This article, authored by Withers' Head of US Sports and Entertainment, Michael Rueda, was published by Forbes on February 15, 2020.
Over the past few weeks, the world has mourned the loss of NBA legend, Kobe Bryant. Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among nine individuals who lost their lives in a helicopter accident in Calabasas, California. Following Bryant’s death, numerous tributes to Bryant were shared across traditional and social media, highlighting Bryant’s remarkable life and career.
Bryant’s excellence on the basketball court was well known. He was a unique talent, a relentless competitor, and a champion. Bryant carried the NBA during the era that followed Michael Jordan. Bryant put his own stamp on the game, inspiring today’s NBA stars and countless fans around the world.
What was less well known was that Bryant’s post-basketball activities were on a trajectory to become as successful and impactful as his basketball career. As an advisor to professional athletes, I help them navigate difficult transitions from successful professional sports careers into retirement and secondary careers. Bryant, however, seemed to flourish in retirement in a manner that made his transition appear natural and seamless. During retirement, Bryant’s activities were diverse. Bryant had an active investment career, a budding career in entertainment, a foundation, a sports academy, he coached youth basketball, and served as leader and mentor to professional athletes across the globe, regardless of sport or gender. Most importantly, however, Bryant seemed to cherish the additional time in his most important role in life, as husband and father.
Bryant’s business career started before retirement. In 2013, Bryant and Jeff Stibel, founded Bryant Stibel, an investment firm. The firm has invested in familiar companies like Fortnite developer Epic Games, desktop sharing company TeamViewer, and online retail giant Alibaba.
Bryant was also a successful personal investor. In 2013, Bryant formed Kobe Inc. “Kobe Inc.’s mission statement is to own and grow brands and ideas that challenge and redefine the sports industry while inspiring the world,” Bryant once told Forbes in an interview. Kobe Inc.’s early investments included emerging sports drink company, BodyArmor. After Coca-Cola purchased a minority stake in the company, Kobe Inc.’s $6 million investment became worth $200 million.
Bryant also founded Granity Studios, a multimedia content company focused on telling stories around sports in new ways. In 2017, Granity produced an Oscar-winning animated short film entitled “Dear Basketball,” which is based on a poem Bryant wrote about his retirement. “I love telling stories. I love inspiring kids or providing them with tools that are going to help them,” Bryant told USA Today during his last on-camera interview.
The Mamba Sports Academy was reportedly Bryant’s passion project. In 2018, Bryant and Chad Faulkner partnered to rebrand Faulkner’s Sports Academy to the Mamba Sports Academy. Gianna was a member of the Mamba Sports Academy. Bryant coached Gianna and her teammates. "MAMBA Sports Academy is a natural expansion of my commitment to educating and empowering the next generation of kids through sports," Bryant stated in a press release.
During retirement, Bryant was seen regularly at NBA games, encouraging and supporting NBA stars of today. From cheering on Lebron James to heckling Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic in Slovenian, Bryant seemed to be a fixture courtside. Bryant’s passing triggered tributes from many NBA stars, almost all of whom considered Bryant a mentor and friend.
Bryant was also an advocate for women's sports, often publicly expressing support for female athletes across sports and levels. He was extremely supportive of the U.S. Women's national soccer team. He developed a friendship with University of Oregon basketball star Sabrina Ionescu and praised her game. Bryant frequented WNBA games and women's college basketball games, including those of the University of Connecticut. Reportedly, Gianna hoped to play at Connecticut.
Bryant’s impact extended well beyond basketball and domestic sports, due not only to the global nature of his brand but also of his personal outreach. At the Australian Open, tennis stars paid tribute to Bryant by wearing his Lakers jersey before matches and inscribing their shoes with Bryant’s numbers 8 and 24. During a post-match interview, eventual men’s champion Novak Djokovic showed difficulty holding back emotions while referring to Bryant as a friend and mentor. The 2019 Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, also called Bryant a mentor in a moving tribute posted on Twitter.
Professional soccer clubs and stars all across the globe also shared tributes honoring Bryant. Bryant’s affinity for soccer was well known. He was an AC Milan fan, the soccer club he supported as a boy living in Italy. Bryant visited AC Milan’s training facility a few years ago and gave an interview in Italian, during which he rattled off the names of the AC Milan legends, including Ruud Gullit and Paolo Maldini, he idolized as a boy. Bryant also attended the training sessions of some of the world’s largest soccer clubs and posed for photos with soccer stars and friends, like Neymar and Ronaldinho.
Bryant’s success seemed to have no bounds. He explored and pursued his broad interests, ambitions, and generosity, meaningfully and successfully. His eagerness to connect with other athletes, business leaders, and regular individuals around the world made Bryant even more beloved than he was during his playing career. While Bryant’s life was tragically cut too short, what Bryant was able to achieve in this brief time leaves lots to inspire those who will attempt to follow his example.