Although it has been weeks since the tragic passing of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, the sports world is still mourning over the death of their beloved superstar. In a quote that reads “Heroes get remembered but legends never die,” it’s apparent that Bryant’s legacy will live on forever throughout the careers of current athletes and fans everywhere.
Bryant was a top high school prospect from Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Philadelphia. His outstanding performance grabbed the attention of recruiters from top college basketball programs such as Duke, Michigan, and North Carolina. During his senior year, Bryant received great recognition for his achievements on the court. He was named Naismith High School Player of the Year, Gatorade Men’s National Basketball Player of the Year, as well as a McDonald’s All-American. This led him to make the decision to enter the NBA draft straight out of high school at only 17 years old — only the 20th player to do so.
Before the 1996 NBA draft, the Los Angeles Lakers were attempting to free up salary cap space to eventually sign all-star center Shaquille O’Neal. This possibility was made a reality when the Charlotte Hornets agreed to trade their draft rights for the 13th overall pick for Lakers center Vlade Divac. Minutes before the selection, Los Angeles would tell Charlotte who their pick would be — Bryant. As the first ever guard to be drafted straight out of high school, this caused some critics to question the decision.
These criticisms were quickly shut down. By his third year in the league, Bryant solidified himself as one of the top guards, starting all 50 games in a shortened season due to the prior player lockout. Recognizing they had acquired a remarkable player, the Lakers signed Bryant to a six-year, $70 million contract extension that would keep him in Los Angeles through the 2003–04 season.
Entering the 1999 NBA season, Bryant was now accompanied by O’Neal which pushed the Lakers to become a legitimate contender for a championship. Legendary coach Phil Jackson was also brought on board to help take the Lakers to the next level — the trio would go on to win three consecutive NBA championships, only the fifth team ever to do so.
Bryant and Jackson would once again reach the NBA Finals from 2008 to 2010 and would proceed to win the final two appearances. In 2008, Bryant was named the league’s Most Valuable Player after averaging 28.3 points per game, leading the Lakers to the best overall record in the Western Conference. In these two championship runs, Bryant was again named the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player due to averaging over 30 points per game both seasons.
After a long and successful career, Bryant decided that the 2015–16 season would be his last, starting a farewell tour throughout the league’s locations. Bryant’s final game would come against the Utah Jazz in front of a sold out crowd in Los Angeles. He would end up leading the Lakers to a comeback victory, scoring 60 points — the sixth time in his career he did so.
When Bryant’s career finally came to a close, he was viewed as one of the greatest and most influential players to step foot on the court. He was sure to be a first ballot hall of famer when the time came and may now be appointed early after the tragic incident.
Many NBA players and celebrities took to social media to express how much Bryant meant to and influenced them throughout their lives. Many stated how they never met him yet felt severely impacted after his passing. As a fan of basketball, though I never followed Bryant closely, I felt as if I lost my own player when I heard the news. As one of the best players to enter the NBA, it’s clear that Bryant has and will continue to have a heavy influence on generations of athletes throughout the country.
However, even after his passing, Bryant’s legacy will live on forever through the future generations of athletes everywhere, continuing his long time saying of having “Mamba Mentality.”