Kobe Bryant always believed that he’d be here, dispensing wisdom like an old sage to anyone bold enough to approach him. Bryant built up an almost mythological reputation as a cold-blooded assassin. The self-proclaimed “Black Mamba” was focused by the championship chase and establishing a forever legacy. And as a result, he left everlasting blueprint.
As his career began to wind down, he became more aware of the influence he had on the game. Bryant began to recognize that his words could motivate as much, if not more, than his uber-intense basketball results, and or actions on the court. When Bryant shoots a text, an email or social-media shoutout, the message generally resonates and inspires.
“Listen, I’ve had great mentors growing up – Michael, Magic and all those guys,” Bryant recently told Yahoo Sports. “I feel like it’s part of my responsibility to give back to the next generation and help them achieve great things and, in turn, they can pass it on to the generation that follows them.”
Considered an almost untouchable basketball god to players who grew up worshipping him on blacktop cathedrals, Bryant has now assumed the role of “Godfather” to a select few who could use some motivation through difficult times, or encouragement to pursue the impossible. More than likely, Bryant has been where they want to be or overcome more harrowing challenges. Sitting on that knowledge would be a waste of those experiences. From the time he was air-balling jumpers in Utah as a rookie in the 1997 playoffs to when he torched that same organization for 60 in his final game in 2016, Bryant has never been one to leave fuel — for himself or anyone else — in reserve.
Bryant will add another distinction to his Hall of Fame career on Monday, when the Los Angeles Lakers — a franchise with no shortage of all-time greats in its history — will recognize both eras of his incredible 20-year run by retiring Nos. 8 and 24. Just like that, one man will own two of the Lakers’ 11 retired jerseys.
“He’s turned himself into a folktale. And it’s a great folktale,” Kyrie Irving told Yahoo Sports. “He’s like the abominable snowman that you can actually see in person. Almost like people are unsure if he’s approachable or not, but he’s an open book when you go and talk to him. It’s awesome to know that one of the greats to ever do it is taking the time to really give you knowledge that is about furthering your career and achieve greatness that you’ve dreamt of as a kid. He does it strictly for progressing the culture.”
Irving’s first encounter helped set the stage for their eventual friendship. Fresh off his rookie season in 2012, Irving completed a scrimmage with the U.S. Olympic team and bet Bryant $50,000 that he could beat him one-on-one. The game has never been played but the relationship has matured to the point that when he made one of the biggest shots in NBA Finals history to deliver the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 championship in Game 7, Irving credited his “Mamba mentality” and FaceTimed with Bryant during the locker-room celebration. Irving has leaned on Bryant for counsel on how to handle playing with another superstar and how to deal with adversity and assume new challenges.
But Irving isn’t the only one to benefit from some Mamba mentorship. Though Bryant had solidified a reputation for being aloof during his playing days, several of today’s stars are familiar with the legend who doles out the secrets now that he has no more rings to win.
“He’s meant so much to the game. A lot of people look up to him. He’s been a big brother to the league and he’s always been there for guys,” Paul George told Yahoo Sports. “I think it’s his role and he understands that.”
Kobe Bryant walked the same path he walked hundreds of times during a 20-year career that earned him this moment. From the tunnel that leads into the Lakers locker room, he emerged just as his short film, “Dear Basketball,” concluded on the video board at Staples Center. As the crowd noticed they began to chant “M-V-P!”
He strolled out before more than a dozen former teammates, before former general managers Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak who discovered him and created the teams with whom he won five championships. Allen Iverson waited nearby and so did Bill Russell. But it was another group that Bryant had in mind when he discussed the weight he placed on this moment.
It was a cluster of current Lakers who assembled near their bench, for once not the focal point of the action on the floor.
“Legacy is really important in the sense of what we’ve done is awesome, but I think what’s more important for a legacy is how that affects the next generation,” Bryant said two hours before the ceremony. “The jerseys that hang in the rafters now, the impact that they had on me led to us being in this moment right now. That’s the true mark of a legacy, is how well it impacts the next generation.”
The Lakers retired two jerseys Monday night, both bearing Bryant’s name: The No. 8 he wore for the first part of his career now hangs to the right of broadcaster Chick Hearn’s ceremonial jersey, and the No. 24 he wore for the second half hangs to its left.
