What The Last Twelve Months Of Kobe Bryant's Life Were Like

The sports world lost one of its greatest heroes on the morning of Jan. 26, 2020, when Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash at the young age of 41 in Calabasas, Calif. In addition to the pilot, all eight passengers on board, including the former NBA star's 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant, also tragically perished in the accident. 

The basketball great's untimely passing prompted an outpouring of grief from celebs, fans, and admirers around the world, including former President Barack Obama, who tweeted in part, "Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act." In fact, Obama's words were no overstatement, as Bryant had spent the years since his 2016 retirement from the NBA building his own multi-faceted sports and media empire — hitting an inspirational creative stride, all while prioritizing family life and becoming even more beloved by his global fan base. 

Let's take a look back at Kobe Bryant's many achievements and milestones in the 12 months before his death.

Kobe Bryant stepped out on the red carpet as a Hollywood star

In February 2019, Kobe Bryant showed off his bona fide celebrity status by attending the famous Vanity Fair Oscars after party alongside his wife, Vanessa Bryant (via People). But the appearance was no surprise to those who'd been following the basketball star's career: after his NBA retirement in 2016, he had seriously upped his Hollywood profile. 

The move from sports to showbiz stemmed from Bryant's poem, "Dear Basketball," which he wrote for The Players' Tribune in 2015 as a farewell to the sport he loved. "From the moment I started rolling my dad's tube socks and shooting imaginary game-winning shots in the Great Western Forum I knew one thing was real: I fell in love with you," he began the piece.

Bryant and animator-director Glen Keane brought the poem to life in the 2017 animated short of the same name, which was scored by legendary film composer John Williams, per The New York TimesThe six-minute flick racked up awards for Bryant, including winning the Academy Award for best animated short film in March 2018, as well as a Sports Emmy Award for outstanding post-produced graphic design that May. "As basketball players, we're really supposed to shut up and dribble," Bryant quipped to the audience as he accepted his Oscar, "but I'm glad we do a little bit more than that."

Kobe Bryant honed his skills as a sports analyst

Few NBA fans would deny that Kobe Bryant was a generational basketball talent, winning five championships and being named an All-Star in 18 of his 20 years in the league, all of which he spent with the Los Angeles Lakers. Like many retired basketball pros before him, Bryant lent his expertise to ESPN following his departure from the league. As a partnership between the sports channel and Bryant's Granity Studios, the series, Detail, premiered on the digital platform ESPN+ in 2018. 

The show's second season returned in March 2019, featuring Bryant's analysis of not only men's basketball games, but also the WNBA and women's college basketball — proof of his sustained commitment to promoting women in the sport. However, this follow-up season came after some minor controversy stirred up during Season 1 ... dubbed by the Internet as the "Kobe curse." According to The Washington Post, the so-called "curse" saw six out of the eight players showcased in individual episodes coincidentally losing their next game in the 2018 playoffs. 

In true Black Mamba form, Bryant had no time for such hearsay. "This show is not meant to entertain," Bryant told the outlet, while decrying his "simple-minded" critics. "This show is for athletes, man. It's for people that want to be serious athletes, people that want to be serious basketball players. It's for them." Mamba out.

Kobe Bryant and his wife welcomed daughter Capri

Kobe Bryant kicked off his 2019 with happy news about his family, celebrating New Year's Day by announcing that he and wife Vanessa Bryant were expanding their brood with a fourth child together. "Vanessa and I are beyond excited to announce that we are expecting another #mambacita to go along with Natalia, Gianna and Bianka," the proud dad wrote on Instagram, shouting out his other three daughters. 

More good news came that summer, when Kobe took to Instagram again to share that baby No. 4, Capri Kobe Bryant, had arrived safe and sound on June 20. "We are beyond excited that our baby girl 'Koko' has arrived!!" he shared with his followers, adding the sweet hashtags, "#bryantbunch," "#4princesses" and "#blessed."

By that September, the loving father naturally had nothing but good things to say about little Koko's first few months, praising his baby girl in an interview with Extra: "She has been our best baby. She sleeps like six hours. She's an absolute sweetheart." As for her older sisters, Kobe said his other daughters had helped out "tremendously" in the first few weeks, noting of his then-two-year-old daughter, "Bianka absolutely loves her — the only challenge we have is she wants to kiss her too much." Aww!

Kobe Bryant enjoyed being a family man

Kobe Bryant clearly relished in being a father and husband, and the late athlete's Instagram page reads like a timeline of his family hangouts. Dubbing himself a "girl dad" in an interview with ESPN, Bryant spent part of his 2019 attending basketball practices and games with second-oldest daughter Gianna — including a visit to the University of Connecticut that March, where she famously longed to play one day. He also gathered his family together to celebrate wife Vanessa on Mother's Day, and again on Halloween of that year, when each member of the Bryant family dressed up as a character from The Wizard of Oz

With his NBA career in the rear-view mirror, Bryant made his family the focus of many of his interviews during the last year of his life. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times that October, the former shooting guard said that, given the choice between returning to the Los Angeles Lakers' home to catch a game or spending the night in with his family, he'd gladly choose option B. "I have gone through 20 years of the majority of my career with my kids ... without being able to have that consistently," Bryant explained. "So for me to make a trip up to the Staples Center, that means I'm missing the opportunity to spend another night with my kids, and I know how fast it goes ... That time came and went ... I'd rather just be hanging with them."

