Kobe Bryant was always destined for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. But no one could have foreseen that the five-time NBA champion and longtime international sensation would not be there to accept the distinction.
In January last year, a helicopter crash cut short the lives of the Los Angeles Laker superstar, 41, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others. The unexpected tragedy shocked and shook his legions of fans who had watched the Philly phenom for his prowess and swagger on the court since he was a teenager.
On Saturday night, the legendary player and his memory was honored when he became a posthumous member of the Basketball Hall of Fame – a ceremony that was delayed due to COVID-19. Fellow great Michael Jordan inducted the 18-time All Star, two-time Olympic gold medal winner, and currently the league’s number four scorer in its history.
Along with Bryant, Tim Duncan, who played his entire career with the San Antonio Spurs, and Kevin Garnett, who played for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets, also were inducted at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut instead of the actual Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts due to the ongoing pandemic.
‘When we selected this group for induction, we immediately knew that this would be, maybe, one of the great classes of all-time,’ said Jerry Colangelo, a former team owner and the Hall of Fame’s chairman. ‘I mean, the people going in, the three headliners in Kobe and Garnett and Tim Duncan… that says it all.’
Drafted at the age of 17, Kobe Bryant wowed fans around the world with his prowess and swagger on the court during his 20-season, championship-winning career with the Los Angeles Lakers. His death at 41 in a helicopter crash last year was shocking for a superstar who transcended the sports world and was a well-known international sensation with endorsement deals. Above, Bryant holds the Larry O’Brien championship trophy and finals MVP trophy after the Lakers beat the Orlando Magic in 2009. He won one more title in 2010
Bryant and his wife Vanessa were married for 19 years before his death. They had four children together: Natalia, right, the oldest, Gianna, with her hand on her father’s shoulder, Bianka, with her mother, and Capri, the youngest, who Bryant is holding. All of seen above in Vanessa Bryant’s Instagram posting with the caption Always Together, Never Apart Together Forever In Our Hearts. Thirteen-year-old Gianna died with her father in the helicopter crash last year
Bryant’s list of accolades is long: 18-time All Star, five-time NBA champion, winner of two Olympic gold metals and even an Oscar for his animated short film, Dear Basketball. The shooting guard was supposed to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last year but it was delayed due to the pandemic. Above, Bryant goes for a dunk against the Utah Jazz during a home game in January 2013
Michael Jordan inducted Bryant into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The NBA legend was both a mentor and rival for Bryant. ‘When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died, and as I look at this arena and across the globe, a piece of you died,’ Jordan said during Bryant’s memorial last year. ‘I promise you, from this day forward, I will live with the memories of knowing that I had a little brother that I tried to help in every way I could. Please rest in peace, little brother.’ Above, the basketball icons during the NBA All-Star Game in 2003
Los Angeles Laker LeBron James, above, wears Bryant’s number, 24, on his finger guard in his honor during the first round of the Western Conference against the Portland Trail Blazers on August 24, 2020. After Bryant’s death, James said: ‘I remember one thing he said: If you want to be great at it, or want to be one of the greats, you’ve got to put the work in. There’s no substitution for work.’ The Lakers would go to win the championship in 2020
Kobe Bryant was born on August 23, 1978 into a basketball family. He was the youngest of three for Joe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant, who played for the Philadelphia 76ers, and his mother, Pamela Cox, was the sister of John ‘Chubby’ Cox, who played for the Washington Bullets. He had two older sisters, Sharia and Shaya.
After eight years in the NBA, Joe moved the family to Italy to continue his professional career when Bryant was six. Reports vary when Bryant started playing basketball but when he was 12, he joined a local team in the northern city of Reggio Emilia, according to NBC News.
‘When he moved to Reggio Emilia and started playing in my team, it was immediately clear he was from another planet, a cut above us all,’ Davide Giudici, a longtime friend and a former teammate, told the outlet. ‘When he often told us that one day he would become a professional NBA player, we would make fun of him.’
Bryant, who spoke fluent Italian, said an 2011 interview that he grew up in Italy and ‘it’s a country that will always be close to my heart. Always’.
The family moved back to Philadelphia in the early 1990s and Bryant went to Lower Merion High School, where he first gained national recognition for his playing. His junior year, he was named Pennsylvania Player of the Year and colleges took notice, according to PennLive.com. His senior year, he led his high school team to the state’s championship. The school retired his jersey, No. 33, in 2002.
