FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2015 file photo Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant dunks during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers in Los Angeles. Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, died in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. He was 41.
Photo: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Photo: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

How Kobe Bryant enjoyed Atlanta

After five championships and 20 years of NBA ball, Kobe Bryant announced his retirement in November 2015.

He paused for a scattered, smothered and covered break before his exit from the game.

The late Bryant, who died Sunday in a helicopter crash, visited an area Waffle House with his wife after meeting the Atlanta Hawks for a final time on the court in December 2015.

It’s just one example of how the beloved NBA legend left his mark on our town.

“When he first got into the league, he stopped by the Frank & Wanda morning show,” said longtime V-103 host Frank Ski, who helmed the morning airwaves with Wanda Smith for years. “All the women were acting like teenagers at how cute and worldly he was. Wanda asked him to speak in Italian to her. She fell out!”

Longtime Atlanta sports broadcaster Steak Shapiro recalled Bryant as a singular talent. 

“He was very intense. He took his craft more seriously than anyone who’s ever played basketball,” he said. “It was all about hard work, it was all about dedication. When you interviewed him, you saw the laser focus.”

There were many times, Shapiro recalled, when a Hawks vs. Lakers matchup drew a decidedly pro-Kobe turnout.

“Atlanta responded to him. There were years when Kobe had more fans than Hawks fans,” he said. “There’s a handful of athletes in the last 50 years who have the status where when they come into a city they shift the atmosphere. That’s what Kobe was like.”

With Bryant’s career headed for a final bow in 2015, the Hawks and Zoo Atlanta teamed up to honor the basketball legend by - what else? - naming a black mamba after him.

"To pay tribute to Bryant’s memorable career, the Hawks and Zoo Atlanta have announced that the Zoo will name its black mamba snake Kobe," a statement from the team said at the time. "In addition, the Hawks will make a donation to Zoo Atlanta to further honor Bryant."

Here’s how  Raymond B. King, president and CEO of Zoo Atlanta, put it at the time: “Mr. Bryant is a legend on the court, and the black mamba is a legend in the wild.”

A number of Atlanta spots were honored to have Kobe stop in over the years. He dined at Umi, a Buckhead sushi restaurant popular with visiting celebrities, in November 2014. 

Part-time Atlantan and fellow NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal offered some humorous quips upon Kobe’s announced retirement.

“Well, he’s gonna be bored,” Shaq joked to Ellen DeGeneres. “After I retired the next day it was kind of weird for me because I had nothing to do. So I was doing stuff that I never did before. Like I would wake up and look out the window just watch birds fly by.”

In fact, Kobe was far too busy to spend time looking out the window. In a post-retirement interview with Extra, he talked about juggling the demands of fatherhood with multiple other endeavors.

“Natalia's a great volleyball player and Gianna's great at basketball, great at soccer,” Kobe said at the time. His youngest, Bianca, was then just 7 months old. 

“I have a lot of energy,” he said then. "I always want to keep working.”

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