“We are retiring both your numbers because if we separated [them], each of those players would qualify for the Hall of Fame,” said Jeanie Buss, the Lakers’ controlling owner and president. “… Thank you for staying loyal to the purple and gold and remaining a Laker for life when it might have been easier to leave.”
Bryant wore 8 when he and Shaquille O’Neal won three championships together, when they feuded publicly and up until Bryant decided that, for the sake of his legacy, he needed to separate himself from his accomplishments with O’Neal.
“We’ll be remembered as the most enigmatic, controversial, dominant one-two punch ever created,” O’Neal said in a tunnel during the second quarter. “A.k.a. the best Laker duo ever. …
“I’m probably the most dominant Laker. But I never wanted to be the greatest there is. Kobe, ever since he came in, told me he wanted to be the greatest greatest. You could tell by his work ethic and the way he played.
“The conversation is between him and Magic [Johnson], but if you ask me I’m going Kobe then Magic.”
Bryant wore 24 when he asked for the Lakers to trade him, when they built a new championship team around him instead and when he won two more titles, surpassing O’Neal’s total.
Asked to choose which one meant more, Bryant chose 24. Those were the harder years, when his body didn’t cooperate as much.
As he introduced Bryant during the ceremony, Johnson asked Bryant to be a unifying force for the country, saying he brought the city of Los Angeles together for 20 years. And Bryant, when it was his turn, spoke of the future.
Monday night offered a glimpse into that future. The Lakers battled the NBA champion Warriors into overtime before Golden State prevailed 116-114.
Bryant sat courtside with his wife, with whom he now gets to have breakfast regularly. His daughter Bianka sat on his lap and writhed around as 1-year-olds do.
A few hours prior, Bryant walked into the arena with his family, pushing Bianka in a stroller from the loading dock in the direction of the Lakers locker room. It was a walk he’d made so often, but one that felt very different now.
“I’ve had a lot of players and former players come up to me in the last year, like genuinely concerned, like, ‘Are you going to be OK?’ ” Bryant said. “I’m like, ‘Uh, yeah, I’m going to be all right.’ They say, ‘Listen, it’s going to be progressive. First week, it’s going to be a serious state of depression. Second week you’re going to be angry. Third week, you’re going to start coming around, you’re going to have a level of acceptance.’ ”
Bryant said he didn’t feel any of that after he retired in April 2016. His future diverged from the Lakers’ future in as many ways as they remained entangled.
“The thing about sports is that the chapters are coming, whether you like them or not,” Bryant said. “The stories are being written now, right? The legacies are being created now. For the players that are here now … just work on your game, the little details of it. How do you get better, studying film, then as time goes on you’ll look back at this beautiful thing that’s being created. But in the moment it’s created, you don’t know.”
Kobe Bean Bryant (born August 23, 1978) is an American retired professional basketball player and businessman. He played his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He entered the NBA directly from high school and won five NBA championships with the Lakers. Bryant is an 18-time All-Star, 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, and 12-time member of the All-Defensive team. He led the NBA in scoring during two seasons, and ranks third on the league’s all-time regular season scoring and fourth on the all-time postseason scoring list. He holds the NBA record for the most seasons playing with one franchise for an entire career and is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Bryant is the first guard in NBA history to play for at least 20 seasons.
Joe Bryant, Kobe Bryant enjoyed a successful high school basketball career at Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania, where he was recognized as the top high school basketball player in the country. He declared for the NBA draft upon graduation and was selected in the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft by the Charlotte Hornets, who traded him to the Lakers. As a rookie, Bryant earned himself a reputation as a high-flyer and a fan favorite by winning the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest, and he was named an All-Star by his second season. Bryant led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA championships from 2000 to 2002.The son of former NBA player
After the Lakers lost the 2004 NBA Finals, O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat. Bryant became the cornerstone of the Lakers, and he led the NBA in scoring during the 2005–06 and 2006–07 seasons. In 2006, he scored a career-high 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, the second most points scored in a single game in league history behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962. Bryant was awarded the regular season’s Most Valuable Player Award (MVP) in 2008. After losing in the 2008 NBA Finals, he led the Lakers to two consecutive championships in 2009 and 2010, earning the Finals MVP Award on both occasions. He continued to be among the top players in the league through 2013, when the 34-year-old Bryant suffered a torn Achilles tendon. Although he recovered, his play was limited the following two years by season-ending injuries to his knee and shoulder, respectively. Citing his physical decline, he announced that he would retire after the 2015–16 season.