Kobe Bryant mentored young women as a basketball coach

One of Kobe Bryant's passions in the last year of his life was his Mamba Sports Academy — its title a nod to his NBA nickname. In 2018, Bryant teamed up with — and rebranded — the Sports Academy training facility, saying in a press release (via USA Today) that it would be dedicated to "the art and science of athletic training, from elite players to young kids getting started ... [as] a natural expansion of my commitment to educating and empowering the next generation of kids through sports."

Throughout 2019, Bryant further established this goal by holding workouts with NBA stars like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Kyrie Irving. Closer to Bryant's heart, though, were his practices with daughter Gianna, whom he saw as a basketball prodigy in his image. He formed a girls' basketball club team at the sports academy, beginning with Gianna and a group of similarly-aged players, who would practice several times per week together, according to the Los Angeles Times. Bryant told the publication that October that he loved the "curiosity about the game" that Gianna brought to their basketball practices together. "Even in a heated situation in a game where it's going back and forth, she can detach herself and come to me and ask a very specific question, which is not common," the proud dad said. "... That's pretty damn cool." 

Following their deaths, the Sports Academy retired "Mamba" from its name in respect for the Bryant family.

Kobe Bryant brought two young adult novels to life

Kobe Bryant established his children's media footprint in 2019 through two books intended for young adult readers. The first, The Wizenard Series: Training Camp, was created by Bryant and written by Wesley King, and told the story of a magical basketball training camp, where a struggling team of misfits receives a supernatural boost. Combining the sports and fantasy genres, Bryant told Barnes and Noble that June, "[It's] a blend of two of my passions: sports and fantasy storytelling. I'm a voracious reader and huge Harry Potter fan. So, it was a natural fit for me from that perspective." Training Camp was intended to be the first novel in a fantasy series, and the second entry, Season One, was posthumously published in March 2020.

After the publication of Training Camp, Bryant also created and shepherded another sports-inspired kids' book. Legacy and The Queen, published in September 2019, told the story of a young female tennis prodigy. Telling the Bleacher Report that the book was inspired by his favorite female readers at home, his daughters, Bryant said, "Having young girls at home and trying to figure out how to communicate positive messages to them, they get tired of hearing me and Vanessa talk about it all the time, so it's important to put it in different forms of media so it seems like it's not coming from us."

Kobe Bryant also made a podcast for kids

Throughout the last year of his life, Kobe Bryant continued to expand his entertainment empire, moving from an Oscar-winning short, sports analysis show, and children's books into the world of podcasting. The former NBA star's children's podcast, The Punies, was a scripted series that blended music and sports to inspire kids to succeed, which returned for a second season in August 2019 (via Broadway World). Centered around a group of children called the "Good Ol' Gang," the podcast follows their adventures and delivers life lessons about teamwork, family, and hard work in the format of a radio sports broadcast. 

Creator/director Bryant described the podcast's format, in an interview with The Orange County Register, as a throwback "to the old days when there was no television and you had to capture the audience's attention with words." The multi-talent also confirmed that the podcast is daughter-approved. "Whenever we get in the car, my youngest yells, 'Play Puny! Play Puny!'" he said. "She's really into it." How sweet is that?

In one of his final interviews before his death, Bryant told USA Today that he was excited The Punies would be returning for a third season.

That time Kobe Bryant poked fun at Shaq

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal were Los Angeles Lakers superstars together from 1996 to 2004, accomplishing the stunning feat of winning three championships in a row between 2000 and 2002. While their relationship as players was complicated, the two men grew closer following Bryant's departure from the league. But that didn't mean that Bryant, a notoriously merciless competitor, didn't sometimes take shots at his former teammate. 

While speaking to reporters in August 2019, Bryant poked fun at O'Neal's physical fitness, claiming that Shaq could've been "the greatest of all time" had he been in better shape. "He was mean. He was nasty. He was competitive. He was vindictive," Bryant said of O'Neal's competitive nature (via USA Today). "I wish he was in the gym. I would've had (expletive) 12 rings ... Me and Shaq sit down and talk all the time and I always say: 'Dude, if your lazy a** was in shape' ... I tell him all the time."

Following Bryant's death in January 2020, O'Neal spoke about his unique relationship with his former teammate on an episode of The Big Podcast With Shaq (via E! News). "Our relationship was that of brothers. We are brothers," he said, claiming any issues between them were "never a dislike," but rather their brotherly bond. "I'm glad we became closer."

Kobe Bryant cemented his legendary basketball status

As if basketball fans could ever forget the impact Kobe Bryant had on the sport, the final twelve months before his death cemented his status as one of the all-time greats. In late December 2019, Bryant was nominated for the first time for a spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was later elected posthumously in April 2020.

Following the New Year 2020, the former Los Angeles Lakers star had praised daughter Gianna for getting him back into the habit of watching NBA games again during his retirement — both on TV and court-side in person. "Before Gigi got into basketball, I hardly watched it, but now she's into basketball, we watch — it's on every night," the proud dad told the All the Smoke podcast. "I mean every game ... She watches everything."

NBA viewers would be reminded again of Bryant's greatness once again — just the night before his tragic passing. During a game on Jan. 25, 2020, LeBron James surpassed Bryant as the league's third-leading scorer of all time, bumping our man to the No. 4 spot. Nevertheless, the evening became a celebration of Bryant's legacy: Bryant took to both Twitter, as well as Instagram, to congratulate James, while James told ESPN after the game, "I'm just happy to be in any conversation with Kobe Bryant, one of the all-time greats to ever play."