Kobe Bryant: Forever Known As A Champion, He Was Only In It To Win

The basketball great died on Sunday at the age of 41
09:33, 27 Jan 2020

Like many other Kobe Bryant fans, I’ve got my own story that reminds me of his legacy and greatness. Playing for the BBL team London Leopards back in the late 90s, I was given a choice of which Adidas shoes to wear as they were our kit sponsors. Grabbing the Kobe Crazy 8s, I somehow thought I’d be able to replicate his game on the basketball court, that I’d be able to beat defenders with a quick first step then flush home a power slam, followed by an expressionless glare to the opposition.

It never quite happened like that, but the aspiration of success was solidified through a distant association and from marvelling at Kobe’s rise to fame and prominence in the NBA. 

I, too, like many other Kobe fans, sat in disbelief when I heard the news about his death in a helicopter crash in the Los Angeles suburb of Calabasas which also claimed the life of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Maria Onore. At 41, we all knew it was way too soon. 

The legacy of Kobe is one which unveils an unrivalled commitment to working damn hard at his craft and to delivering results from his unbridled passion for basketball. He was in it only to win. To experience the feeling of winning and to be known only as a champion. Anything less was boring. He knew most people only viewed the surface part of the game, and for him to deliver what they wanted night after night, it meant he had to work twice as hard as anybody else. 

At 17, he entered the NBA straight from high school with a Michael Jordan noose around his neck. ‘The heir to the throne’, some called him. ‘The second coming.’ Or ‘Another wannabe who’d never fulfil their potential by copying the moves of the Chicago Bulls legend.’ But Kobe was different. He wouldn’t succumb to the comparisons, despite possessing like-for-like fadeaways, leaner dunks and crowd-pleasing up and unders.

He wasn’t as graceful as Mike, granted, and hadn’t attended a Division 1 college, but his confidence and swagger not only exceeded his level of experience, it shined above seasoned NBA veterans.  

Maybe it was because his heralded time at Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, where he led them to the state championships four years in a row, made him the top high school player in the nation. Maybe it was because he took famous pop star and actress Brandy to his school prom.

Maybe it was the unique experience from being around his dad, former NBA player Joe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant, learning the game vigorously as Joe finished up his playing career in Italy. Maybe it was his TV appearances on Nickelodeon's ‘All That’. Whatever Kobe had seen or felt during his young life then, he knew when and how to turn it on for everyone to see and revelled in the attention that followed him.

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An insight into Kobe’s work habits were captured by the Spike Lee documentary ‘Kobe Doin’ Work’. Looking at his in-game mentality, his bluntness and great competitiveness, it portrayed a man on a mission, always internally focused and aiming to defy the limitations of the human body.

According to Yahoo Sports, following a near career-ending injury, Kobe ran on an anti-gravity treadmill all summer to stay in shape without hurting his Achilles, whilst athletes are normally advised simply to RICE their wounds, shoot some and eat sensibly. 

Upon his return back to basketball, Kobe would end his career a few years later on probably the most-notable exit party in sports ever. He scored 60 points in a win against the Utah Jazz, while the game-leading Golden State Warriors were simultaneously achieving the best winning record of 73 games in a season. But look back via your closest browser, type in April 13th 2016, and you’ll always see Kobe’s name mentioned instead of the Warriors.  

He was a Hollywood star without the films. He was a failed rapper without an album, and yet, unlike fellow Laker Shaquille O’Neal, he didn’t need one to be a household name. LA was the perfect place for his drive and success - on the court. With Shaq, Kobe would win three NBA titles (five in total), but he didn’t need Shaq like Shaq needed him. Basketball wasn’t his way out of the ghetto like most players - it was his entry into superstardom. 

The game would be the catalyst of his business mind, creating a place for future developments that didn’t rely on a ball or a hoop. He became close friends with billionaire investor and ‘Shark Tank’ personality Chris Sacca, who advised him on how to succeed at business. Kobe surprised Sacca with his dedication and obsession to be a winner in something outside of his comfort zone, and would become a co-founder in Bryant Stibel & Co, a private investment firm.  

The firm has invested in 28 companies, with three – Dell, Alibaba and National Vision – having gone public, and a third of the 19 active companies in the Bryant Stibel portfolio are worth more than $1 billion. 

Although used to having money, and etching the largest contract extension in NBA history worth $90 million over three years, Kobe was keen to reap the benefits of his name where other firms had done with his. His astute determination was a vow to do better than others before him, notably athletes, who were known as bad with their money. He wanted to set an example where athletes weren’t seen as stupid and were still investible after their playing days were numbered. 

He started Kobe Inc. in 2013 to become more of a business partner as opposed to the more traditional athlete endorser. The first investment was a 10% stake in sports drink BodyArmor, and he’d see his $6 million investment balloon to $200 million in value after Coca-Cola purchased a majority stake in the company.

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Shortly after his retirement, he started the production company Kobe Studios with the goal of "creating new ways to tell stories around sports". In 2017, his animated short film ‘Dear Basketball’ won an Academy Award. The moving portrait of a child learning about the game grabbed our youthful minds and showed a sensitivity from Kobe many hadn’t anticipated. He also worked on 'Detail’ an ESPN+ show, which offered advice and strategy into decisions made from the player’s previous big games and moments. 

For everything he’d done and achieved, he will mostly be remembered for not being afraid. Not being afraid to work hard, despite being uber-rich. Not being afraid to belittle media darlings, such as Jeremy Lin and Dwight Howard, for not taking things seriously or working hard enough. He would surprise everyone at every stage of his journey because they partly doubted him. Not because they didn’t like him, but they thought the goals he set were too high, too unrealistic.

They just didn’t know him that well. The workouts, the thought process, the faith. He never lost it. They expected him to fail when he skipped college to head straight to the pros. They didn’t believe he could score 81 points in a game to register the second-highest point total in NBA history. They would look the other way when he said he was going to win an Oscar and tell ‘entertainment’ stories. Some even laughed.

Kobe would put all of his energy into shaping his future life: "To think of me as a person that’s overachieved, that would mean a lot to me,” he told Business Insider. “That means I put a lot of work in and squeezed every ounce of juice out of this orange that I could."

For somebody who wanted to be like Mike, Kobe convinced us that he was as unique as they come - and developed an inimitable style on and off the court, but also built something we could latch onto and mould our own dreams from. For a man who died way too young, Mr. Bryant, we will never forget you, you were a real inspiration and may you rest in peace. 

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