After a surreal year that saw the unthinkable happen with the premature death of a man in his early forties last January, Saturday, May 15, 2021, is a day to celebrate the life of the late, NBA great Kobe Bryant. This afternoon, his name will be enshrined forever with those of other legends during a ceremony by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inducting its 2020 Class. More on that later.
Kobe Bryant’s greatness was evident even before he reached the pro level, of course — he was drafted right out of high school, after all. My colleague Shipwreckedcrew wrote earlier today about one clarifying moment in that time period that remains unforgettable to those lucky enough to witness it — his unyielding workout, at 17 years old, for Jerry West of the Lakers.
Let’s take a look back at just a few of the other highlights of the ‘Black Mamba’s’ exceptional career on this important day — in his own words:
1. He considered playing on the college level. KSAZ-TV reporter Kelli Johnson wrote:
In an interview with retired Major League Baseball star Alex Rodriguez and Dan “Big Cat” Katz in 2018 on “The Corp” podcast, Bryant said he would have likely attended Duke had he gone the college route.
“Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] kept recruiting me. He kept recruiting me. He didn’t just resign to the fact that I’m going to go pro. He was persistent about it. So, at that moment in time, for me to make a decision and say, ‘OK, you know what? I’m not going to go pro,’ it would have been Duke because Coach K just kept on keeping on. Roy Williams did, too, when he was at Kansas,” he revealed.
2. The First Championship Win – 2000 — As the Sportscasting blog noted, 2020 marked the 20th anniversary of Bryant’s first NBA championship win with the Lakers, in which he and teammate Shaquille O’Neal helped lead the Lakers to their first championship since 1988, writing that “[t]hroughout the playoffs, Bryant averaged 21.1 ppg. His 1.5 blocks per game were the most in his playoff career.”
Here was the 22-year-old Bryant’s on-court reaction after the win, ending with “Can’t wait to do it again!” Kobe didn’t wait, helping the Lakers win the next two championships, as we know now.
3. Why ‘Black Mamba’? CNN reported that Bryant adopted the nickname in the wake of a 2003 accusation of sexual assault (which was later dropped, then a civil settlement happened), writing, “[t]hat’s when he named himself ‘Black Mamba’ as an alter ego to cope with the backlash.”
Inspired by the code name for a deadly assassin in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 movie “Kill Bill,” Bryant adopted the nickname to separate his life on and off the court, according to a 2014 interview with The New Yorker.
“The name [Kobe Bryant] just evokes such a negative emotion,” Bryant told the magazine. “I said, ‘If I create this alter ego, so now when I play this is what’s coming out of your mouth, it separates the personal stuff, right?’ You’re not watching David Banner — you’re watching the Hulk.”
In a 2015 interview with Ahmad Rashad, Bryant said of the animal that inspired the name, “When I step on that court, I become that. I am that killer snake. I’m stone cold, man.”
4. Finale. You can see above a touching moment before Kobe’s final basketball game in a Lakers uniform, embracing another Laker great, Magic Johnson. In that April 13, 2016, game, Bryant, unsurprisingly, didn’t let up, scoring 60 points in his team’s 101-96 win over the Utah Jazz.
And of course, after the game, there was this “Mamba Out” speech:
I encourage you to check out Kelli Johnson’s full article with many more achievements in his life, including establishing the Mamba Sports Academy to help kids thrive and grow with sports and writing novels to help them as they become young athletes. He even won an Academy Award. Just remarkable what one man could do in just 41 years!
There’s also this poignant interview with Kobe by USA Today, the last one he gave, just 10 days before his death in January 2020 (watch the 17-minute-interview at the link).
Interviewer Mark Medina wrote:
Bryant often considered any season that did not end in a championship parade to be a failure. Yet, he sounded secure with his five NBA rings, his two Finals MVPs and his one regular-season MVP. Bryant sought to become the NBA’s best player and never backed down from competition. Yet, Bryant sounded incredibly gracious toward LeBron James before he eventually surpassed him for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He considered it “juvenile” to think otherwise.
Back to today’s Naismith ceremony. You may not be surprised to hear the late Bryant’s name isn’t the only notable one featured in the Naismith Memorial Basketball (NBA) Hall of Fame’s 2020 Class
But there are also big names among the presenters — names that are likely familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the NBA: they include Michael Jordan (who is presenting the enshrinements for both Kobe and Kim Mulkey), Isiah Thomas (Kevin Garnett), David Robinson (Tim Duncan), Alonzo Mourning (Tamika Duncan), and Calvin Murphy and Hakeem Olajuwon (who are both presenting Rudy Tomjanovich’s honor), according to the non-profit organization’s website.
John Calipari, who is presenting for Eddie Sutton, is worth singling out. He, like the Lakers’ West, was one of those individuals who worked-out a teenaged Bryant in hopes of signing him in the draft (Calipari was coach of the Brooklyn Nets at the time), as ESPN wrote.
Kobe’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, will also make remarks during his enshrinement in the Hall.
The Class of 2020 enshrinement ceremony begins Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Pacific time/5:30 p.m. Eastern time, at the Mohegan Sun hotel-casino in Uncasville (near Hartford), CT.
But readers, I’ll be honest: as Kobe said himself of his 20-year career in L.A., in his “Mamba Out” speech, “You can’t write something better than this.”