The news hit Basketball fans this Sunday. Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter accident with his daughter Gianna and 7 others. Black Mamba has marked a whole generation of fans and players. He who hoped to become like Mickael Jordan.
Since Sunday, the world of basketball lives in shock. Millions of fans have grown up with the exploits of Kobe Bryant, the legend of the Los Angeles Lakers. For this generation, Kobe, he was the worthy heir to Michael Jordan. Bryant was a star upon his arrival in the NBA, upon leaving school, a pure showman, arrogant, self-confident, incredibly determined.
An incredible list of achievements
Five-time NBA champion, the best player in the 2008 regular season, one of the seven players to have scored more than 30,000 points during his career, it was undoubtedly the winner he retired one evening in April 2016, scoring for his farewell 60 points after a hair-raising match. A few months earlier, when announcing the end of his career, the 4th best scorer in NBA history – he was overtaken Saturday night by LeBron James – had assured: “be ready to let basketball slip by.”
His career was the subject of a cartoon, “Dear Basketball”, which he co-directed with Glen Keane, who received the Oscar for best animated short film in 2018. As much as a megastar of world sport, it is an enigma that left Sunday in Calabasas, close to Los Angeles.
A childhood in Europe
Child, he believed himself “the shame of his family”, he suffered from the comparison with his father, Joe Bryant, who gave him this unusual name, choosing it, according to legend, on the menu of a Japanese restaurant, and who played eight seasons in the NBA between 1975 and 1983, before earning a living in the Italian Championship.
From his eight years in Italy, Bryant junior kept an immoderate love for football, as well as technical bases and tactical fundamentals, rare in American players, which will lead him to the highest. But when he returned to the United States in 1992, the skinny teenager, wearing his idol’s jersey Magic Johnson, struggled to play even a few minutes per game for the team at Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia.
Already a star in high school
After four years of hard work, he is the star of his high school. Rather than joining one of the prestigious universities that court him, he jumped directly into the NBA: in the 1996 Draft, he was chosen in 13th position at the age of 17 by Charlotte who caused him his greatest woe, he immediately hands it over to the Lakers.
The NBA and the basketball world are in the midst of “Jordan-mania”: the Chicago Bulls star has for several years replaced Magic Johnson in the personal Pantheon of Bryant. He dissects his matches, adopts his facial expressions and draws inspiration from his aerial and physical play. “His obsession with Michael was obvious,” said Phil Jackson, the coach who won six NBA titles with Jordan in Chicago, then five with Bryant at the head of the Lakers.
The Mickael Jordan model
While Jordan lived the last years of his reign, Bryant began to make a name for himself and presented himself, by his spectacular style, his aplomb, even his insolence, as his natural successor. Jackson organized a meeting between the two players in 1999, hoping that Bryant, the sometimes uncontrollable flicker, would draw inspiration from the wisdom and selflessness of Jordan, now retired.
“The first thing he said to him was” If we do a one-on-one, I kick your butt “,” said Jackson, still banned, in his autobiography. The Kobe Bryant era is about to begin: associated with Shaquille O’Neal, he dominated the NBA for three consecutive seasons, from 2000 to 2002.
Bryant is an unequaled workaholic: long shootings, until late at night, after official training, analysis of the writings of American and European coaches, and extended physical preparation sessions. He is said to be a monomaniac, which has earned him a falling out with certain teammates, including O’Neal who prefers to leave for Miami in 2004.
Accused of rape in 2003
In 2003, the one who is nicknamed “the Black Mamba” because of his composure, lives the darkest period of his career, which will tarnish his image forever: he is accused of rape by an employee of a luxurious complex hotelier in Edwards (Colorado) where he was staying, recovering, after knee arthroscopy.
Before the courts, he admits having had sexual intercourse with the 19-year-old young woman who, according to him, was consenting. The trial was finally canceled after the victim’s refusal to testify, with whom he reached an agreement far from the courts.
A man of records
Having become the best-known and highest-paid basketball player on the planet, Bryant wrote his legend with his 81 points scored in 2006 against Toronto, his five NBA titles, his two Olympic crowns (2008 and 2012), his 18 appearances in the “All Star Game”, more than 33,000 points scored and a slew of record.
But his end of the reign was painful, with repeated serious injuries, the Lakers in disarray and personal statistics at half-mast. Until November 29, 2015, when in a poem addressed to his “dear basketball”, he acknowledges that “his body knows that the time to say goodbye has arrived”. Four years later, the hearts of millions of fans have found a new reason to say otherwise.