Born: August 23, 1978;

Died: January 26, 2020.

KOBE Bryant, who has died, aged 41, in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven other people, was an American sporting phenomenon; the basketball player of his generation, a hero to fans of the Los Angeles Lakers, with whom he played between 1996 and 2016, a five-time NBA championship winner and two-time Olympic Gold medallist.

During his time with the Lakers he wore the number 8 and number 24 jerseys, and on his retirement the team retired both numbers, a traditional sporting indication that the team expects never to see his like again.

Bryant played shooting guard, an attention-grabbing position which involves winning the ball from the opposition team and scoring points for the player’s own, often through an attractive array of spectacular, long-range shots. At six feet six inches Bryant had the height for the role, but more than that it was his power and determination as a player which set him apart and made him an international icon; and there was also a certain arrogance to his play, taking on difficult and last-minute shots to grab the glory.

His success within his playing position was only overshadowed by that of Michael Jordan, 15 years his senior, who won one more NBA championship, as well as a number of additional MVP (Most Valuable Player) awards. In the NBA’s list of all-time career scorers, however, the currently fourth-placed Bryant sits higher than Jordan in fifth; with a total of 33,634 points (an average of 25 per game), only LeBron James, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have scored more.

Bryant first came to national attention through an outstanding record in high school basketball while playing for Lower Merion High, Philadelphia, and rather than going to college to play, he chose to go straight into the professional game with the 1996 NBA draft. He and his team won the NBA championship in 2000-2002, 2009 and 2010, while he was the NBA Finals MVP in 2009 and 2010, the NBA MVP in 2008, and an Olympic gold medallist at Shanghai 2008 and London 2012.

Off the court, Bryant was as active as any sports superstar of his era whose image alone was an industry in itself, and he enjoyed a global profile similar to that of sports contemporaries such as Floyd Mayweather and Cristiano Ronaldo. He lent his name to soft drinks, video games, cars, Turkish Airlines and the sports shoe makers Adidas and Nike, as well as his own investment company.

At one point he was estimated to be worth $350 million. He undertook charitable activities aimed at providing children’s after-school clubs and – with his wife – tackling homelessness. He also dabbled in music in his younger years, releasing a single featuring the model Tyra Banks through Sony in 2000.

Bryant’s letter announcing his departure from the game was turned into a five-minute short film by director Glen Keane, which won the 2018 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, and the same year, he and sports photographer Andrew D Bernstein published the book The Mamba Mentality: How I Play, in which he looked back at his life and playing career. After Bryant’s death, the Brazilian author Paulo Coelho revealed that the pair had been collaborating on a book for underprivileged children; the draft was subsequently deleted.

However, the image of a model and heroic sports star was tarnished in 2003 when an accusation of rape was made against Bryant by a 19-year-old hotel employee. Bryant confirmed that a sexual encounter had occurred but denied sexual assault, although after the case was dropped the following year he issued an apology to the woman. A civil case was settled out of court; Bryant lost endorsements and saw public opinion of him plummet during this period.

Although he largely restored his reputation in the years after, there were many who found it hard to reinstate the respect, let alone hero-worship, with which they had previously regarded him.

Kobe Bean Bryant was born in August 1978 to basketball player and later coach Joe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant and his wife Pamela, the younger brother to sisters Sharia and Shaya. He was named after the Japanese style of Wagyu beef from the city of Kobe, which his parents saw on a restaurant menu. He was raised between the ages of six and 13 in Italy, while his father played basketball there.

Bryant and Vanessa Laine married in 2001. Despite his legal issues, and a 2011 divorce filing from Vanessa which was later withdrawn, the couple remained together, and had four daughters, the youngest of whom, Capri, is just seven months old.

Bryant’s death shocked America and basketball fans the world over, and focused attention once again on his huge contribution to the sport in which he had competed so fiercely.