Remembering the magic of Kobe Bryant's 'masked mamba' season

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The NBA is struggling to come to terms with the devastating loss of Kobe Bryant, aged 41. 

The LA Lakers legend was among nine who died in California on Sunday when a helicopter lost visibility and crashed. 

His daughter, Gianna, was also on board. She was just 13-years-old. 

In light of the tragedy, the world of basketball is paying tribute to one of its greatest ever shooting guards. 

Bryant moved with a fluidity that perhaps even surpassed Michael Jordan and could turn a game around in the very last seconds with his shooting ability. 

For many, however, he'll be equally remembered for his mentality.

Bryant came to epitomise a certain perseverance, competitiveness and drive only found in the very best athletes. 

His will to win was phenomenal, as was his desire to take to the court. 

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That was demonstrated in 2012 when he overcame a series of setbacks to put in a series of sublime performances and create a title race far closer than it otherwise would have been. 

Miami Heat won the NBA and LeBron James was crowned MVP, but nobody can forget Bryant's incredible 'masked mamba' stage. 

Why the mask? It came off the back of a play from Dwayne Wade in an All-Star game that left Bryant with concussion and a fractured nose. 

In the return match, Wade was booed by Lakers fans, especially as it had essentially been an exhibition match. 

They need not have worried too much about their star man's welfare, however, as it did not hamper him that season. 

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Knee surgery in the previous summer and torn hand ligaments saw him sidelined that year (when he was already 33) for the longest period he had been out for in 10 years. 

The 2011/12 season was his 16th in the NBA and he initially drew some criticism for his wastefulness.

He was registering an average of 4.6 assists per game (low for him) and his judgement with the ball was being called into question when he was missing so many of his shots (over 50% at one stage of the campaign). 

Another way of looking at it was that the Lakers as a whole were struggling offensively. 

Bryant was dragging them over the line, finishing with an average of 27.9 points per game, 5.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals. 

Over 58 games, he was still scoring nearly one in three 3-pointers (again, perhaps disappointing for him, but still crucial to the Lakers' overall advances). 

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In four straight games in the January of 2012, he scored over 40 points. 

There were bigger milestones to be reached too, as Bryant became one of the top five NBA points-scorers of all time, rocketing past the 30,000 club and joining the esteemed company of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain, overtaking ex-teammate Shaquille O’Neal. 

All that was achieved while he struggled with a potential divorce. The proceedings were later dropped. 

He then spent the summer winning gold at the London Olympics. 

It had proved another season of individual acclaim against the odds, but sadly he declined to revel in it. Kobe wanted to win the Championship. He didn't. By that stage, personal accolades were irrelevant to him. 

There were too many great seasons of his career to mention, not least when he won NBA MVP in 2008, but maybe it was his 'masked mamba' that just summed up his unrelenting attitude. 

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