In honour of Kobe Bryant's 40th birthday, we're rolling out Kobe Week! Each day we'll be celebrating his finest moments, pondering the unanswerable questions and diving into a legacy that's among the most storied in all of sports.
Happy 40th birthday, Kobe!
To celebrate his big day, we're looking back at 40 of the greatest gifts Bryant has given to the game of basketball. From his influence on today's generation of players to his off-the-court impact, here are 40 things we can thank Kobe for…
1) Mamba Mentality
Perhaps the greatest gift of all, the Mamba Mentality is what makes Kobe who he is. Best defined by Bryant in this Nike spot, the approach has been adopted by athletes across all sport.
2) DeMar DeRozan
Watch DeRozan and it's no secret who his game is patterned after. Growing up in Compton, Calif., DeRozan was a fan of Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers by default; his proximity and rise to prominence as a prep allowed him to encounter his idol in a number of basketball settings years before becoming a pro.
DeRozan has said that Kobe meant everything to him, and once explained to Sports Illustrated how the Laker legend made him a student of the game.
3) Kyrie Irving
When asked, Irving is quick to name Kobe as a major influence. The two have collaborated on a shoe, Kyrie's game oozes with the Mamba Mentality and Kobe was one of the first people he FaceTimed after winning a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.
"The biggest thing I learned from [Kobe] is you don't necessarily have to blend in. You can stand out."
4) Twitter challenges
A year into retirement, Kobe decided to give back to the next generation of icons in the form of challenges.
In true Kobe fashion, these gifts push each and every person to a new level of excellence and reinforce what they are capable of. Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar DeRozan, Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix, rapper Kendrick Lamar and Isaiah Thomas were among those blessed with the gift of a challenge from the Mamba.
From his years with Adidas (1996-02) to being a coveted sneaker free agent in the 2002-03 season to signing with the Swoosh in 2003, Kobe has greatly impacted the sneaker culture.
Kobe's signature line debuted in 2005 and has continued even after his retirement. Antetokounmpo, DeRozan, Thomas, Devin Booker and Jrue Holiday are five of the 90-plus NBA players to don Kobe's Nikes in the 2017-18 NBA season.
MORE: Who is the next Kobe? | Favourite Kobe moment? | Favourite Kobe season?
6) "Dear Basketball"
NBA legend. Oscar-winning filmmaker.
The poem Bryant penned in 2015 to announce his retirement took a life of its own when it was adapted into an animated short. In 2018, "Dear Basketball" won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
Kobe's gift to the next generation of the league's stars in the form of advice.
In partnership with ESPN, Bryant has used his eye for talent and extraordinary basketball IQ to break down and analyze the game of some of the league's brightest stars. Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell and Trae Young are among the players to have expressed great appreciation for Bryant's guidance.
8) "Kobe Bryant's Muse"
"It became more than a documentary. It became therapy on film."
From early beginnings in Italy to recovering from the devastating Achilles injury late in his career, Kobe provides an introspective look into who he is in the 83-minute SHOWTIME special from 2015.
9) "Kobe: Doin' Work"
During his 2008 MVP season, Kobe granted filmmaker Spike Lee full access to document "a game in the life" for ESPN films.
Bryant narrates the 84-minute documentary that chronicles a late-season win over the then-defending champion San Antonio Spurs. In it, viewers gain an inside look at what Kobe does night in and night out, how and why. Like his constant communication with teammates.
10) Musecage Basketball Network
Whether it's a catchy jingle emphasizing Kyrie Irving's dangerously effective off-hand or a stylized comic likening Giannis Antetokounmpo to a Greek Demi-God, Kobe marries his artistic interests with his passion for the game in ESPN's Musecage Basketball Network.
Shorts like these that are created and narrated by Bryant highlight players and teams in a manner that can be appreciated by fans young and old.
11) January 22, 2006: 81 points over the Toronto Raptors
Kobe's greatest scoring performance was one for the record books.
His 81-point performance, the second-highest scoring output in NBA history, was the driving force behind the Lakers' 18-point win over the Raptors. LA trailed by as many as 21 points in the game and went into halftime down 14. Kobe rang off 55 second-half points, outscoring Toronto by 14 in the half on his own.
Take a look back at each point:
12) December 20, 2005: 62 points in three quarters
In just under 33 minutes of action, Kobe exited the game at the end of the third quarter having scored 62 of the Lakers' 95 points. He had outscored the entire Dallas Mavericks team up to that point. They were no slouches either. These same Mavericks would go on to represent the Western Conference in the 2006 NBA Finals.
13) April 13, 2016: Mamba Day - 60 points on the final night of his career
A storybook ending for a storied career.
At 37, Kobe entered the final night of his career averaging 16.9 points per game for a Lakers team that had won just 16 games. In vintage fashion, he more than tripled that figure, scoring 60 points over a Utah Jazz team that was in playoff contention on the season's final night. It was a surreal night for those in attendance and the millions of viewers watching.
14) June 1, 2009: NBA Finals Game 1 vs. Orlando Magic
Just one year after a disappointing defeat to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, Bryant had led the Lakers back to the game's biggest stage to face Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic.
