First there was the rise to NBA stardom, followed by the fall, and a strong finish for Kobe Bryant before his tragic death last Sunday. Included in his legacy are career highlights that few NBA players ever will approach, a devotion to faith and family and more tributes than one can count.
He was the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history, a five-time world champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, a 15-time All-NBA team member, league MVP, Olympic champion, scoring machine and defensive star as well.
The son of pro basketball player Joe Bryant, Kobe grew up in an NBA world. At Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania, he was regarded the top prep basketball player in America, and on a direct flight to the NBA. In 1996, the Charlotte Hornets drafted him with the 13th overall pick and traded him to the Lakers. The teenager took his parents with him to L.A. to start his life as an NBA legend. He also bought a car for each of his family members. That career took off quickly and he was an all-star in just his second season.
In 2003, Bryant was accused of sexual assault in Colorado, but the charges were dropped when his accuser refused to testify in a civil court and settled out of court. With his wife by his side in a press conference, Bryant admitted he had committed adultery:
“I sit here in front of you guys furious at myself, disgusted at myself for making the mistake of adultery. I loved my wife with all my heart. She’s my backbone.”
In an apology to his accuser in court, Kobe wrote, in part:
"Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter."
How many celebrities will own up to sin in the 21st century? He tried to redeem himself through devotion to family -- his wife and four daughters. There were rocky times ahead for Bryant with his wife and family, but they appeared to weather those storms.
Bryant retired from the NBA in 2016, his 20th season. He humbly bypassed a farewell tour around the league. Bryant is one of the most decorated players in NBA history, having averaged 25 points per game in over 1,300 games played.
A believer, Bryant has stated that his Catholic faith helped him through the difficult times in his life, especially the sexual assault charge. Others said they were inspired by his faith. Bryant and his family were regular attendees at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Newport Beach. He and his daughter, Gianna, received the Eucharist together just hours before their passing.
Los Angeles Times writers David Wharton, Nathan Fenno and Tania Ganguli wrote that Bryant's devotion to family was paramount. "In recent years, Bryant transitioned to the less-sensational role of doting father, often seen in public with his four daughters, including 13-year-old Gianna, who also died in the accident."
Chris Sacca, a business mentor to Bryant, said his priority was to always be home in time to be with his children. Bryant said he was so attached to his kids and that was a wonderful thing.
Kobe Bryant's life was an imperfect life, but he finished strong and devoted himself to faith and family. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said of Bryant, "He will live forever in the heart of Los Angeles, and will be remembered through the ages as one of our greatest heroes."