Instead of playing at the collegiate level to hone his skills, the conventional wisdom of the 1990s, Bryant went straight to the NBA. The Charlotte Hornets drafted him in 1996. However, the Lakers traded Vlade Divac for Bryant.
Bryant was brash and his teammate Shaquille O’Neal – whom the rookie famously feuded with – dubbed him ‘Showboat.’ Nonetheless, he won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. O’Neal and Bryant ended up winning three consecutive championship in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
The basketball star had already made pop culture waves when he took Brandy, a teen singer who had a string of hits in the ’90s, to his prom in 1996.
He met his future wife, Vanessa Laine, on the set of a music video. He was 20 and she was 17 and still attending high school. The pair married April 2001 – a match that reportedly his family did not approve of and they did not attend the ceremony, according to the LA Times. The couple had their first daughter, Natalia, in January 2003.
Above, Bryant and his wife Vanessa at the Oscars in March 2018. Bryant won an Oscar that year for his animated short film Dear Basketball. The couple met when he was 20 and she was 17 and still attending high school. They married in April 2001 and had four children together: Natalia, in 2001, Gianna, in 2006, Bianka, in 2016, and Capri, in 2019
Bryant with his daughter Gianna, above, in July 2018 at a national swimming meet in Irvine California. Gianna, who was also known as Gigi, had aspired to play basketball in the WNBA. After Bryant retired in 2016, he cofounded the Mamba Sports Academy two years later. Bryant had dubbed himself the Black Mamba. He had coached his daughter, Gianna, and her team at its training center. They were on their way to the center when their helicopter crashed in January 2020
According to People, Bryant’s Instagram account often highlighted his family and his two daughters – Natalia and Gianna – playing sports. Gianna, he told Extra in 2017, is ‘pretty fierce. She loves playing, she loves shooting. She came to me last summer and asked if I would teach her the game a little bit, so she really just started playing, but she picked up things innately.’ Above, Bryant and his family – Gianna, Vanessa and Natalia – at a NCAA college women’s basketball game between Connecticut and UCLA, in Los Angeles in November 2017
After winning three consecutive championships from 2000 to 2002, in 2003, Bryant was charged with the sexual assault of 19-year-old woman who worked at a Colorado hotel.
‘After months of scrutiny into her personal life, the woman agreed to the dismissal of the criminal case against Bryant in September 2004 on the condition that he provide a public apology. She continued with a civil suit, which was settled for an undisclosed sum in 2005,’ according to Vox.
Reportedly, he gave Vanessa a $4 million ring. It was after this, that Bryant started to call himself the Black Mamba after the deadly snake featured in the Kill Bill movie.
The Lakers made it to the finals in 2004 but lost to the Detroit Pistons. Bryant would go on to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010. During an April 2013 game against the Golden State Warriors, Bryant, then 34, tore his left Achilles tendon. He was out for the rest of the season. By November 2015, Bryant announced his retirement at the end of what his 20th season.
After retiring from the NBA, Bryant branched out into the arts and won an Oscar in 2018 for his short animated film, Dear Basketball, which illustrated the poem he had written that announced his retirement. He also cofounded the Mamba Sports Academy, ‘a joint athletic-training business venture’ in 2018, according to ESPN.
Bryant became a booster of women’s sports and his two eldest daughters, Natalie and Gianna, who was nicknamed Mambacita, played. He coached Gianna and her team at the academy’s training center. On Sunday, January 26, he and Gianna, who was looking to pursue a career in the WNBA, were on their way to the training center when their helicopter crashed.
Tributes immediately poured in for the 41-year-old star from LeBron James to former President Barack Obama. Around the world from Los Angeles to the Philippines, murals were painted as tributes to Bryant and Gianna.
On May 1, Vanessa launched a clothing line called Mambacita in honor of her daughter on what would have been her 15th birthday. The previous month, in April, Bryant’s estate announced it was ending its partnership with Nike.
At the time of his death, Kobe Bryant had a net worth of $600million. Since his death Bryant has made at least $20million – entering the Forbes’ highest paid dead celebrities list in November last year at number six. Per the report, sports brand Nike sold out its line of Bryant merchandise this year, while fans rushed to buy his autobiography, which sold an extra 300,000 copies.
