.

Bryant joined giant cen­ter 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.

“I love ev­ery­thing about this game,” Bryant fa­mously said. “For me, it’s not a part of life, it is life, and it’s a part of me.” In all, Bryant fin­ished with 33,643 points, 7,047 re­bounds and 6,306 as­sists over 1,346 ca­reer NBA games. He was an 18-time NBA All-Star, the 2008 NBA Most Valu­able Player, the NBA Fi­nals 2009 and 2010 NBA MVP and matched a record as a four-time NBA All-Star Game MVP.

KOBE FACED CON­TRO­VERSY

But it wasn’t a smooth path to star­dom. In ad­di­tion to nag­ging in­juries that slowed his later sea­sons, Bryant faced a ma­jor rape con­tro­versy that de­liv­ered a body blow to his en­dorse­ments im­age.

Bryant, a fa­ther of four who mar­ried wife Vanessa in 2001, faced his dark­est hour in 2003 when he was ar­rested in Colorado over a sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tion filed by a 19-year-old em­ployee of a ho­tel where Bryant was stay­ing ahead of knee surgery.

Bryant was ac­cused of rape. He ad­mit­ted to adul­tery but said he did not com­mit rape. In 2004, the case was dropped af­ter the ac­cuser re­fused to tes­tify in a trial, and Bryant is­sued an apol­ogy say­ing he could un­der­stand how she might feel there was not con­sent.

A sep­a­rate civil suit was set­tled un­der terms kept pri­vate. In 2011, Bryant made an apol­ogy for us­ing a gay slur to de­scribe a ref­eree and paid a $100,000 fine im­posed by the NBA. Knee and an­kle in­juries mounted as years be­gan to take a toll on Bryant. He missed most of the 2013-14 sea­son with a left knee in­jury and much of his penul­ti­mate cam­paign with a torn right ro­ta­tor cuff, then an­nounced his re­tire­ment by say­ing, “My body knows it’s time to say good­bye.”

Af­ter re­tir­ing, Bryant be­came a chil­dren’s book writer and wrote the movie “Dear Bas­ket­ball” — last year’s Academy Award win­ner for Best An­i­mated Short Film.

BAS­KET­BALL ‘IS LIFE’

Kobe Bean Bryant, the son of for­mer NBA player Joe “Jelly­bean” Bryant, was born in Philadelph­ia in 1978 while his fa­ther played for the NBA’s 76ers, the child named for the Ja­panese beef seen on a menu and his fa­ther’s nick­name.

The el­der Bryant played from 1984 to 1991 in Italy, giv­ing young Kobe a global world­view as he grew up dream­ing of fol­low­ing his dad into the NBA. “When I was grow­ing up in Italy, it opened up a whole new world to me and I thought any­thing was pos­si­ble,” Kobe told AFP in 2009.

Bryant be­came one of the first NBA play­ers to seek out a grow­ing fan base in China, blog­ging for Chi­nese in­ter­net giant SINA in 2009. “As a kid grow­ing up, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would have this big fan base half­way around the world in Beijing and Shang­hai,” Bryant told. — AFP

LOS AN­GE­LES: Peo­ple gather to pay trib­ute to for­mer NBA and Los An­ge­les Lak­ers player Kobe Bryant on Jan­uary 26, 2020 fol­low­ing his death in a he­li­copter crash near Los An­ge­les. — AFP

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