Yesterday would have been Kobe Bryant’s 42nd birthday, and today is August 24th, the date that combines his two iconic jersey numbers. Bryant is being honored in several ways, from Nike’s release of Kobe-related items all week to Los Angeles and Orange Counties officially naming this “Kobe Bryant Day.” Over the past 20 years, Bryant has inspired countless thoughts and feelings, and thousands of sentences, about greatness, drive, fame, loneliness, and pain. Here are 24 excellent pieces of journalism about Bryant, covering him from as many angles as he was willing to show, and some others he tried to hide.
1. Kobe Bryant doesn’t want your love by Mike Sager for Esquire (2007)
Everyone has their favorite Kobe, or at least the part of his career they first think about when they hear his name. For me, it’s Kobe wandering through the wilderness, right before the Los Angeles Lakers traded for Pau Gasol, leading to Kobe’s fourth and fifth titles. That’s where Sager finds him. This one is raw.
2. Kobe Bryant: Teenager of the Year by Chris Mundy for Rolling Stone (1998)
3. Kobe Bryant: From Here to Infinity by Ralph Wiley for GQ (2001)
These are two Coming of Age classics. The Mean Streets and Goodfellas of Kobe profiles.
4. How Shaq and Kobe’s Rivalry Shaped the Lakers by Elizabeth Kaye for Los Angeles Magazine (2001)
Kobe and Shaq will always be linked as one of the most dominant and dysfunctional duos in the history of professional sports. This deeply-reported story, the product of months following the team, comes at their apex, after they’d already won two titles. It’s about glory, but also foreseeable basketball doom. A young, hungry Bryant wanted to be the best player in the world, and, despite L.A.’s success, felt like O’Neal was standing in his way.
5. Kobe Bryant Is In It to Win It by J.R. Moehringer for GQ (2010)
The first time I went through this profile, I remember reading the anecdote about Kobe’s helicopter and barely blinking an eye. For anyone else it would’ve seemed excessive, but with Kobe it made perfect sense. Nobody else could pull something like that off; it went so well with this quote: “If you’re afraid to fail, then you’re probably going to fail. You know what I mean? Fuck it.”
6. Kobe Bryant Will Always Be an All-Star of Talking by Chuck Klosterman for GQ (2015)
By the time you reach the midway point of this interview, you’ll wish it was two million words longer. Bryant was most entertaining when talking about himself: “Does my nature make me less enjoyable to play with? Of course. Of course it does. Is it possible that some top players in the league are intimidated by that? Yes. But do I want to play with those players? Does the Laker organization want those specific players? No.”
7. Kobe by Henry Abbott for ESPN the Magazine (2014)
In 2014, Bryant signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension that clearly made no sense even as it happened. Physical decline is an ugly prospect for every player, but it’s especially uncomfortable for the proudest ones, and nobody believed in themselves quite like Kobe. While so many writers have been in the business of crafting Kobe mythology, Abbott instead chisels away at it with an honest assessment of Bryant’s on and off-court bullying, selfish style of play, and more. Kobe stans have long dismissed this feature because it’s loaded with anonymous sourcing, but there’s no telling the whole story without it.
8. Kobe’s Beautiful Madness: Understanding the Lakers’ Absurd Present and Unknowable Future by Zach Lowe for Grantland (2014)
Lowe’s search for objectivity in the fantastical jungle of Kobe mythology is a nice companion piece to Abbott’s report. It’s fair and harsh and honest, an enjoyable walk down memory lane.
9. Twilight the Saga by Chris Ballard for Sports Illustrated (2014)
It’s difficult to process how popular Kobe Bryant was. Just when you think you get it, you read how he was greeted in China—“once, four years ago in Shandong Province, a guy slept overnight on the roof of a gym, curled in the darkness, and then, when Kobe approached, leaped from a low overhang, yelling, ‘Kohhhh-beeee!’”—and your brain starts to leak out of your ears.
10. The last true days of Kobe Bryant by Baxter Holmes for ESPN (2016)
The word “warrior” is a bit much when used to describe a professional athlete. Then you read about how Kobe Bryant tried to massage his ruptured Achilles tendon back into place so he could stay in a regular season basketball game.
11. Kobe Bryant’s Disturbing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser’s Story, and the Half-Confession by Marlow Stern for The Daily Beast (2016)
The 2003 sexual assault charges against Bryant are a crucial and endlessly contested chapter in his story. If you just want on-the-record facts, this piece compiles testimony from legal and court documents.
12. The legacy of the Kobe Bryant rape case by Lindsay Gibbs for Think Progress (2016)
This piece was written before Bryant’s death, but anticipates the arguments over how to understand—or even talk about—the assault charges that took place after it. Gibbs recounts how misunderstood the case is today, from the victim-blaming tactics of Bryant’s defense attorneys that were amplified by the media, to how the Lakers guard was able to rebuild his image and eventually receive the type of adoration very few, if any, public figures see.
