12 Stories That Defined Sport in 2020

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      You did not have to be a Los Angeles Lakers fan or even a casual US sports fan to have known of Kobe Bryant and been left stunned his death – along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others – in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on January 26.

      A global sporting icon, Kobe – like Messi, LeBron, Ronaldo, Jordan, Maradona, Ali and Pele – was as revered in any country in the world as he was in his homeland. He earned that right with an accolade-laden career.

      Bryant retired from basketball in 2016 as a five-time NBA champion, 11-time All-NBA first-team selection and an 18-time All-Star. He played all 20 years of his professional career with the Lakers, winning the regular season MVP in 2008.

      He was one of the greatest players and most creative scorers the NBA has ever seen. His influence was not dimmed by retirement, with the game’s modern superstars – from LeBron James and Damian Lillard to Trae Young and Kyrie Irving – modelling their careers on Bryant’s tenacity, craft and work ethic.

      The reaction of NBA players, fans, footballers, musicians, entertainers and stars from every sport to Bryant’s death spoke to the imprint Bryant left behind.

      On the night Bryant passed, NBA teams opened games by taking eight- and 24-second shot-clock violations in his honour (Bryant wore the jersey numbers 8 and 24). Former team-mates, including Shaquille O’Neal, paid emotional tributes. Cristiano Ronaldo called him “a true legend”. Lionel Messi called him a “genius”. Mike Tyson wrote: “I mourn with the world. Lost a legend”.

      LeBron James vowed the Lakers would dedicate the remainder of the NBA season to Bryant. After a four-month hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic, James, Anthony Davis and their team-mates made good on that promise, delivering the Lakers’ first NBA title since 2010 in October.

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