Kobe Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, the league's 2008 MVP, and one of the greatest and most polarizing players in the history of basketball, died Sunday according to multiple reports.
Bryant, 41, died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others. The news of Bryant's death was reported by TMZ, Variety, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and several others.
On the night of the NBA Draft in 1996, Bryant actually donned a Charlotte Hornets cap after the club selected him with the 13th overall pick out of Philadelphia's Lower Merion High School. Then, in a move that altered NBA history, the Hornets dealt Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers for center Vlade Divac.
In 2015, Bryant told ESPN's Baxter Holmes, "Charlotte never wanted me. [Hornets coach Dave] Cowens told me he didn't want me. It wasn't a question of me even playing here. They had a couple of guards already, a couple small forwards already. So it wasn't like I would be off the bench much... I mean, I had grown up watching basketball. I knew who Dave Cowens was and [was] pretty excited [to play for him]. Then I was like, 'Oh, all right.' I quickly transitioned from smiley kid to killer instinct."
Bryant would never wear another NBA uniform. In 20 seasons as a Laker, he won five championships, took home an MVP award, was a 15-time All-NBA selection and was named to the All-Star team 18 times. Twice, he was a Finals MVP.
With Shaquille O'Neal, Bryant formed one of the most devastating duos the game of basketball has ever seen. Together, they won three straight titles. Bryant went on to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010, with a core around him that included Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom.
Bryant accumulated many career highlights, but one sticks out above all others. In 2006 against the Toronto Raptors, he recorded the second-greatest single-game scoring performance in NBA history, when he put up 81 points in a victory.
Until the end of his career, Bryant was unstoppable scoring force with a unmatched swagger and a cruel attitude towards opponents. In his final game in 2016, he scored 60 points in a win over the Utah Jazz. He is fourth all-time in scoring, surpassed only by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and recently, LeBron James. Bryant's last tweet was to James, congratulating him on moving up the scoring charts.
Bryant is also third all-time in free throws made and third all-time in usage percentage.
For today's generation of NBA players, Bryant was a God-like figure. Someone they looked up to, idolized and wanted to emulate. For Bryant, that person was Michael Jordan, now the owner of the Hornets.
When news of Bryant's death broke on social media, current Hornets' players expressed their sadness and disbelief.
Bryant was a man of many interests. He was a supporter of women's basketball, was an investor in the sports drink Body Armor and recently struck a partnership with Major League Soccer. He owned a multimedia content company and film studio and in 2018, won an Oscar for Best Animated Short for a movie titled "Dear Basketball."
Later this year, Bryant will be eligible for the Basketball Hall of Fame. He was a exceptionally gifted, once-in-a-lifetime talent.