LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant was posthumously inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in an emotional ceremony featuring remarks by his widow, Vanessa.
Bryant died Jan. 26, 2020, in a helicopter crash in Calabasas at age 41, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people. He helped lead the Lakers to five NBA championships during his career, winning two scoring titles on his way to 33,643 points, fourth on the NBA's all-time scoring list.
“Kobe was one of a kind. He was special,'' said Bryant, who was escorted to the stage Saturday by NBA great Michael Jordan. Former players also weighed in to pay tribute.
“He wanted to be great, and he knew he was going to be great,'' said Shaquille O'Neal. “He played without fear,'' said Ray Allen. “He is basketball,'' said Allen Iverson.
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony was held at the Mohegan Sun Resort & Casino in Connecticut and shown live on ESPN. The festivities began two hours earlier with the Hall of Fame Awards Celebration and Gala telecast, during which inductees were presented with rings and jackets.
Also inducted were Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Rudy Tomjanovich, Eddie Sutton, Tamika Catchings, Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens and Patrick Baumann. Tomjanovich -- who coached the Houston Rockets to two NBA titles and spent his entire 11-season playing career with the Rockets -- coached the Lakers for part of the 2004-05 season.
But Bryant was the emotional focal point of the ceremony.
“No amount of words can fully describe what Kobe Bryant meant to the Los Angeles Lakers,'' Lakers CEO Jeanie Buss said last year when Bryant's induction was announced. “Kobe was not only a proven winner and a champion, he gave everything he had to the game of basketball.
“His fierce competitiveness, work ethic and drive were unmatched. Those qualities helped Kobe lead us to five titles -- and have now brought him to the Hall of Fame, where he will be enshrined with the greatest to have ever played the game. No one deserves it more.''
Born Aug. 23, 1978, in Philadelphia and named after a type of steak his parents saw on a restaurant menu before his birth, Bryant spent eight years of his youth in Italy, where his father Joe was completing his playing career after spending eight seasons in the NBA.
The family returned to the Philadelphia area, where Bryant was selected as the National High School Player of the Year by USA Today in 1996 and was the leading scorer in southwest Pennsylvania history.
Bryant officially became a Laker on July 1, 1996, when the team completed a previously agreed to trade with the Charlotte Hornets, who had chosen him five days earlier with the 13th selection in the NBA draft as part of the trade agreement with the Lakers.
Bryant was the league's MVP in the 2007-2008 season, received All-NBA honors 15 times, including 11 first-team selections, and was chosen to play in the league's All-Star Game 18 times.
Bryant's 20 seasons with the Lakers were the most by a player on one NBA team.
The 6-foot-6-inch Bryant, a guard for most of his career but listed as a forward-guard in his final season, scored 33,643 points, including 81 on Jan. 22, 2006 -- the second-most in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100- point game in 1962 -- and 60 in his final game on April 13, 2016.
Bryant -- who also played on the U.S. Olympic teams that won gold medals in 2008 and 2012 -- was the NBA's third-leading scorer at the time of his retirement behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928).
LeBron James moved past Bryant into third on the list last year.
Bryant announced his retirement effective at the end of the 2015-16 season on Nov. 29, 2015, in a poem titled “Dear Basketball,'' which read: “This season is all I have left to give; My heart can take the pounding; My mind can handle the grind; But my body knows it's time to say goodbye''.
Despite Bryant's brilliant individual play, his career wasn't without controversy -- both on and off the court. He was blamed by many Lakers fans for the departure of star center Shaquille O'Neal in a 2004 trade with the Miami Heat. Bryant and O'Neal didn't always get along as teammates, but they buried the hatchet years ago.
Bryant's most serious controversy came in 2003, when he was charged with sexual assault stemming from his encounter with a 19-year-old concierge at a mountain resort in Colorado. The criminal case was dropped when the accuser decided not to testify, and a related lawsuit was settled out of court in 2005. Bryant released an apology letter in which he wrote that “although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual ... I now understand how she sincerely feels that she did not consent.''
In 2006, Bryant and his wife established the VIVO Foundation -- later renamed The Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation -- intended to enhance the lives of youth and families in need and encouraging young people to stay active through sport.
The foundation partnered with the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation in 2009 to establish the Kobe China Fund, his first global charitable initiative to raise funds and awareness for education and health programs.
It also partnered with several Los Angeles-based organizations -- including Step Up on Second, My Friend's Place and the United Way -- to help deal with youth homelessness.
Bryant was the honorary chair of United Way of Greater Los Angeles' HomeWalk for several years. He also volunteered with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, NBA Cares and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and was an ambassador for After-School All-Stars, which provides programs and mentors to assist students in developing skills and habits needed to succeed in life, school and their future careers.
After his NBA retirement in 2016, Bryant became involved in several business and entertainment ventures. He established Kobe Inc., headquartered in Newport Beach, to own and grow brands in the sports industry and won an Academy Award for best animated short film in 2018 for “Dear Basketball.''
In October 2018, Bryant's book “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play,'' was published.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images