It was a shock to the entire world when Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash along with his daughter and several others. After all, Kobe was a genuine legend across the planet, and it seemed unfair to many for him to die before his time.
The sports superstar leaves behind a complicated legacy. In fact, it is only after his death that many have realized how much they never really knew about Kobe Bryant. Here, then, are the surprising and sometimes troubling facts about his life and career.
He was part of a sports dynasty
We typically think of basketball talent as something that comes out of nowhere. Like, one day you see someone like Michael Jordan throw the ball and wonder just where the hell he came from.
It’s actually a little bit different with Kobe Bryant. That’s because he comes from a genuine basketball dynasty. His dad, Joe Bryant, was an NBA star and then a coach. His uncle on his mother’s side, Chubby Cox, also played pro ball.
When you factor in this kind of talent on both sides of the family tree, you can start to see that Kobe was destined to become a basketball legend.
He was named after Kobe beef
Journalists and fans have poked fun at Kobe Bryant’s first name for many years. After all, it is spelled and sounds like Kobe beef, which is a strange coincidence. Here’s the thing, though: it’s not a coincidence at all!
When Bryant’s parents were trying to come up with a good baby name, they were eating at a restaurant and kept seeing Kobe beef items. They were already considering “Bean” as a middle name in honor of Joe Bryant’s nickname “Jellybean.”
They decided then and there that “Kobe Bean Bryant” sounded pretty damn good. And that was how the legend got his name.
He grew up in Italy
While Kobe Bryant became famous all around the world, he is most known for his amazing career as an American sports superstar. You may be surprised, then, to discover that his early roots are actually in Italy.
That’s because his dad, Joe Bryant, signed onto an Italian basketball team when Kobe was only six years old. That means he was bumping around ancient cities while his future NBA colleagues were kicking it around America.
Fortunately, Kobe came back to America every summer has as a child to work on (what else?) furthering his basketball skills. Looking back, we can definitely say that was time well worth it!
He had a troubled relationship with his parents
From the outside looking in, Kobe may have seemed close to his parents. Particularly his father, from whom Kobe got his middle name and his early love of basketball.
As time went on, though, his relationship with his parents became much more fractured. Because they didn’t approve of his relationship and engagement to Vanessa Laine, his parents actually refused to attend Kobe’s wedding.
After he became a sports star, you could say Kobe struck back. He busted his mom trying to sell his sports memorabilia and even threatened to sue. In fact, he didn’t relent until they gave a written apology and admitted their gratitude for his financial contributions.
He rapped on songs with Tyra Banks and Destiny’s Child
It’s tough to imagine Kobe Bryant doing anything other than dominating on the basketball court. But would you believe he was this close to being a rap star?
When Kobe wasn’t busy amazing everyone with his high school basketball chops, he was performing in a rap group known as CHEIZAW. The group got a Sony record deal, but Bryant left the group soon after.
Believe it or not, Sony wanted Kobe to do a solo album. They only dropped the matter after his single “K.O.B.E.” (featuring Tyra Banks singing the hook) was a huge flop in January 2000. He did appear on a bona fide hit in 1999, though. He can be heard on a remix of “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child.
He took Brandy to his high school prom
While Kobe eventually married Vanessa Laine, his early romantic life had some interesting surprises. For instance, he took Moesha star and singing sensation Brandy to his high school prom!
Brandy was already famous and a very big deal when Kobe’s prom rolled around. Moreover, Kobe was a huge fan of her work. When they met at an Essence magazine party, Kobe convinced her to be his date.
All in all, it seemed to be a memorable night. They dated afterward, and Brandy still has the dress!
He was accused of rape in 2003
The most controversial chapter of Bryant’s life happened in 2003 when he was accused of raping a 19-year-old hotel employee in Colorado. Bryant claimed the sex was consensual. But his attempted defense amounted to a very public admission that (at the bare minimum) he had cheated on his wife.
After his arrest, Bryant led an army of lawyers to drag the alleged rape victim’s name through the mud, attacking her reputation and her legal rights. The criminal case was dropped, but skeptics have spent nearly two decades wondering if that is because the case was flimsy or because she got harassed into silence.
While Bryant never admitted guilt, he settled a civil suit with his accuser and issued a public apology, stating, “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.”
Shaquille O’Neal truly hated him
Kobe’s intense rivalry with Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neil was well-known. Many wondered, though, whether there was real anger between them or if this was some kind of performative public beef.
Make no mistake: these two genuinely hated each other. They’d badmouth each other in the locker room and to the media, with the sniping getting progressively worse.
After the Lakers performed terribly in 2004 (in the aftermath of Kobe’s rape accusations), Shaq left the team. Once he was free of the Lakers, Shaq let us know how he really felt with a freestyling rap song dissing Bryant. While Shaq’s career as a musician was about as memorable as his Shaq-Fu video game, his rap about Kobe became downright infamous.