Kobe Bryant: Paying tribute to one of the greatest athletes in history

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Long live the king.

The sporting world was shook to the core on Sunday when the tragic news of Kobe Bryant's passing, as well as his daughter, Gianna, and seven others, was confirmed after a helicopter crash in California. 

The importance of sport fades away for benevolence in sobering moments like these; a reminder that those we idolise - as immortal as their achievements might be - are just as human as us all.

Former teammates, family, friends and fans have all extended their love and condolences to the LA Lakers legend who captivated all who watched him over a stellar 20-year career.

Perhaps no compliment better articulates Bryant's greatness than Michael Jordan's proclamation that the 'Black Mamba' - and he alone - was the only human capable of beating him one-on-one.

A legendary career

And although Bryant nearly followed in Jordan's footsteps with a 2004 move to the Chicago Bulls, he remained loyal to the franchise that has bled gold and purple for him today.

The shooting guard inspired the Lakers to a three-peat of NBA Championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002 alongside the legendary Shaquille O'Neal with whom he would become long-term frenemies.

However, Bryant would also enjoy success without 'Shaq', claiming the championship in 2009 and 2010 - collecting the NBA Finals MVP award on both occasions.

He enjoyed similar success with his country: guiding the stars and stripes to Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012, playing alongside the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

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Champion away from the court

And when he called time on his basketball career, Bryant had achieved so much in California's first city that the Lakers took the unprecedented decision to retire both the No.8 and No.24 jerseys.

Even then, life beyond sport would harvest the same success that Bryant enjoyed in it.

The then 39-year-old became the first athlete in history to win an Academy Award for his love-letter-turned-animation 'Dear Basketball.' 

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Dedication to sporting excellence

Above all his accolades and achievements, though, it was Bryant's Herculean dedication to the sport that set him apart.

Like Jordan, Bryant was one of a select few players to graduate immediately from high school to the NBA, working tirelessly on his game to fast-track himself to greatness. 

Even during his school days, Bryant would train for two hours before classes and carried that into his professional career with interminable evenings spent in the unlit Lakers gym.

His battle to the top of the game reached an ethereal plateau in 1999 where, after a Lakers-Bulls game, Phil Jackson invited Jordan to pass on his advice to Bryant.

Jordan obliged and the then Lakers coach will never forget the reaction of his own star man: “The first thing Kobe says is, ‘I could kick your ass one-on-one.'”

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Treasured family man

There can perhaps be no better example of self-belief.

And it was that work ethic that he instilled upon his daughter Gianna and serves as a reminder that Bryant should also be treasured for the man he was away from the court.

During an edition of Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2018, the father of four remarked: "This kid, man. I'm telling you.

"The best thing that happens is when we go out and fans will come up to me, she'll be standing next to me, and they'll be like, 'Hey, you got to have a boy. You and V got to have a boy, man, you got to have somebody carry on your tradition, the legacy.' She's like, 'Oi. I've got this. We don't need no boy for that.' And I'm like, 'yes you do. You've got this.'"

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Remembering a legend

It's with great sadness that we will never see Bryant take to the courts that shined as brightly as him, nor sit alongside them, ever again.

But all those who adored and cheered for him can find solace in the fact Bryant lived his life by the exact philosophy and mentality he preached to the world.

“Have a good time. Life is too short to get bogged down and be discouraged," he remarked in 2008. "You have to keep moving. You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile and just keep on rolling.”

That, Kobe, we can do for you.

LA's greatest son has ascended the 'City of Angels' and with a golden hoop for a halo.

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