Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on January 27. After Bryant’s death sent shockwaves around the world, Express.co.uk spoke with former LA Lakers shooting guard Steve Bucknall to get his thoughts on the global icon’s lasting impact outside of the US.
Kobe Bryant won the NBA championship five times during his 20-year career, which he spent entirely with the LA Lakers.
He won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in 2008, was twice named NBA Finals MVP and is also a two-time Olympic champion.
He also has the second-highest single-game total in NBA history after scoring 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in 2006, and even won an Oscar for his short film Dear Basketball.
Known for being a fierce, dogged and determined competitor, he created what he dubbed the ‘Mamba Mentality’, which in his own words is an “infinite curiosity to want to be better, to figure things out”.
Bucknall said: “I think Kobe is an icon. His name alone inspires people around the world.
“I think the reason he is known in Europe is because of his athleticism and he was a student of the game.”
But for Bucknall it was Bryant’s mentality, work ethic and determination to improve that inspires fans and players in the UK and across the globe.
Nicknaming himself the Black Mamba, Bryant adopted the name to separate his life on and off the court, and since then his strong mental strength has been surmised as Mamba Mentality.
Bucknall said: “He was an inspiration not just to players but to coaches.
“Players like that come along once in a lifetime.
“I played in the era of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, who were very tactical and technical but not that athletic.
“Then Michael Jordan came and he combined those elements, which in order to do you have to put the work in.
“Kobe is similar to athletes like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.
“They just kept getting better and better. They kept improving because they put in so much more effort and extra work.
“Some athletes when they reach a level of success or money they relax, but Kobe didn’t.”
He added: “Kobe, Magic and Jordan, they played the game with their minds.”
Bucknall, who coaches players from 11 years old up to senior level, had to console some of them after the news broke.
Earlier this week he was in Bristol at one of Basketball England’s academies.
During his time there and in various conversations with players on WhatsApp, he told them it was up to them to continue Bryant’s legacy.
Bucknall said: “We spoke about trying to deal with the grief.
“I’ve been saying that we have got to take the positives from this situation.
“We need to carry on in any way we can, he wouldn’t have wanted us to stop.
“We have got to pick up the pieces and respect and continue his legacy.
“If he was still here he would probably be in the gym. He’s probably in the gym in Heaven practising right now.”
John Altobelli, his wife Keri and their 13-year-old daughter Alyssa, Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester, and her daughter Payton, and pilot Ara Zobayan were all killed in the helicopter crash January 27.
Bryant is survived by his wife, Vanessa and their three other daughters, Natalia, Bianca and Capri.