His Lakers Legacy, Mamba Mentality, Family Life & Everything in Between: Kobe Bryant's Ups and Downs

NBA legend Kobe Bryant tragically died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 that killed his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others

01 of 14

Bryant Joins the NBA Right Out of High School

Kobe Bryant
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Kobe Bryant graduated from Lower Merion High School in 1996, and was selected by the Charlotte Hornets in the NBA Draft that year. But he would never suit up for the team — the Los Angeles Lakers traded for him the same day, a move that would define the next two decades of the franchise.

02 of 14

The Dynamic (and Controversial) Duo

Kobe Bryant #8 and Shaquille O'Neal
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in 1997. Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty

The Lakers' trade for Bryant matched the rookie with their superstar center Shaquille O'Neal, creating a tandem that would be riveting for fans on the court, and off of it. While Bryant and O'Neal would have success, their relationship would soon turn into a rivalry.

03 of 14

The Airball Game

Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant
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Bryant, in his first season in the NBA, was prepared to make a name for himself on the big stage. His first chance came when the Lakers were down in the final minutes of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz in 1997.

Bryant — who would later be known for his scoring abilities — famously shot four airballs with the game on the line, and the Lakers were eliminated. "I look back at it now with fond memories of it. Back then, it was misery," Bryant later said. "It helped shape me."

04 of 14

The "Three-Peat" Championships

Kobe Bryant
Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/Getty

Bryant would soon make the "airball game" a distant memory when he and O'Neal helped to lead the Lakers to three championships in a row from 2000 to 2002. Bryant's Lakers team is still the last team to accomplish such a feat.

05 of 14

Bryant Faces Sexual Assault Allegations

Kobe Bryant and Wife Vanessa
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In 2003, Bryant was accused of sexual assault following an incident in Colorado. The legal proceedings lasted more than a year, but the case never went to trial after the woman opted not to testify and the charges were dropped.

Bryant would address the public during a press conference while seated next to his wife, Vanessa Bryant. The accusations would remain a talking point throughout Bryant's career.

06 of 14

The 81-Point Game

Kobe Bryant
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty

A night that started off like any other would end with history being made. On January 22, 2006, Bryant erupted for 81 points — the second-most ever by a player in a single game — during the Lakers' matchup against the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center.

"You're sitting and watching, and it's like a miracle unfolding in front of your eyes and you can't accept it," then-team owner Jerry Buss said of the performance.

07 of 14

"The Black Mamba"

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant in March 2007. Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

With the sexual assault case years behind him and his teammate-turned-nemesis, O'Neal, off the team, Bryant looked to start a new chapter by switching his jersey number from No. 8 to No. 24 during the 2006-2007 season.

After the switch, Bryant adopted his now-famous nickname, the Black Mamba.

08 of 14

Wins Back-to-Back Titles (Without Shaq)

Kobe Bryant
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

After losing to the Boston Celtics in 2008, Bryant and the Lakers responded by winning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.

After winning his fifth, and final, NBA championship, Bryant famously told reporters, "I just got one more than Shaq!"

O'Neal would win one other championship, with the Miami Heat, after he was traded from the Lakers in 2004.

09 of 14

Makes Two Free Throws After Tearing Achilles Tendon

Kobe Bryant
Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/Getty

Bryant had suffered a number of injuries over his two-decade career, but none was more devastating than tearing his Achilles tendon in April 2013.

With just minutes to go in the fourth quarter of a game against the Golden State Warriors, Bryant fell to the ground after he was fouled. His Achilles tendon was torn, and his season was over.

But, before Bryant headed back to the locker room, he stood at the free throw line, in pain, and made two shots.

10 of 14

Scores 60 Points in Final Game of Career

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Lakers
Harry How/Getty

In the final game of his career on April 13, 2016, Bryant stunned NBA fans across the world when he scored 60 points at age 37.

"There were a lot of points [during the game] when I started getting emotional," Bryant said of soaking in the moment at the time. "I was putting on the jersey and I was like ‘this is the last time I’m putting on the jersey.' "

11 of 14

Family First

Kobe Bryant
Allen Berezovsky/Getty

Bryant had immense drive in his professional career as an athlete, but his proudest accomplishment was his family with wife Vanessa and their four daughters Natalia, born Jan. 19, 2003, Gianna, born May 1, 2006, Bianka, born Dec. 5, 2016, and Capri, born June 20, 2019.

12 of 14

Becomes First NBA Champion to Win an Oscar

90th Annual Academy Awards - Show
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In 2018, Bryant took home the Oscar for best animated short for Dear Basketball. Bryant wrote and narrated the movie, which came from a poem he wrote about his retirement from the sport.

13 of 14

Tragic End

Kobe Bryant
Harry How/Getty

Bryant died at age 41 in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, along with eight other people on Jan. 26 — including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

The father-daughter pair were reportedly on their way to her basketball game at the Mamba Academy, and the other passengers were another player and her parents.

14 of 14

Uses Retirement to Promote Girl's Basketball and Pass on Legacy

Gianna Bryant, Kobe Bryant. Allen Berezovsky/Getty

"No NBA player supported the WNBA or women’s college basketball more than Kobe," former WNBA player Rebecca Lobo tweeted after Bryant's death. "He attended games, watched on TV, coached the next generation. We pray for his family."

Bryant regularly appeared at WNBA and women's college games, which brought much-needed attention to the sport. He also tried to bestow his knowledge on his late daughter, Gianna, who was an aspiring basketball player.

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