Kobe made it clear that he was on a mission in Game 1. In a 25-point blowout, he finished with 40 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. The Lakers would go on to win the series in five games, giving Kobe his first title post-Shaq and his first of two Finals MVPs.
15) June 14, 2000: NBA Finals Game 4 vs. Indiana Pacers
With a rowdy Conseco Fieldhouse crowd behind them, the Pacers looked to even the series back up at two games apiece. Bryant, who left Game 3 with a sprained ankle, was clearly hobbled as the two teams went back-and-forth to head into overtime tied at 104.
To make matters worse, Shaq fouled out with over two minutes left in the extra frame, but a 21-year-old Bryant ensured everything would be okay. Kobe took over, scoring six of the Lakers' final eight points to lead the team to a 120-118 win and a 3-1 series lead.
16) June 4, 2000: Game 7, Western Conference Finals vs. Portland Trail Blazers - The alley-oop to Shaq
It had been 12 years since the Lakers' last championship, and the city of Los Angeles was hungry for a title.
An anxious Staples Center crowd looked on as the No. 1 seeded Lakers trailed by 15 with 10:20 remaining in Game 7. From that point, the Lakers would go on a 19-4 run to tie the game, taking the lead for good after a pair of free throws from Bryant, which he followed with a pull-up jumper over Scottie Pippen.
What happened next was Kobe's gift to Shaq, as well as the city of LA.
The alley-oop put the Lakers up 85-79 with 41.3 remaining in the game and effectively sent the Los Angeles faithful one resonating message: We're back. It set up the Lakers' first Finals appearance since 1991 and the first of three consecutive NBA titles.
17) April 30, 2006: Game 4, Western Conference First Round vs. Phoenix Suns - The buzzer-beaters
In a record-setting season, Kobe led the Lakers to the West's seventh seed and a first-round date with MVP Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns.
Despite being outmatched, the Lakers had an opportunity to take a 3-1 series lead over the Suns, but needed a few clutch plays to do so. Who better for the job than No. 8?
Kobe delivered two clutch buckets down the stretch - one to tie and one to win - giving LA a commanding series lead.
18) August 24, 2008: Gold Medal Game, Beijing Olympics - The 4-point play
Redemption was on the minds of the 2008 USA Olympic team as it faced a loaded Spanish National Team with a gold medal on the line.
Just one day after his 30th birthday, Kobe delivered a signature performance, responding each time Spain made things interesting late. Bryant finished the game with 20 points, six assists and two blocks.
No play is more memorable than Kobe's 4-point play with 3:10 remaining in the game. It put Team USA up nine points, ignited a raucous crowd and provided a lasting image.
19) March 7, 2010: at Magic - No flinch
Kobe's work ethic and play on the court often caused us to question if he was even human. These questions became even more real during a Sunday afternoon Finals rematch against the Magic.
Bryant and Matt Barnes were physical with one another throughout the game, but things intensified in the third quarter. Barnes admits he doesn't know what he was thinking, but in an apparent intimidation attempt, he directed a ball fake inches away from Kobe's face. Kobe didn't budge. He didn't even blink.
That offseason, Kobe personally recruited Barnes to play with the Lakers. Barnes said that Kobe's pitch was based on the premise that "anyone crazy enough to (mess) with me is crazy enough to play with me."
20) April 12, 2013: vs. Golden State Warriors - The free throws
Toughness personified. After playing the entire 2012-13 season through a number of bumps, bruises and nagging injuries, Kobe's body gave in during Game 80.
On what Bryant described as a routine play, he went down with what he immediately knew was torn Achilles tendon. Despite the severity of his injury, Kobe gingerly walked to the bench for a timeout with minimal assistance before returning to the court to step to the free throw line.
Despite the inability to put weight on his left foot, Kobe sank both free throws to tie the game and finish with 34 points on the night. Inspired by Bryant's courage, the Lakers would win by two and squeak into the postseason.
MORE: The details behind Kobe's biggest individual rivalries
All-Star Weekend Memories
21) February 8, 1997: NBA Slam Dunk Contest - Youngest champion ever
Hours after a 31-point, eight rebound performance in the 1997 rookie game, an 18-year-old Bryant shut the 1997 Dunk Contest in Cleveland with a between-the-legs dunk that earned a near-perfect score of 49 in the final round.
If he wasn't already, this was the day that Bryant became a household name.
22) February 8, 1998: First NBA All-Star Game - Youngest All-Star starter in history
Kobe's coming-of-age moment came when he was elected by fans to start alongside some of the league's biggest names at just 19-years-old. He quickly disproved any notion that he was out of place, finishing with 18 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes of action.
We even got an all-access look at his first All-Star Game experience:
23) February 9, 2003: One last All-Star duel with Michael Jordan
24) February 15, 2009: Sharing MVP honours with a familiar face
The break up of Kobe and Shaq in 2004 was filled with highly publicized tension. The friendship's reparation was set in motion by the two sharing MVP honours at the 2009 All-Star Game.
