“I’ve always been told that as basketball players the expectation is that you play. This is all you know. This is all you do,” Bryant told USA Today in 2018 after winning an Oscar for his animated short film, “Dear Basketball.” “Don’t think about handling finances. Don’t think about going into business. Don’t think that you want to be a writer — that’s cute. I got that a lot.”
Bryant, 41, was killed in a helicopter crash Sunday in Calabasas, Calif., along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
“The Black Mamba,” as Bryant was known, began plotting his post-basketball life years before his 2016 retirement from the Los Angeles Lakers, where he spent his entire 20-year career. Among the highest-paid basketball players in NBA history, Bryant multiplied his millions through a lucrative slate of endorsements, including Nike, McDonald’s, Nintendo and Sprite. He set his sights on becoming an investor, approaching billionaire Chris Sacca for advice on how to become a mogul.
Sacca was skeptical, he told the Los Angeles Times, but he gave Bryant a list of books, TED talks and podcasts to nurture his interest, thinking little would come of it. But over the next few months, Bryant was blowing up Sacca’s phone at all hours, hungry to discuss what he had read and dig into ideas.
“Literally at 3 a.m. he would be on his physical-therapy treadmill and call me,” Sacca told the Times. “His obsession with learning this stuff was so 24/7.”
“Not sure I will ever know anyone else with his work ethic,” Sacca tweeted Sunday after news of Bryant’s death was confirmed.
In 2013, Bryant co-founded a venture capital firm geared toward investing in media and technology with entrepreneur Jeff Stibel, founder of Web.com. Bryant Stibel, which now has more than $2 billion in assets, got a jump-start when Coca-Cola took a majority stake in sport-drink maker Bodyarmor, turning Bryant’s $6 million investment into more than $200 million. Since then, Bryant Stibel has built itself on high-profile investments in companies such as Epic Games — maker of the wildly popular Fortnite — as well as hot-sauce maker Cholula, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and the personal-computer giant Dell.
At the time of his retirement in 2016, Forbes estimated that Bryant’s salary and endorsements gave him a net worth of $680 million. It is unclear how much his fortune has grown since.
“You’ve got to have strong entrepreneurs — that’s really the key for us is looking at the people,” Bryant told CNBC in September. “Yes, it’s important to see those returns, right? But it’s also important to have great opportunity, great relationships with our investors, great opportunities with our entrepreneurs to help them grow and put them in situations where they can be successful.”
Bryant’s interest in storytelling was a driving force on his new career path. He memorialized his exit from the NBA with a poem, “Dear Basketball,” that chronicled his love of the game since childhood while acknowledging that his body had given all it could to the sport. The short-film adaptation of the poem netted Bryant an Academy Award for best animated short and was the best-known effort by Bryant’s production company, Granity Studios.
“And we both know, no matter what I do next, I’ll always be that kid with the rolled-up socks, garbage can in the corner, five seconds on the clock, ball in my hands,” Bryant narrates in the short, which was scored by composer John Williams.
Bryant founded Granity — initially called Kobe Studios — with an eye on creating projects that married his love of storytelling and sports. He analyzed Harry Potter, Star Wars and Disney movies to teach himself the mechanics of story and character development. Sometimes his mind hummed with so many ideas that he couldn’t sleep, he told the Orange County Register, so he would go into his office in Newport Beach, which was plastered with pictures of Steve Jobs, Walt Disney and J.K. Rowling.
In November, when asked in a CBS interview what he wanted his legacy to be in 50 years, Bryant said he wanted to be known “as a person that was able to create stories that inspired their children and families to bond together.”
A 2003 sexual assault allegation by a 19-year-old woman cast a shadow over his filmmaking career, with thousands of people signing a petition demanding that his Oscar nomination be rescinded. The criminal case was dropped after the woman declined to testify, and the two sides later came to a civil settlement. Bryant, who later apologized but maintained that their contact was consensual, was denied membership to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Though sponsors such as McDonald’s dropped Bryant in the wake of the allegations, Nike stood by him. His relationship with the company began in 2003, when Bryant signed a four-year, $40 million deal. Bryant went on to have several lines of Nike merchandise, and the company helped launch Bryant’s youth basketball league, the Mamba League. He called former Nike chief executive Mark Parker a mentor, and the company brought him onstage at its annual investor meeting in 2017.
Granity’s other efforts included the ESPN Plus sports analysis series “Detail,” which was written, produced and hosted by Bryant. He also produced “The Punies,” a podcast featuring fictional stories about a group of youths chasing big dreams in sports, and collaborated with author Wesley King on the Wizenard Series, a young-adult franchise that combined fantasy and sports. He had been working on a project with famed Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, who wrote Bryant’s favorite book, “The Alchemist.”
“The Mamba Mentality,” Bryant’s first book, was the best-selling book on Amazon on Monday, so popular that the site said it was temporarily out of stock. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
As a basketball player and businessman, Bryant cultivated a powerful relationship with China. Bryant actively encouraged his Chinese fan base, interacting directly with fans and speaking bits of Mandarin. He was an early adopter of Chinese social media, made frequent visits to the country and was given a cultural-ambassador award by the Asia Society in 2009. He had a partnership with Alibaba Group, through which he released his 2015 documentary “Muse” in China, and was developing a social media platform to connect China’s youths with his philosophies, according to an Alibaba news release. News of his death was the top hashtag on the social media service Weibo, drawing nearly 2.5 billion views by Monday afternoon.
Bryant’s helicopter crashed en route to a basketball game for the Mamba Sports Academy, an organization he created to offer athletic and lifestyle training for young athletes across various sports and competitive levels.
Last conversation I had with @kobebryant was about how excited he was to be doing tech investing and about the legacy he wanted to build off the court. He still believed he had work to do. Wish I'd had more time to work with him. What a tragedy. Hugging my daughter extra today. pic.twitter.com/bYwSVlqaMj— Alexis Ohanian Sr. 🚀 (@alexisohanian) January 27, 2020
“Last conversation I had with @kobebryant was about how excited he was to be doing tech investing and about the legacy he wanted to build off the court,” Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian tweeted Sunday. “He still believed he had work to do.”