How should we remember Kobe Bryant?

Kobe Bryant: 5 NBA Championship Rings, and 2 Olympic Gold Medals, MVP twice at an NBA Finals, and an 18-time All-Star.

His premature passing in a helicopter crash on 26 January, along with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, shocked the sporting world, with tributes pouring in from across the globe.

Messages of condolence and mourning were posted by Lionel Messi, Novak Djokovic and even President Donald Trump, proving Black Mamba’s impact on society extends beyond just basketball.

In fact, it extends beyond the sporting industry as a whole, with Bryant’s career in the NBA rivalled by his interest in charity.

Most well-known is the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation, which the star co-founded in 2007 alongside his wife.

The organisation has generated millions of US dollars in revenue, and has helped to sponsor programmes for college students from ethnic minorities through the youth soccer club Mamba FC, as well as providing domestic and international scholarships for young people through the Kobe Bryant Basketball Academy.

The foundation’s focus was very much on youth, also helping to combat homelessness amongst young people in the LA area, by partnering with local organisations such as Step Up on Second, and My Friend’s Place.

As a sports icon, Bryant, who was fluent in Italian, was hugely influential in the NBA’s global expansion, so much so that Steph Curry wasn’t able to surpass Bryant’s jersey sales in China until a year after the star’s retirement.

This global appeal enabled him to establish the Kobe Bryant China Fund in 2008, raising millions more for children in China and the US, across education, sports and culture.

Bryant was also a founding donor to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, pledging $1 million in 2017.

His charitable efforts extended beyond founding donations, however.

Over 20 years, Bryant fulfilled the wishes of over 250 Make-A-Wish children with life-threatening illnesses.

In 2012, he helped to fundraise more than $80 million for Stand Up To Cancer, by participating in an all-star telecast.

On top of this, Bryant personally participated in awareness-raising charity walks and runs for homelessness.

He hosted basketball camps, built homes and basketball courts, helped with reading initiatives and with food banks.

Bryant was a spokesman for children’s charities and charities that provided relief from natural disasters

It was not all just for the cameras either.

Amateur footage captured by a passer-by showed Bryant stopping his car in California near the scene of a collision to help direct traffic and reassure those involved in the accident until the police arrived.

This was not an act being performed for recognition or financial reward, just out of genuine human generosity.

How Kobe Bryant is remembered will largely be down to personal choice.

Some will watch the commemorative 8-second backcourt and 24-second shot clock violations that have been used throughout the league, and look at his impact on the NBA.

Others may focus on his wider reach to sport as a whole, looking at how he inspired younger generations in various sporting pursuits.

He himself might cite his greatest achievement as that of being a father and a husband.

Widely considered one of the greatest ever to grace the game of basketball, Bryant is perhaps most famous for his fractious, yet destructive partnership with Shaquille O’Neal that will go down in LA Laker folklore as the greatest guard-centre duo of all time.

But his work in other reaches of life should too be remembered, for his charitable efforts can act as a guide for us all, interest in sports or not.

Kobe Bryant, gone but not forgotten.

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Luke Saward

March 2021
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