Bengaluru, January 27: Kobe Bryant, who died in a chopper crash on Sunday (January 26), was the ultimate school boys' dream. He walked in to the swell world of NBA just after his high school days as a 17-year-old.
Los Angeles Lakers picked him up from the NBA draft in 1996 and he stayed with them for 20 years till 2016. His accomplishments as a player are massive - five NBA championships, 18 All-Star selections, two NBA finals MVP and a regular season MVP in 2008. The beginning was that draft when he was the 13th pick.
Jerry West, the man behind Bryant's draft into Lakers, had pinned fearlessness as the prime reason behind him chasing the youngster. And Bryant added a single-minded devotion the sport and a drive to match/outdo Michael Jordan to the mix.
But gaining stature and strides inside the Lakers' house was not easy. There was Shaquille O'Neal and in the initial years he did not take kindly to the ambitions of a young player and less flatteringly nicknamed Bryant as 'Showboat.' The veteran tried his best to showcase himself as the alpha male of the side but later they teamed up to raze down oppositions.
As the Lakers bosses hoped, Bryant dragged the team back to glory days as a shooting guard, donning the jerseys of 8 and 24. In a career that spanned two decades, Bryant scored 33,643 points, placing him behind Kareem Abdul Jabbar (38,387 points) and Karl Malone (36,928) and LeBron James, who surpassed Bryant on Saturday (January 25). Bryant had tweeted congratulating James on the achievement that day.
The statistics point to a beast player. Bryant was relentless and ultra-competitive as a player. He did not want to be the best Laker-man but best in the whole of NBA across the eras. It was a frightening sort of dedication, there was hardly any place for anything else in his life apart from basketball.
But it was not that Bryant was without his flawed side. The sexual assault case in 2003 remained a dark shadow on an otherwise luminous career. The charges were dropped after confidential out of court settlement and Bryant apologised later. Though his status did not dim, a section of the fans did not forgive him. In 2011, he again courted controversy when he hurled a homophobic slur to a referee but an apologetic Bryant used the error as an opportunity to urge others to shun such biases. NBA had then fined him for USD 1,000,00. He showed that remarkable ability to transform a mushy situation in to something more positive.
It came to the fore even in his post-retirement life. There were whispers on how Bryant would adjust to the afterlife as a retired pro-player. But he took to it quite seamlessly. He took to something very dear to him - storytelling and through it to the entertainment industry.
He even won an Academy award in 2018 for the animated film - Dear Basketball. It was a short that based on a poem he wrote while retiring from basketball and apart from the Oscar, Bryant won a Sports Emmy and Annie Award.
"I remain focused on changing the world in positive ways through diverse stories, characters and leadership in order to inspire the next generation," Bryant had said then.
Now, he won't be there in person. But his works will show the way. RIP Black Mamba!