Investor, author, filmmaker: the entrepreneurial second act of Kobe Bryant
When he retired from a championship-studded, two-decade reign in the NBA, Kobe Bryant made one thing crystal clear: he was not done competing.
Bryant's second act revealed the basketball legend to be a savvy entrepreneur, whose tireless work ethic and wide-ranging interests propelled him to success as an investor, author, and film and podcast producer.
"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, California, alongside 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'd 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, along with entrepreneur Jeff Stibel, founder of Web.com. Bryant Stibel & Co., which now has more than $2 billion in assets, got a jump-start when Coca-Cola took a majority stake in sports drink maker BodyArmor, turning Bryant's $6 million investment into more than $200 million. Since then, Bryant Stibel has built itself off 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 Dell.
"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 passion for storytelling was a driving force. 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/: 05 seconds on the clock/ Ball in my hands," Bryant narrates in the short, which was scored by legendary 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'd 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 against Bryant 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 their contact was consensual, was denied membership to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Granity's other efforts included ESPN+'s 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 kids 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'd even been working on a project with famed Brazilian author Paolo 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)
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," Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian tweeted Sunday.
"He still believed he had work to do."