He had joined in the NBA legend his idols Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. In twenty seasons in the shirt of the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant, whose death at 41 years in a helicopter accident was confirmed by the local authorities, had only one obsession: to win.
Five-time NBA champion, best player in the 2008 regular season, one of the seven players to have scored more than 30,000 points during his career, it was undoubtedly the winner he retired one evening in April 2016, scoring for his farewell 60 points after a hair-raising match.
A few months earlier, when announcing the end of his career, the 4th best scorer in NBA history – he was surpassed Saturday night by LeBron James – had assured “be ready to let basketball slip “.
However, converted to documentary production (he received the Oscar for best animated short film in 2018), he did not hesitate to return from time to time at the Staples Center, the Lakers room, as this evening of November 2019 when LeBron James, again, had sparkled before his eyes.
As much as a megastar of world sport, it is an enigma that went away Sunday in Calabasas, near Los Angeles.
As a child, he thought he was “the shame of his family”. Like many “sons of”, he suffered from the comparison with his father, Joe Bryant, who gave him this unusual name, by choosing it, according to legend, from the menu of a Japanese restaurant, and who played eight seasons in the NBA between 1975 and 1983, before earning a living in the Italian Championship.
– Workaholic –
From his eight years in Italy, Bryant junior has kept an immoderate love for football, a solid command of Italian, as well as technical bases and tactical fundamentals, rare among American players, which will lead him to the highest.
But upon his return to the United States in 1992, the skinny teenager, decked out in the jersey of his idol Magic Johnson, struggles to play even a few minutes per match in the team of the college of Lower Merion, in Philadelphia.
After four years of hard work, he is the star of his high school. Rather than joining one of the prestigious universities which court him, he jumped directly into the footsteps of the NBA: in the 1996 Draft, he was chosen in 13th position at 17 by Charlotte who, for his biggest misfortune, immediately gave him up to the Lakers.
The NBA and the basketball world are in the midst of “Jordan-mania”: the Chicago Bulls star has for several years replaced Magic Johnson in the personal Pantheon of Bryant.
He dissects his matches, adopts his facial expressions and draws inspiration from his aerial and physical game.
“His obsession with Michael was obvious,” said Phil Jackson, the coach who won six NBA titles with Jordan in Chicago, then five with Bryant at the head of the Lakers.
– “I kick your butt” –
While Jordan lived the last years of his reign, Bryant began to make a name for himself and presented himself, by his spectacular style, his aplomb, even his insolence, as his natural successor.
Jackson organized in 1999 a meeting between the two players in the hope that Bryant, sometimes wacky sometimes uncontrollable, was inspired by the wisdom and altruism of Jordan, now retired. “The first thing he said to her was + If we do a one-on-one, I kick your butt +”, recalled, still banned, Jackson in his autobiography.
The Kobe Bryant era is about to begin: associated with Shaquille O’Neal, he dominates the NBA for three consecutive seasons, from 2000 to 2002.
Bryant is an unequaled workaholic: long shootings, until late at night, after official training, analysis of the writings of American and European coaches, and extended physical preparation sessions.
It is said to be monomaniac, which has earned him a falling out with certain teammates, including O’Neal, who prefers to leave for Miami in 2004.
– “Dear basketball” –
In 2003, the one who is nicknamed “the Black Mamba” because of his composure, lives the darkest period of his career, which will tarnish his image forever: he is accused of rape by an employee of a luxurious hotel complex of Edwards (Colorado) where he was staying, recovering, after knee arthroscopy.
Before the courts, he admits having had sexual intercourse with the 19-year-old young woman who, according to him, was consenting. The trial was finally canceled after the victim’s refusal to testify, with whom he reached an agreement far from the courts.
Become the most known and best paid basketball player on the planet, Bryant writes his legend with his 81 points scored in 2006 against Toronto, his five NBA titles, his two Olympic crowns, his 18 participations in the All Star Game, more than 33,000 points scored and a slew of records.
But his end of reign is painful, with repeated serious injuries, the Lakers in full rout and personal statistics at half mast.
Until November 29, 2015 when in a poem addressed to his “dear basket”, he recognizes that “(his) body knows that the time to say goodbye has arrived”.
Four years later, the hearts of millions of fans have found new reason to say otherwise.