Jerry West. During his third year in the league, Bryant was chosen to start the All-Star Game, and he would continue to be selected to start that game for a record 18 consecutive appearances until his retirement. His four All-Star MVP Awards are tied for the most in NBA history. At the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, he won gold medals as a member of the U.S. national team. Sporting News and TNT named Bryant the top NBA player of the 2000s.At 34 years and 104 days of age, Bryant became the youngest player in league history to reach 30,000 career points. He became the all-time leading scorer in Lakers franchise history on February 1, 2010, when he surpassed
Before starting the 1996–97 NBA season, Bryant signed a six-year contract with Adidas that was worth approximately $48 million. His first signature shoe was the Equipment KB 8. Bryant’s other earlier endorsements included deals with The Coca-Cola Company to endorse their Sprite soft drink, appearing in advertisements for McDonald’s, promoting Spalding‘s new NBA Infusion Ball, Upper Deck, Italian chocolate company Ferrero SpA‘s brand Nutella, Russell Corporation, and appearing on his own series of video games by Nintendo. Many companies like McDonald’s and Ferrero SpA terminated his contracts when rape allegations against him became public. A notable exception was Nike, Inc., who had signed him to a five-year, $40–45 million contract just before the incident. However, they refused to use his image or market a new shoe of his for the year, but eventually did start promoting Bryant once his image recovered 2 years later. He has since resumed endorsement deals with The Coca-Cola Company, through their subsidiary Energy Brands to promote their Vitamin Water brand of drinks. Bryant was also the cover athlete for NBA ’07: Featuring the Life Vol. 2 and appeared in commercials for the video games Guitar Hero World Tour (with Tony Hawk,Michael Phelps, and Alex Rodriguez) in 2008 and Call of Duty: Black Ops (alongside Jimmy Kimmel) in 2010.
Aston Martin. The stunt was considered to be fake, and the Los Angeles Times said a real stunt would probably be a violation of Bryant’s Lakers contract. After promoting Nike’s Hyperdunk shoes, Bryant came out with the fourth edition of his signature line by Nike, the Zoom Kobe IV. In 2010 Nike launched another shoe, Nike Zoom Kobe V. In 2009, Bryant signed a deal with Nubeo to market the “Black Mamba collection”, a line of sports/luxury watches that range from $25,000 to $285,000. On February 9, 2009, Bryant was featured on the cover of ESPN The Magazine. However, it was not for anything basketball related, rather it was about Bryant being a big fan of FC Barcelona. CNN estimated Bryant’s endorsement deals in 2007 to be worth $16 million a year. In 2010, Bryant was ranked third behind Tiger Woods and Jordan in Forbes‘ list of the world’s highest-paid athletes with $48 million.In a 2008 video promoting Nike’s Hyperdunk shoes, Bryant appears to jump over a speeding
On December 13, 2010, Bryant signed a two-year endorsement deal with Turkey’s national airline, Turkish Airlines. The deal involved Bryant being in a promotional film to be aired in over 80 countries in addition to his being used in digital, print and billboard advertising.
Bryant has appeared as the cover athlete for the following video games:
- Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside
- NBA Courtside 2: Featuring Kobe Bryant
- NBA Courtside 2002
- NBA 3 On 3 Featuring Kobe Bryant
- NBA ’07: Featuring the Life Vol. 2
- NBA ’09: The Inside
- NBA 2K10
- NBA 2K17 (Legend Edition; Legend Edition Gold)
Turkish Airlines with FC Barcelona star Lionel Messi. In the airline’s latest commercial, the duo competes to win the attention of a young boy. In 2013, Forbes listed Bryant the fifth highest paid sports star in the world behind Floyd Mayweather, Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James and Lionel Messi.In September 2012, Bryant shot a commercial for
Bryant established Kobe Inc. to own and grow brands in the sports industry. The initial investment was in the BodyArmor sports drink company in 2014. The headquarters are in Newport Beach, California.
On August 22, 2016, Kobe and his business partner Jeff Stibel launched Bryant-Stibel, a venture capital firm focused on different businesses including media, data, gaming, and technology, with $100 million in funding. The pair have already invested in 15 businesses together since 2013.