The House That Mamba Built: Kobe Bryant, More Than an Athlete

Published on January 27, 2020

The world mourns NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who was among 9 killed, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, Sunday morning in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

Federal Authorities Investigating Cause of Helicopter Crash

Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Maria Onore Bryant (“Gigi”) were headed to the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks for a basketball game scheduled for Sunday. Gianna, whose always had an ambition to compete in the WNBA, was expected to play in the game and Bryant was expected to coach, according to Lady Mavericks’ team director Evelyn Morales.

“The helicopter crash, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, caused a brush fire,” Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby said. Later Sunday afternoon, it was confirmed that the crash killed all nine people aboard, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash, the FAA said in its tweet. Alongside an NTSB team, the FBI said it is assisting the NTSB in the investigation.

A Legend On and Off the Court

The Philadelphia-native started playing basketball when he was 3 years-old and went on to become a five-time NBA Champion and one the NBA’s greatest. He was drafted straight out of Lower Merion High School in 1996.

At 18 years, 2 months, and 11 days he was the youngest player in NBA history at that time. Bryant played his entire 20-year professional career with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning five NBA championships, 2 NBA Finals MVP and NBA Most Valuable Player.

And don’t forget to add his two Olympic gold medals for men’s basketball.

“In many ways, he was the Los Angeles Lakers. When you think of Kobe Bryant, it’s sports, but it’s more than sports. He was part of our culture, Olympic teams, Hollywood, the father of four daughters,” sports analyst Christine Brennan said.

During Bryant’s 20-year tenure with Los Angeles Lakers, he picked up the nickname, ‘Black Mamba.’ In 2014, he told reports he got the idea after watching Quentin Tarantino’s film “Kill Bill.” In the Hollywood-blockbuster, Black Mamba was a code name for a deadly assassin, known for its agility and aggressiveness.

“I read up on the animal and said, ‘Wow, this is pretty awesome,” Bryant said. “This is a perfect description of how I would want my game to be.”

Retiring from the Game, But Never From Greatness

In November 2015, Bryant announced on The Players’ Tribune website that he would retire after that season, writing that “this season is all I have left to give.” Bryant retired in April 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final game. He said his “body knew it was time to say goodbye.”

In a statement from his former coach and mentor Coach Phil Jackson’s agent, Todd Musberger released a statement following Bryant’s death:

“The crash was a tragedy for multiple families. My heart goes out to Vanessa and the families that lost loved ones. Kobe as a chosen one – special in many ways to many people. Our relationship as coach/player transcended the norm. He went beyond the veil.”

The 62nd GRAMMY Awards Sang For Black Mamba

From former President Barack Obama and former teammates, to other NBA legends, peers, and fans across the globe pay their respects to Kobe Byrant, the world mourned for Bryant, Gianna, and their family. Mourners gathered around a makeshift memorial in front of Staples Center in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Police Department discouraged fans from gathering, tweeting, “As a reminder, the area around the Staples Center is closed due to the GRAMMYs & fans will not be able to access the arena.”

At the music industry celebrated music’s biggest night, they mourned the NBA Icon with several tributes throughout the night.

Moment of Silence

Before the televised portion of the show kicked off, the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards pre-telecast ceremony opened with a moment of silence for Kobe Bryant.


Lizzo kicked off her Grammys performance, the first of the evening, by dedicating her rendition of “Truth Hurts” to Bryant, saying, “Tonight is for Kobe. I’m crying because I love you.”

Alicia Keys

Following Lizzo’s performance, 2x Grammy host, Alicia Keys took the stage, acknowledging to the audience at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles that they were “literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built.”

“We never imagined in a million years we’d have to start the show like this…so we wanted to do something that could describe a tiny bit how we all feel right now.”

Alicia Keys
Boys II Men

Keys then welcomed Boyz II Men to the stage for a performance of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”

Lil Nas X, with his Bryant “24” jersey out for the world to see, and Billy Ray Cyrus later performed their summer hit single, “Old Town Road,” honoring the late Bryant.

Run-DMC and Aerosmith

Joseph “Run” Simmons” held up a Bryant jersey during Run-DMC’s performance of “Walk This Way” with Aerosmith.

DJ Khaled, John Legend, and YG

DJ Khaled, John Legend, YG, and others took the stage to pay tribute to rapper and activist, Nipsey Hussle who was tragically killed in March 2019 at the age of 33, but not without honoring the NBA Icon as a photo of both Hussle and Kobe Bryant illuminated on the screen to end the performance.

More Than an Athlete

Like so many of the greats — Magic, Tiger, Jordan — the world knew him by one name. Kobe was a man of many talents. At the 90th Annual Academy Awards, Kobe Bryant won a different kind of awards: an Oscar.

Bryant, brought home the golden statue for his contributions to the animated short “Dear Basketball,” based on a poem he wrote in 2015 announcing his impending retirement from basketball.

As executive producer, Bryant accepted his Oscar from “Star Wars” star Mark Hamill. He shared the award with Disney animator Glen Keane.

“And to Kobe, for writing ‘Dear Basketball,’ it’s a message for all of us,” Keane said during his acceptance speech. “Whatever form your dream may take, it’s through passion and perseverance that the impossible is possible.”

Bryant also had a brief affair with music, including a planned 2000 debut rap album which was never released. His single, “K.O.B.E.” featured model and actress Tyra Banks.

“I don’t know if it’s possible. I mean, as basketball players, we are really supposed to shut up and dribble. But I am glad we do a little bit more than that.”

Kobe Bryant’s Oscar Acceptance Speech

Kobe Bryant was an icon that transcended far beyond the the basketball court. He retired in 2016, but never from the spotlight, where many watched him grow from a teenage phenomenon to one of basketball’s greatest stars.

“[Kobe] is one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game and will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability. He was generous with the wisdom he acquired and saw it as his mission to share with future generations of players, taking special delight in passing down his love of the game to Gianna.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

“As a six-year-old boy deeply in love with you,” Mr. Bryant would write nearly two decades later in his poem “Dear Basketball,” “I never saw the end of the tunnel. I only saw myself running out of one.”

Exerpt from Kobe Bryant’s 2018 book ” The Mamba Mentality: How I Play “

Bryant leaves behind his wife, Vanessa, and three daughters, the youngest of which was born in June.

Jennifer Matthews is an Editor-at-Large at Grit Daily. Based in New York and formerly a producer at CNN, she is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, the Recording Academy, Women in Music, and an ASCAP Affiliate. A media pro and producer of content, she mentors and advocates for diversity and is a regular on the events coverage beat for Grit Daily.

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