Bryant, who frequently talked about his focus on winning, said this during a 2015 Showtime special: ‘There’s a choice that we have to make as people, as individuals. If you want to be great at something, there’s a choice you have to make. We all can be masters at our craft, but you have to make a choice. What I mean by that is, there are inherent sacrifices that come along with that. Family time, hanging out with friends, being a great friend, being a great son, nephew, whatever the case may be. There are sacrifices that come along with making that decision.’
Bryant once scored 81 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006. Of the achievement, he said: ‘Not even in my dreams. That was something that just happened. It’s tough to explain. It’s just one of those things.’ Above, Bryant during a game against the Phoenix Suns in February 2012. The Lakers ended up losing
LeBron James said that seeing Bryant was an inspiration for him when he was growing up. ‘Seeing a kid, 17 years old, come into the NBA and trying to make an impact on a franchise, I used it as motivation. He helped me before he even knew of me because of what he was able to do. So, just to be able to, at this point of my career, to share the same jersey that he wore, be with this historical franchise and just represent the purple and gold, it’s very humbling.’ Above, a picture of Bryant and James posted on Bryant’s Instagram in January 2020
Bryant famously feuded with his teammate, Shaquille O’Neal, when he first entered the league. O’Neal called the then teen rookie ‘Showboat.’ But they won three consecutive championships together in 2000, 2001 and 2002, and made it to the NBA finals in 2004. In 2010 after Bryant won his fifth title, he said: ‘I just got one more than Shaq. So you can take that to the bank.’ They reconciled later on and are seen above in March 2017 at the Staples Center
Comparisons between Bryant and Jordan were already underway when he had been in the league for a year. Bryant said in 1997: ‘When I have the chance to guard Michael Jordan, I want to guard him. I want him. It’s the ultimate challenge. I don’t want to be the next Michael Jordan, I only want to be Kobe Bryant.’ Above, Bryant and Jordan talk during a free throw attempt during a 1997 game between the Lakers and the Chicago Bulls
After his death in a helicopter crash, tributes for the superstar happened across the country and in Los Angeles, seen above, at the Staples Center. The 18-time All Star, Bryant won five titles, two-time Olympic gold medals, and is currently the league’s number four scorer in its history. On Saturday, fellow great Michael Jordan inducted him into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
HOW ARE HONOREES PICKED FOR THE BASKETBALL HALL OF FAME?
Dr. James Naismith invented basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891
Named for Dr. James Naismith, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is located in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he invented the game back in 1891.
Traditionally the classes are announced in April and honored in Springfield in late August, but the 2020 ceremony was postponed to 2021 and relocated to Connecticut due to the pandemic.
Despite the disruptions, the process for electing nominees has remained the same, more or less.
Unlike the Baseball Hall of Fame or the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which primarily consider men who played or coached professionally in North America, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame honors players, coaches, and contributors from all areas of the sport, such as the NBA, WNBA, NCAA, and foreign leagues.
Both players and coaches must be retired for four full seasons before they can be considered for enshrinement.
For the most part, finalists are picked by one of two committees: North American (nine members) and Women’s (seven members).
North American candidates, which includes NBA players, must receive 7 of 9 votes to become a finalist, while Women’s committee nominees require 5 of 7 votes to become a finalist.
If a nominee fails to get a vote from his or her respective committee for three consecutive years, they will be removed from the ballot for five years, but can be reconsidered in the future if they receive a single vote in any three-year period.
The maximum number of finalists that may be chosen are 10 by the North American committee and four by the Women’s committee.
Finalists are then considered by the BHOF Board of Trustees, which includes the likes of former Connecticut men’s coach Jim Calhoun and ex-NBA star Shareef Abdur-Rahim. The Trustees are not the final word on induction, but they can veto a candidate if that person has damaged the integrity of the game in any way.
From there, finalists are voted on by the Honors Committee, which is made of a dozen permanent members and 12 rotating members. A finalist must garner 18 votes from the 24 anonymous voters in order to secure induction.
There are also four direct-elect committees that can choose other candidates for enshrinement, forgoing the Honors Committee entirely. Those committees include the Contributors, the Early African-American Pioneers, the International Game, and the Veterans, the latter of which considers candidates who have been away from basketball for 35 years or more.
Saturday’s ceremony won’t be held at the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts (pictured) because it was relocated to Connecticut due to the pandemic, which also delayed the induction from August until May