'Warrior' Kobe among handful of NBA's greatest legends

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 28 2020 10:57 AM

Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant slam dunks against the Sacramento Kings during their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, California, January 28, 2011. Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant combined rare shooting skills, a tireless work ethic, fierce competitiveness, mental toughness and creativity to become one of the NBA's greatest players, according to his fellow basketball legends.

Bryant, who died on Sunday aged 41 in a helicopter crash, was recalled as an iconic figure on and off the court who inspired younger players and delighted fans worldwide, embracing a global audience that adored him.

"He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force," said six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan. "I loved Kobe -- he was like a little brother to me."

On purely basketball terms, Bryant was simply among the elite guards in NBA history, a maestro with dazzling drives to the hoop and the courage to take high-pressure 3-point shots and the skill to sink them.

"I have no fear whatsoever," Bryant said. "If I take the last shot and miss, so what?"

It's a bravado that he backed up more often than not with spectacular plays, making teammates better and rivals dig deep for their very best.

"There will never be a greater warrior in our sport," said Mike Krzyzewski, who coached Bryant on 2008 and 2012 US Olympic gold medal teams. "He was in constant pursuit of doing something special.

"We have tragically lost one of the greatest sports figures of our time."

Bryant, an 18-time NBA All-Star in 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, won five titles in seven NBA Finals trips. He was the 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player, the NBA Finals 2009 and 2010 NBA MVP and a four-time NBA All-Star Game MVP.

Bryant finished with 33,643 points, 7,047 rebounds and 6,306 assists over 1,346 career NBA contests, making history from first game to last.

As a rookie in 1996, Bryant was then the NBA's youngest-ever player, days after his 18th birthday. At 37 in 2016, Bryant scored 60 points in his final NBA game, the oldest player to crack the milestone.

"Kobe was a chosen one, special in many ways to many people. He went beyond the veil," said Phil Jackson, who coached Jordan and Bryant to a combined 11 NBA titles.

Outside the Boston Celtics' 1960s dynasty, the only guard to win more titles than Bryant was Jordan.

Former Celtics center Bill Russell, an 11-time NBA champion, called Bryant "one of the best basketball minds in the history of the game".

Former Jordan teammate Scottie Pippen was among Bryant's top admirers.

"Kobe wanted to be like Mike, and who didn't? He modeled his game after MJ's and aspired to be the best," Pippen said.

"But behind the scenes, Kobe was picking everybody's brains. I loved his approach... He cared so much about the game and winning and had an insatiable drive to constantly learn and improve... those are the things that will define his legacy."

- 'Top two all-time' -

Fans of NBA basketball star Kobe Bryant pay their respects at a memorial outside the Staples Center at L.A. Live in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 27, 2020. Mike Blake, Reuters

It was grit mixed with heart and genius that made the self-styled "Mamba" the envy of fellow superstars.

"One of the all-time greatest players," said Lakers guard LeBron James, a three-time NBA champion who overtook Bryant for third on the NBA career scoring list only hours before Bryant's death.

Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and James have scored more NBA points than Bryant, who began basketball at age three and adored the "Showtime" 1980s Lakers of Magic Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar.

Johnson called Bryant "the greatest Laker of all time" while Abdul-Jabbar called him a "magnificent athlete who inspired a whole generation".

For most current NBA talent, the greatest player when they grew up was Bryant. One of those was Zion Williamson, a 19-year-old who played his first NBA game just four days before Bryant's death.

"I think he's top two all-time," Williamson said of Bryant.

- Legendary achievements -

Giant jerseys bearing the numbers of the late former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant are seen inside Staples Center before the televised portion of the show. Mario Anzuoni, Reuters

Stolen with Bryant's passing was his impact on the sport as an elder statesman as well as careers as a children's book writer and Oscar-winning filmmaker.

"Kobe was not only an icon in the sports arena, he was a man of the world and touched so many lives," said Celtics legend Larry Bird.

Allen Iverson, whose lone NBA Finals visit was spoiled by Bryant's Lakers, said: "A true student of the game... He prepared relentlessly. There is something we can all learn from the 'Mamba' mentality."

Bryant showed endurance as well, fighting off injuries throughout his career, notably going to the free throw line with a torn Achilles tendon in 2013.

Only a handful of NBA players went beyond Bryant's 20 seasons, none of them taking the punishment of playing purely as a guard and only Germany's Dirk Nowitzki managing the feat with a single team as Bryant did.

"He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.

Bryant's inspiration for future generations and his achievements are destined to remain immortal in the basketball realm.

"Basketball is better today because of Kobe," Krzyzewski said. "And he deserves eternal appreciation for that."

© Agence France-Presse

For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.