Shakim Muhafiz, Staff Writer
NBA legend Kobe “Black Mamba” Bryant was confirmed dead, along with eight others including his daughter Gianna Bryant, after a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, Sunday afternoon. The news has shocked not only the sports world but the entire world. Fans and NBA stars sent their thoughts to Twitter after hearing of his death.
Bryant’s death may mean the end of his physical life, but the legacy he created on this Earth will never go away. He was first drafted in 1996 in a star-studded draft class. Bryant coming straight out of high school meant he was going to have to prove himself even more than the average rookie. Even though future NBA stars like Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, and Ray Allen were in his draft class, Bryant was undoubtedly the best player among them. He was selected as the 13th pick by the Charlotte Hornets and was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers on the same day for center Vlade Divac.
It only took two seasons for Bryant to be an NBA All-Star. He was selected to play in 17 more All-Star Games before his career was done, second only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 19 selections, and tied LeBron James for the most starts with 15. In All-Star Games, he averaged 16 points and four rebounds per game and won four All-Star MVP awards. But making All-Star Game appearances was not enough for the Black Mamba.
Electrifying crowds with his athleticism and shooting ability, Bryant along with fellow star Shaquille O’Neal won his first NBA championship in 2000, just four years after he was drafted as a 17-year-old. In the same year, he made the All-Star team again and averaged over 20 ppg. for the first time in his career. From there, the legend of the Black Mamba continued to rise.
His scoring steadily increased from year to year. The following season, he average 28 ppg. and again helped lead the Lakers to a world title. They followed with another championship in 2002, which gave the Lakers a very rare 3-peat. It was the first time a franchise did it since Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in 1996-98.
When O’Neal departed from the Lakers after the 2003-04 season, the undisputed leader of the Lakers was Kobe. He did not disappoint the city of Los Angeles. It was his chance to be the dominant man in LA. In the 2005-06 season, dominance is what Bryant displayed to the sports world.
He averaged 35 ppg., which led the league, and put on one of the most unforgettable performances in NBA history with an 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006. It is a legendary performance that is second all-time to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962.
Then in 2008, he won his first MVP and led the Lakers back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2004. Although he would lose to the Boston Celtics’ Big 3 (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen), the Black Mamba showed he was capable of being the No. 1 guy. So in the next season he led his team back to the 2009 NBA Finals and beat the Orlando Magic to win his fourth championship.
Bryant was not done. He went back to the championship for the third consecutive year, 2010, and again he faced the Celtics and their Big 3.
This time, Bryant and the Lakers won the championship, his fifth and final NBA championship. To add to those, he won back-to-back NBA Finals MVPs.
Although he never reached the finals again, Bryant’s accolades continued to grow. He moved to third all-time in scoring in 2014, passing Jordan. Bryant’s last year was legendary as he completed a good-bye tour.
Bryant made sure he played at every franchise’s arena so their fans could see him one last time. In his final game at Staples Arena, where both his No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys are retired in his honor, he put on maybe the most memorable final performance in sports history. His 60-point game and two clutch free throws made Kobe Bryant a winner on the court for the last time.