News of Kobe Bryant’s sudden and shocking death, alongside his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash has gutted NBA fans, Laker fans, sports fans and anyone who had a stake in entertainment and popular culture. It’s hard to fathom that the one-time phenom with the distinctive first name, the flashy moves and the bright smile, the former MVP and five-time champ — “The Black Mamba” — is gone now.
On early Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, it was reported that a helicopter crashed near Calabasas, California, claiming the lives of everyone on board: Kobe and Gianna; baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa; assistant girls basketball coach Christina Mauser; Sarah Chester and her daughter, Payton; and the pilot, Ara Zobayan.
Even before the world was ready to give him a basketball crown, Kobe Bean Bryant had no doubt a coronation was imminent. He’d drawn headlines as the best high school basketball player in the country, the flashy kid from Italy who’d become so known he could successfully ask Brandy to his prom — and he was taking his talents to the NBA.
Over the next 24 years, Bryant would become an NBA champion and MVP, a global icon, controversial enigma and basketball ambassador, an entrepreneur and Oscar winner, a husband and father. Back in 1996, he stood on that stage with his shades famously perched on his 17-year-old brow and announced he was becoming only the second prep star to go straight to the league in the modern era.
Bryant defined the NBA for a generation. Both his individual and teams’ dominance kick-started the 2000s. It began when he and Shaquille O’Neal paired to steamroll through the league to the tune of three straight NBA titles, and it was solidified with his 2008 MVP award and subsequent back-to-back titles to close out that decade. But things derailed in the summer of 2003 when the superstar was arrested for sexual assault in Eagle County, Colorado.
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