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Kobe Bryant's legacy extends beyond his own success on the court.
Bryant, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died Sunday in a helicopter crash that also claimed the lives of seven others. While he'll be remembered as an 18-time All-Star and a five-time NBA champion who gifted basketball fans with 20-years of memorable moments, Bryant wanted more. After retirement, he had goals of what former President Barack Obama called a "meaningful second act." Bryant, who was 41, was well on his way writing that next chapter.
While the Lakers superstar will always be known for the impact he made on the sport, his younger fans associate Bryant with more than just basketball. He was an Oscar winner. An author of inspiring young adult novels. His daughter Gianna’s (who was known as Gigi) basketball coach. Here are a few things Bryant will be remembered for off the court.
He was an Oscar and Emmy winner.
In 2018, Bryant became the first NBA player to win an Oscar. It was for his animated short, Dear Basketball, based on his 2015 poem of the same name that he wrote when he retired.
"As basketball players, we’re really supposed to shut up and dribble," he said during his acceptance speech, mocking Fox News host Laura Ingraham's controversial statement. "I’m glad we’re doing much more than that."
In an interview with the Undefeated prior to his win, Bryant said just the nomination was validating.
"I’ve always been told that as basketball players the expectation is that you play. This is all you know. This is all you do. Don’t think about handling finances. Don’t think about going into business. Don’t think that you want to be a writer — that’s cute," he said. "I got that a lot. What do you want to do when you retire? 'Well, I want to be a storyteller.' That’s cute. This is … a form of validation for people to look and say, 'OK, he really can do something other than dribble and shoot.'"
Bryant’s collaborator, longtime Disney animator Glen Keane, spoke with Yahoo Entertainment two years ago about bonding with the star, despite not knowing much about basketball.
"Kobe and I found that we had this connection of careers that we were really identified with and yet we had stepped away from — him with the Lakers and me with Disney," Keane explained. "There was something a little bit scary with this whole new path that we were taking, and yet thrilling."
Keane added that he learned Bryant was "an animation geek."
The pair also won a Sports Emmy for Dear Basketball for outstanding post-produced graphic design.
He was a storyteller.
Not all of Bryant’s forays into pop culture worked. In 2010, his attempt at launching a music career with the single K.O.B.E. (featuring Tyra Banks) fell flat and his puppet show, Musecage, was picked apart. But Bryant was never deterred, only motivated by the perceived missteps. Over the years, he was quietly building a budding media empire with his production company, Granity Studios.
"Granity Studios is an award-winning multimedia original content company focused on creating new ways to tell stories around sports. Stories that are crafted to entertain, by bringing education and inspiration together," the website states. "We partner with award-winning writers, producers and illustrators to awaken the imagination of young athletes and foster emotional and mental development that allows them to reach their full potential."
It wasn't just TV and films Bryant was interested in. He created the scripted podcast series The Punies, about a diverse group of neighborhood friends who play sports. He wanted to create something to help kids who may feel anxiety about participating in new activities.
"I grew up playing basketball, I never, ever thought that storytelling would be something that I would love just as much as the game," he told Yahoo Sports in a 2017 interview. "To be able to sit here now and have that conversation, it’s pretty surreal."
Granity Studios also publishes books. When promoting the young adult novel Legacy and the Queen, Bryant told Jimmy Kimmel in September, "We don't see too many characters out there in literature that are mixed."
He expanded on that on Good Morning America during his press tour.
"I have four girls at home and I want to make sure they see characters that look like them and are also athletes," he shared. "They get tired of hearing my voice of, 'Be persistent, work hard, believe yourself.' They’re kind of like, 'OK dad, I got it, we get it.' So when I can put them into stories like this, hopefully they’ll get that same message without having their parents in their ear the whole time.”
Bryant said there are lessons in his books for both little girls and boys.
"The biggest thing for… all the books in the series is self-awareness. How to be aware of the anxiety you may feel, the pressures — whether it’s self-induced or coming from parents or coaches," he said. "How to deal with failure, how to deal with success. Unfortunately, we tend to think for our children as content like that is too heavy, or a little too rich for them at this time and we disagree. We feel like it’s important to have those conversations at an early age."
Bryant was supposedly working on a project with Olivia Munn. "We were supposed to get together this week to brainstorm more parts of the epic world you were creating at Granity Studios. You were creating a whole big world from scratch..." she wrote in a tribute on Instagram.
His charitable contributions extended outside the U.S.
Bryant was known to give back. In 2007, the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation was launched "to provide young people with life-changing experiences designed to broaden their global perspectives." But Bryant, who was wildly popular in China, with his jerseys outselling Yao Ming's at one point, had more global dreams.
In 2009, the superstar launched the Kobe Bryant China Fund to raise money for education, sports and cultural programs for youth. He made an initial donation of 5 million yuan, according to Bleacher Report. His charity overseas, which had the backing of the Chinese government, worked in tandem with his foundation back home as he sought to strengthen ties between the two countries by teaching middle-school students in the U.S. about Chinese language and culture. In 2009, Bryant received an award from the Asia Society for his work as a "cultural ambassador."
