A tribute to Kobe Bryant and the legacy he leaves behind

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LOS ANGELES (WTOK) Kobe Bryant was only 17 years old when he began his NBA career. He was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 NBA Draft but was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers on draft night: A team he would spend his entire NBA career with.

(Courtesy: CNN)

Throughout Kobe’s 20-year career with the purple and gold, there were lots of highs.

He won five NBA champions with three coming in consecutive years from 2000-2002. At age 23, Kobe became the youngest player to win three championships. He won league MVP in 2008 and the following two seasons, he won back-to-back NBA titles. And in his final game of his NBA career, he dropped 60 points against the Utah Jazz. Not a bad way to make an exit.

But Kobe Bryant was not a perfect person, even though we was expected to be. Along with the many highs throughout Kobe’s career there were also many lows.

In 2003, he was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old hotel employee. In Sep. 2004, the assault case was dropped by prosecutors after the accuser decided not to testify at the trial.

Kobe was also heavily scrutinized following the end of the 2003-2004 season after a Lakers team composed of him, Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton were unable to beat the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals. In 2018, Kobe went on the record blaming himself for the Lakers' defeat.

"On the Pistons thing, that's my fault because I didn't have us prepared to run our automatics," Kobe said. "I didn't get Gary, I didn't get Karl, I didn't get the new guys on board enough to be able to execute properly."

Kobe also struggled through numerous injuries throughout his 20-year career, including tearing his Achilles during the 2012-2013 season. The game will forever be known as "Achilles Game" will be remember by many for the moment Kobe rose from the Laker's bench following the injury, gingerly walked to the free throw line and making both free throws.

Following the "rough patch" of Kobe’s career and personal life came the birth of a nickname that symbolized a rebirth of sorts for the NBA star: "The Black Mamba".

"I went from a person who was at the top of his game, had everything coming, to a year later, having absolutely no idea where life is going or if you are even going to be a part of life as we all know it," Kobe said in his auto-documentary "Muse". "When I step on the court I become that. I am that stone cold killer."

While Kobe was a stone-cold killer on the court, he was a gentle giant off it, especially during his retirement. He was a father to four daughters, sharing a special bond with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. Within the last year the two were spotted together often on the sidelines of NBA and WNBA games, bonding over the sport they both love.

On Jan. 28 2020, Kobe and Gianna were two of nine people killed in a helicopter crash – all on the way to a travel basketball game. When news broke of Kobe's death, tributes poured in from all over – expressing condolences to the Bryant family and remembering Kobe’s legacy.

"I just talked to him like two weeks ago, so it was like, even more crazy," Nuggets' guard Malik Beasley said. "I don't really know what to say, really. He was just a great player."

"His impact on the game and players and coaches, everybody individually is going to be missed," Trailblazer's point guard Damian Lillard said. "It can't be replaced."

NBA superstar Lebron James broke his silence on Kobe's death with a lengthy Instagram post stating, "I'm not ready but here I go...I sitting here trying to write something for this post but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had...I promise you I’ll continue your legacy man!"

Kobe said during his jersey retirement speech “it's not about the destination, it's about the journey” and while the journey may have ended both sad and abruptly for the NBA legend, his legacy will certainly live on forever.