THE LAST SHOT

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Celebrating the life of legendary American basketball player Kobe Bryant and his journey with the Los Angeles Lakers
Words Yvonne Jacob
 

There’s no fine line that separates Kobe from the Black Mamba. Just like how Bruce Banner needed the Hulk to take over in testing situations, Kobe created the Black Mamba to do the same. The Black Mamba was like a relentless, cold-blooded killer on the court who wanted to have an edge over everyone, even his own teammates at times, anything to get his team to win. And then there was Kobe, the loving dad and husband who adored his family and took his little girls for ice cream dates and also acted as a personal coach.

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There has been a lot of banter about how Kobe chased Michael Jordan, his feuds with Shaquille O'Neal or his battles with the Celtics, but the most touching stories came out of his random acts of kindness off the court when he was just Kobe. Irrespective of all that went down on the court, Jordan stated during his speech at Kobe’s memorial that Kobe was a pain in his a** but he was also like a little brother to him and with his passing, a part of him died too. That’s the effect he had on the people around him. 

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“HIS DESIRE TO CHASE THE CONSTANT GOAL OF WINNING WAS SIMPLY HOW HE WAS WIRED APART FROM THE FACT THAT HE REALLY WAS A TALENTED BASKETBALL PLAYER”

As for his time on the court, he was the ultimate alpha. His competitive spirit always urged him to take the game into his own hands for better and, at times, for worse. He made it pretty damn clear that he wasn’t there to make any friends, basketball was his outlet to blow off steam and let go of the pent up frustration that he had within. But his “killer instinct” didn’t come from his championships, it was just how he was built as a person. His desire to chase the constant goal of winning was simply how he was wired apart from the fact that he really was a talented basketball player.

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As a teenager, Bryant went straight from high school to the NBA, drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, making him the youngest NBA player in history at the age of 17. He was then traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for veteran center Vlade Divac. Kobe became one of the most decorated players in NBA history within no time and won two Olympic gold medals for USA men’s basketball in 2008 and 2012. Off the court, his dazzling smile won hearts and sold Nike shoes which were well-received by his large fanbase.

Kobe was on top of his game in 2003 as he led the Los Angeles Lakers to win after win but it all came crashing down when he was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old Colorado hotel worker. Bryant proclaimed himself as innocent and that the encounter was consensual. The criminal sexual assault charge was dropped in 2004 when the accuser agreed to settle her civil lawsuit against Bryant in 2005. However, Bryant’s reputation was badly tainted and he faced the effects of this during his matches too when people would shout things at him. That’s when he named himself “Black Mamba” as an alter ego to cope with all the backlash that he was facing.

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Kobe Bryant married Vanessa Laine in 2001 and they had four daughters: Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and Capri. Bryant reduced watching basketball after his retirement - in 2018, he won an Oscar for best animated short film Dear Basketball, which was a poem he wrote. Gianna’s love for basketball sparked Bryant’s interest in coaching her team. The father-daughter duo was seen together at numerous NBA games. Gianna had the same relentless spirit as her father. According to Bryant’s interview on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, he stated that there were a lot of times when fans would come up to him and tell him he needed to have a son to carry the tradition forward but Gianna would chime in saying that she’s got it.

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“DESPITE SEVERAL INJURIES TO HIS KNEE, ANKLE, FINGERS, STUFF THAT WOULD’VE SENT OTHER PLAYERS TO THE BENCHES BUT FOR THE BLACK MAMBA, IT WAS JUST ANOTHER OBSTACLE”

According to sources, During his last years, Kobe might have not been the fastest or the strongest but he almost always found a way to win, repeatedly. He had several injuries to his knee, ankle, fingers, stuff that would’ve sent other players to the benches during the leagues but for the Black Mamba, it was just another obstacle that needed to be tackled. Instead of chasing the dream of preserving his “golden days” of driving to the hoop for poster-worthy slam-dunks, he accepted his age-related issues and worked on sharpening his skills and focussing on making his game better and better.

On January 26, 2020, a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter departed from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California with nine people aboard: Bryant and 13-year-old Gianna along with six family friends and the pilot. Due to light rain and fog that morning, visibility was very poor and the pilot had to fly low, too low to be tracked by radar. Shortly after, the helicopter crashed into the side of a mountain in Calabasas and began burning, killing everyone on board. Witnesses reported hearing a helicopter struggling before crashing.

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“I’VE ALWAYS BEEN COMFORTABLE AS A KID GROWING UP TO THINK THAT WHEN MY CAREER IS OVER, I WANT THEM TO THINK OF ME AS AN OVERACHIEVER DESPITE THE TALENT THAT I HAVE. TO THINK OF ME AS A PERSON THAT’S OVERACHIEVED, THAT WOULD MEAN A LOT TO ME. THAT MEANS I PUT A LOT OF WORK IN AND SQUEEZED EVERY OUNCE OF JUICE OUT OF THIS ORANGE THAT I COULD”
 

The news shocked everyone and his teammates and players of opposing teams too extended their tributes. Basketball luminaries like Tim Duncan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaq, LeBron James and many others showed up to celebrate the life of Kobe Bryant. But here’s the thing, there was a certain way that Kobe wanted the world to celebrate his life and career, something he disclosed long ago in one of his sports interviews where he expressed, “I’ve always been comfortable as a kid growing up to think that when my career is over, I want them to think of me as an overachiever despite the talent that I have,” Bryant said. “To think of me as a person that’s overachieved, that would mean a lot to me. That means I put a lot of work in and squeezed every ounce of juice out of this orange that I could." That’s Kobe Bryant for you. 

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