He was a mentor and coach.
Bryant's history of mentoring young players in the NBA is well documented, but he was a champion of female athletes, too — and that started with his daughter, Gianna. Bryant credited his daughter with reigniting his love of the game. He began coaching her middle school team after retirement.
"It's been fun!" he told Entertainment Tonight in 2018. "We've been working together for a year and a half and they've improved tremendously in that time. I've got a group of great parents, a group of really, really intelligent, hardworking girls, and — they're all seventh graders, they're all 12 years old — but they've been playing so well!"
"I play 'em up now," he added. "They've been playing eighth and ninth grade, they've been winning tournaments. But the most important thing is they keep improving, keep getting better and they love doing it. They love being around each other."
He noted that he was enjoying spending the extra time with Gigi.
"Gianna's pretty easy to coach," he explained. "We haven't had any issues of dad-daughter sort of thing. She's very competitive and she's a hard worker, so there haven't been any issues with that."
Last year, Bryant opened Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif. where his helicopter was reportedly heading at the time of the fatal crash. The superstar stayed invested in the athletes that came through his doors. Two weeks ago, Bryant and Gigi traveled to Cashmere, Washington where they supported varsity high school player Hailey Van Lith who trained with Bryant over the summer.
One of Bryant’s last public appearances was on Saturday at the academy where Gigi's team played two eighth grade girls games. He was photographed talking with his girl on the sidelines. Gigi had aspirations to be in the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA).
It’s no surprise then that he championed the growth of women’s basketball. In an interview with CNN, Bryant said women should be allowed to compete in the NBA one day.
"I think there are a couple of players who could play in the NBA right now honestly," he explained. "There's a lot of players with a lot of skill that could do it. Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Elena Della Donne. There's a lot of great players out there so they could certainly keep up with them."
He was a father, first.
Bryant’s personal life wasn't without controversy. In 2003, while married to Vanessa, the Lakers star faced an allegation of sexual assault. He admitted to having relations with his accuser but said he believed it to be consensual. The charges were ultimately dropped and his wife infamously stood by him. But Bryant’s second act really began after the scandal. Kobe "the family man" emerged, a phrase that’s been echoed in tributes from his family and friends.
Shaquille O’Neal, tweeted, "Kobe was so much more than an athlete, he was a family man. That was what we had most in common."
Alex Rodriguez wrote, "I last saw him a few months ago. I will remember what he told me about how much he loved Vanessa and his girls, and that he continued to say no to 99 percent of offers, choosing instead to spend as much time with his family as possible."
When Bryant retired in 2016, he said he was excited to go full "daddy mode." The athlete and Vanessa — who were together 20 years — shared four daughters: Natalia, 17, Gigi, Bianka, 3, and 7-month-old Capri, aka "KoKo." Although he was outnumbered in his house, there was nothing Bryant loved more than being a father to his girls.
In 2017, he told Extra — then, only a father of three — "Guys keep teasing me" about having girls.
"Well, it’s pretty cool for me 'cause its Daddy's little princesses," he gushed. "My friends say, 'It takes a real man to make a boy.' I'm like, 'Dude, it takes a king to make a princess… get in line.'"
Bryant raved about Gigi, age 11 at the time, saying she was already "a pretty fierce" basketball player.
"She came to me last summer and asked if I would teach her the game a little bit, so she just started playing," he shared, adding Natalia was more into volleyball, but that she "also loves film." He said, "Her and I can sit down for hours and just watch film after film after film after film."
Last year, the Bryants welcomed their fourth daughter and while Vanessa was hoping for a mama's boy, the five-time NBA champion wasn't disappointed with the outcome.
"I love having girls, like I love it," he told Jimmy Kimmel in September. "They're awesome man... I love my girls."
He jokingly compared Natalia and Gigi to Frozen's Elsa and Anna.
"If you look at the eldest daughter, she's always the calm, responsible, thoughtful one. Then the second sister is like a tornado," he quipped. It was his little tornado, Gigi, that wanted to carry on his legacy — and Bryant was more than OK with that. When talking with Kimmel, Bryant confirmed Gigi dreamt of playing in the WNBA.
"This kid, man," he beamed. "I'm telling you, the best thing that happens is when we go out and fans will come up to me and she'll be standing next to me, they'll be like, 'Hey, you gotta have a boy. You and [Vanessa] gotta have a boy, man. You've gotta have someone carry on the tradition, the legacy.'"
Bryant continued, smiling, "[Gigi's] like, 'Oh, I've got this. You don't need a boy for that! I've got this.' I'm like, 'That's right! Yes, you do. You got this.'"
Kobe talking about Gianna, just wow pic.twitter.com/qOqbWtiL5Q
— HoopMix (@HoopMixOnly) January 26, 2020
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