Kobe Bryant is forever remembered in infamy now as an international basketball legend but you may not realize he was into sports tech from his youth until passing away at the age of 41 in a helicopter crash last Sunday in the Southern California San Fernando Valley. The tragic accident claimed the lives of nine souls including his daughter Gianna, as well as a fellow Whittier College Poet, Sarah (George) Chester, and her daughter Payton, also 13 years old as was Kobe and his wife Vanessa’s second eldest child. I never met the man having graduated in 1995 a couple years before Bryant began his 20-year NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers and the same year Sarah graduated from Whittier College in 1997 but plenty of people had as we’ve found out this week in remembrance. Like millions if not billions of his adoring fans, I watched him with awe become a global superstar then sadly die before getting into his twilight retirement years which for him might have been in his 80’s or 90’s the way he burned the midnight oil taking care of his family, growing as a person, executing business investments, and connecting with a worldwide fanbase stretching all the way to China. I found it compelling that the lack of technologies might have been the deciding factor in the crash. On the morning of their passing, Gigi and her Dad went to church together, an important ritual I also do with my son. RIP Kobe, after researching your life in-depth the last several days, you have inspired me to finish writing my autobiography as promised to The Sports Techie community in a blog last year. Next month is my tenth year of being on this lifetime sports technology journey as curator and blogger and since life is indeed so fleeting, I feel the need to make it so as you did with, “Dear Basketball.”
I first watched the 2018 Academy Award winning animated short titled, “Dear Basketball,” based on a poem Kobe penned and narrated this past Tuesday, a couple days after his death. Kobe’s production company, Granity Studio, was founded in 2016 to give a voice to creative sports storytelling and together with Sports Illustrated they set out to make a unique story that is spot on terrific.
Watching it over and over it became painful and wonderfully obvious at the same time that we loved the game the same way as kids and beyond into teenage years and adulthood. I placed two players with a Lakers tryout camp in 1995 as an player agent. I love that my 6-year old son on the autism spectrum now loves basketball too as it is one of his favorite words to say out loud even though he has been diagnosed as nonverbal, for now.
There are powerful visuals throughout the clip. At the 1:00 mark of the animation, notice the two posters hanging on his bedroom wall, one of Ervin “Magic” Johnson, the other of Michael Jordan, same as me and countless other kids growing up back then. At 1:09 he talks about being a 6-year old boy in 1984 (when I was an 18-year old senior teenage at Redmond High school (home of Microsoft) playing for the Boys’ Varsity basketball program) watching Lakers highlights on obsoleted VHS tapes. The same tape used by my Dad to break down game film as Head Coach at Eastside Catholic in Bellevue. My Father was well ahead of his time like Kobe. At the 1:14 mark, Kobe is seen deeply in love with the game while watching game film on a computer screen.
Then at the 2:33 timestamp we see a retiring aged Kobe in a dazzling 3D image as he floats through the air, cradling the ball like it’s his precious baby while ready to tomahawk dunk it over anyone on the court in his way. Much like the same way he took on life’s constant challenges.
Kobe is forever the kid shooting his Dad’s rolled up socks into the hoop as the clock winds down to win the game, he just turned that dream into reality.
Branding was Kobe’s business magic and “Black Mamba” was his way of showing it.
Kobe entered the NBA straight out of high school. In 2003, he signed with Nike for $40 million over four years. He earned a reported $230 million over his lengthy career. Bryant endorsed the likes of Nintendo (also based down the street from the Redmond, WA house I grew up in) along with Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Sprite, Turkish Airline and Lenovo. He is said to have earned some $680 million in career endorsement contracts.
Even though he was more than financially set for life after retiring from the NBA, Kobe began his second career with big goals.
Kobe founded both an investment firm and an Oscar winning media company among his other investments. Bryant believed in himself in regards to business as he did with hoops. Magic Johnson was a role model when it came to transitioning from sports icon to business leader. I saw Magic speak at a Starbucks Business Forum along with Howard Shultz and NBA Commissioner, David Stern, who also passed away this year on Jan 1.
Web.com founder Jeff Stibel and Bryant co-founded Bryant Stibel in 2013. This successful venture capital firm smartly invested in technology companies such as Alibaba and Dell and then exited along with eight other successful exits to date. They gave capital to data businesses in the form of digital payment company Klarna whom I just used to finance a Lenovo laptop bought on Cyber Monday. The company hit a home run investing in gaming icon Epic Games, creator of Fortnite. Bryant Stibel also made key investments in other markets that featured The Honest Company.
He made a separate deal with Body Armor investing $6 million that grew to a reported $200 million in 2018 when Coca Cola invested in the sports nutrition and hydration company.
After his retirement in 2017, Kobe had creating $2 billion in assets by 2020.
I am educated guessing that one of Bryant’s favorite investments was the Mamba Sports Academy. His vision was to enable athletic and lifestyle training to young athletes in sports competing at various levels.
Kobe also wrote his first book, titled “The Mamba Mentality” which has been flying on the shelves at Amazon this week.
Kobe was loved by the African-American community in the US and by the Chinese people overseas as he was learning to speak Mandarin to go along with his fluency in the Italian and Spanish languages. The Latino community in L.A. made it be known this week that Kobe was a huge supporter. In fact, Kobe, Inc. filed a trademark on Dec 30, 2019 to honor his daughter Gigi and use “Mambacita” on athletic clothing. Bravo señor Bryant, my Mom and Dad, Kellan’s Grandma and Grandpa, call him Kellancito so I truly get it.
The bundle of technology that ultimately took the passengers lives was the complex helicopter. Even though his Sikorsky S-76B twin-jet aircraft was state-of-the-art and he’d flown in it hundreds of times around LA, this day in major fog, the seasoned pilot chose to not use the high-tech instruments and instead flew using visual flight rules (VFR) while communicating with air traffic controllers. There was no ground proximity warning system installed designed to alert the pilot of flying too low. In fact, the helicopter was flying at too low of an altitude for flight flow technology to assist with the flight plan. There are some concern mechanical issues may have been at fault. No black box was in use by the chopper. During the final fatal minute, the incredible flying machine dropped 1,200 feet reaching a speed of 176 mph when it crashed into the Calabasas mountain hillside killing all those inside. Ultimately, the pilot might have relied too much on his flying experiences (he was also an instructor) and not enough on the available technologies if the chopper did not crash due to mechanical issues. It is what it is.
Sports Techie, like a Picasso painting or Mozart musical piece, they did not become must have items until each grand master passed on. The same can be said about the ESPN + series “Detail,” written, produced and hosted by Kobe as a sports analytics breakdown. The shows will only become more valuable in terms of hearing from a basketball legends perspective that not only understood the sport of basketball on a PhD level but also from the value of using sports tech.
Kobe was on his was to the Mamba Cup to coach Gigi when fate intervened but I know in my heart, he was going to use that experience as another lesson in life whether they won or loss, a basketball playing experience and a sports tech-enhanced opportunity after the game with not only his daughter and her teammates, but the Mamba Sports Academy at large.
Kobe, you where an extraordinary human with faults like the rest of us and a real Sports Techie.
My condolences go to out to Vanessa, her three surviving daughters, and to all those that personally knew Kobe or just liked him. Same thoughts to the other passengers and their family and friends.
Kobe’s in a better place with loved ones, believe it.
See you later sportstechie in Seattle, Atlanta and around the world!
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