13. Wrestling With Kobe Bryant’s Forgotten Apology by Dave Zirin for the Nation (2016)
Bryant’s apology to the woman who accused him of sexual assault, which reads like an admission of guilt, is too often overlooked. This piece examines why that happens—“Kobe’s cinematic journey matters more than anyone who may have been damaged along the way”—and why the apology was unusual.
14. Why Kobe Bryant was a different breed of superstar by Seerat Sohi for Yahoo! Sports (2020)
Kobe was a flawed human being, and treating him as anything else would be a disservice to his legacy. Sohi’s piece does a great job explaining why.
15. Can Kobe Do It Alone? by Jack McCallum for Sports Illustrated (2005)
16. It’s Not Stage Bryant Wants by J.A. Adande for the Los Angeles Times (2005)
What makes Bryant’s career so memorable and, in some ways even relatable, are the on-court peaks and valleys he overcame and suffered through. Arguably his most trying professional dip came right after Shaquille O’Neal was shipped to Miami, and Kobe was left to fend for himself in a loaded Western Conference. It’s here where Adande and McCallum capture Bryant in his most defiant form, blinded by his own success and an unrivaled work ethic that few of his many co-workers could ever connect with.
17. Person of Interest: Kobe Bryant by Jay Caspian Kang for Grantland (2012)
In this dissection of two consecutive Lakers games, Kang uses play-by-play analysis to detail Kobe’s greatness as a backdrop for his eventual decline. “He doesn’t get the lift he used to get and he’s certainly lost his first step. Instead, Kobe now squares up to the hoop with such authority that defenders instinctively take a step back,” Kang observes. “It’s an amazing thing to watch in person—you can almost see the memory of a younger Kobe running through the minds of the defenders.” This was written in that sweet spot right before the Lakers traded for Dwight Howard and just after David Stern nixed a deal that would’ve brought Chris Paul to Los Angeles.
18. The Fourth Quarter by Ben McGrath for the New Yorker (2014)
This entire profile is dense and juicy: It was about the end, two years before the end actually came. And of all the quotes in all the stories on this list, for some reason this one is easiest for me to hear in Kobe’s baritone pitch: “I’ve always been more interested in the creative side of the game, like how things happen, why things happen, as opposed to just the numbers. Numbers have never felt fun to me.” Six years ago these words felt like an excuse. Today they’re a nostalgic, relatable call to a bygone time when data analysis didn’t have an iron grip on gameplans.
19. Kobe Bryant’s Long Goodbye by Scott Cacciola for the New York Times (2015)
Bryant’s final season was bizarre. Some nights it felt like a legacy-diminishing sideshow. On others, even when the Lakers were blown out of the building, it was a celebration. Cacciola gets to the weird core of farewell journeys by looking at some of the NBA’s weightiest ones, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
20. The Greatest Goodbye: Kobe scores 60 in last unforgettable show by Lee Jenkins for Sports Illustrated (2016)
So many columns were written on the night Kobe Bryant appeared to be immortal, scoring 60 points in his final game with countless celebrities, diehard fans and ex-teammates dancing in the stands. I was there. It was one of the three most memorable nights of my life; every so often I read what Lee Jenkins wrote to take me back.
21. The Ghost of the GOAT: Why There Isn’t a ‘Next Michael Jordan’ Anymore by Howard Beck for Bleacher Report (2017)
While not explicitly a Kobe story, you won’t find more reflective quotes from the man himself about who he was chasing the whole time. "When you're looking at players out there now, you're saying, 'OK, there's not a next Michael Jordan.' It's not about the surface stuff. It's about: Are they approaching the game the way he did?…That is what it means to be a Michael Jordan—to be a Kobe. That is what we should be looking for."
22. Kobe and Gianna by Shea Serrano for The Ringer (2020)
In the final moments of his life, Kobe was forced to confront every father’s nightmare. Eight months later, the thought of him consoling Gianna in their last moments together remains one of the most heartbreaking elements of that helicopter ride. Serrano relates that terror to his own experience as a father, relating how failure is not an option when it comes to protecting your children in an unforgiving world.
23. Mamba Out by Ramona Shelburne for The Undefeated (2016)
24. Kobe Bryant Was Basketball’s Great Storyteller by Louisa Thomas for the New Yorker (2020)
As a player, Bryant was often accused of wanting to manipulate the media. It’s a fair claim. But his desire to keep telling stories after his career ended revealed more layers to one of the most obsessive minds the sports world will ever know. “There’s an entire mythological universe I’ve created,” he told Shelburne. As Thomas reflected at the end of her column shortly after Bryant passed: “It was always a mistake to think that he only wanted to win. He wanted to do so many things.”
Originally Appeared on GQ