It was a special moment for one of the greatest one-two punches of all time.
25) Four-time ASG MVP
Kobe's fourth and final All-Star Game MVP performance came in front of his home crowd at the Staples Center in 2011.
Four All-Star MVP trophies places Bryant with Hall-of-Famer Bob Petit atop the list of multi-time winners.
26) According to former teammate and coach Byron Scott…
As an 18-year-old rookie, Kobe would be in the gym hours before anyone else arrived, sometimes shooting in the dark.
"I came in one time, and we were still playing at the Fabulous Forum, and I heard the ball bouncing. No lights were on. Practice was at about 11, it was probably about 9, 9:30. And I go out to the court and I look, and there's Kobe Bryant…... I knew this kid was gonna be special."
27) According to Blake Griffin…
Kobe decided to go on a 40-mile bike ride hours before Team USA's first morning practice for the 2012 Olympics. It took time for Griffin to confirm the story, as the sheer notion of a 33-year-old Bryant doing something that intense ahead of camp was not easy to grasp.
28) According to a trainer from Team USA…
Kobe once worked out from 4:15 to 11:00 a.m. during those same Olympic games.
29) According to Jamal Crawford…
Kobe once spent an entire hour practicing one shot, tediously perfecting each nuance of the specific shot.
"And basically, Kobe's done that for every single shot in basketball. He's thought about every different angle on the court. He's mastered his arsenal to where he has two counters to everything. Sometimes three."
30) According to Shaquille O'Neal…
Showing up to practice at least three hours early was the norm for Kobe. In his book "Shaq Uncut," O'Neal details how Kobe would often work on his offensive moves while pretending he had a ball in his hands:
"You'd walk in there and he'd be cutting and grunting and motioning like he was dribbling and shooting -- except there was no ball. I thought it was weird, but I'm pretty sure it helped him."
MORE: What if Kobe's career turned out differently?
31) Prom with Brandy
A 17-year-old Bryant on the cusp of stardom brought multiplatinum recording artist and actress Brandy to his senior prom in 1996 just months before he was selected 13th overall in the 1996 NBA Draft.
32) Short-lived rap career
"What I live for? Basketball, beats and y'all."
While on the surface, Kobe's rap career appeared to have begun with a guest verse for Brian McKnight in 1998 and ended after a performance on All-Star Weekend in 2000, a Grantland piece from 2013 explains how it was much deeper and that his approach to rap was similar to his approach to the game of basketball.
"Kobe liked to catch you off guard. He liked the competitive part of it. He liked to dig into the beat and flow and mess with rhythms and tone and pitches. You could tell, he wasn't dope by accident."
33) A man of many languages
Kobe is truly one-of-a-kind. Having spent a number of his formative years in Italy, he became fluent in the language and used it to his advantage to communicate with teammate Sasha Vujacic in Italian. Kobe has also proven to be a fluent Spanish speaker, answering questions in the language.
34) Video Games
For the foreseeable future, Kobe will continue to be the youngest ever to have done a number of notable things, like being the youngest to have a game to his name. In 1998, Bryant was tabbed as the cover athlete and representative for Nintendo 64's "Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside." He would go on to appear on the cover of two more iterations of "NBA Courtside" in 1999 and 2002.
Bryant's relationship with the NBA 2K series began in 2009 when he appeared on the cover of "NBA 2K10." Post-retirement, Bryant graced the cover of the "NBA 2K17: Legend Edition" that honoured his monumental career.
We may have never gotten that appealing Finals series between Kobe and LeBron, but we did get a series of hilariously entertaining Nike commercials featuring the puppet counterpart of each superstar.
MORE: What if Kobe came out of retirement to play with LeBron?
36) Kobe vs. MJ debates
As shooting guards with the ability to dominate a game on either side of the floor, the comparisons between Kobe and MJ never end. It makes for a number of heated debates. Who's better? Who was a better scorer? Defender?
Each argu…er debate could go on forever, and while the answer is truly a matter of personal preference, most should agree that the two greats are No. 1 and No. 2 to ever play the position.
37) Wreaking havoc on every single franchise
Take a look at Kobe's career highs against every NBA team and you'll notice that he scored at least 40 on each one at some point in his career.
To take it a step further, Kobe scored 50 or more on over half the league.
Here's a list of each career high, complete with box scores courtesy of Basketball-Reference:
|Team||Career High||Team||Career High|
|Golden State||51||Brooklyn/New Jersey||46|
* Playoff game
38) 18x All-Star, 15x All-NBA, 12x All-Defense, 2008 MVP
Kobe was adored by the fans, revered by the media and respected by his peers. Nothing illustrates that better than the multitude of honours he received throughout his 20-year career.
39) No. 8 and No. 24
While 13 NBA players have had their number retired by two or more franchises, Kobe is the lone player to have two numbers retired by one.
He was so great in both stages of his career, there will forever be the debate: No. 8 or No. 24? There's really no wrong answer.
40) 5 championships, 2 Finals MVPs, 2 gold medals
While inactive due to injury late in his career, Bryant responded to a heckling fan by simply counting to five.