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Kobe Bryant left huge impact on business off the court

Daniel Roberts
Editor-at-Large

NBA legend Kobe Bryant, 41, died in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning in Calabasas, Calif., along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office confirmed. Seven other people were on board Bryant’s helicopter and were all killed in the tragic accident.

Bryant’s impact on basketball is obvious: five-time NBA champion; two-time NBA Finals MVP; league MVP in 2008; 18-time NBA All-Star; fourth-leading scorer in NBA history. He played for only one team in his career, the Lakers, and wore two numbers in his career, and both No. 8 and No. 24 have been retired by the team.

Few other professional athletes are more closely associated with and representative of one city than Bryant and Los Angeles; Derek Jeter and New York City might be a fair comparison. In a statement on Sunday, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said that Bryant “will live forever in the heart of Los Angeles.” He was also one of the league’s earliest global stars, pivotal in making the NBA huge in China.

But Bryant also leaves a stunning legacy off the court, completely outside of basketball, and thus a lasting impact on what pro athletes can achieve in business after retirement. (His legacy is also complicated: in 2003, he was accused of rape by a Colorado hotel employee and charged with felony sexual assault; prosecutors dropped the charges after his accuser refused to testify, and Bryant later settled with her out of court and publicly apologized.)

Bryant earned more than $323 million in NBA salary (plus more than that in additional endorsement money from Nike and others), and after retiring in 2016, he quickly put that fortune to work.

04/03/2018 - Kobe Bryant with Best Animated Short Film Award for "Dear Basketball". REUTERS/Mike Blake

That year, Bryant launched a $100 million tech investing fund, Bryant Stibel, with venture capitalist Jeff Stibel. It was a formalization of the investing the two had already been doing since 2013, a reminder that Bryant began planning for his second act well before he retired.

The firm’s portfolio has huge household names like Alibaba and Dell, plus stakes in more than 20 early-stage companies including: Derek Jeter’s athlete blog The Players’ Tribune (where Bryant published the original “Dear Basketball” post that would inspire his eventual Oscar-winning animated short); legal services startup LegalZoom; Cholula hot sauce; wedding site Minted; “Fortnite” game developer Epic Games; skincare company Art of Sport; Jessica Alba’s The Honest Co; and location tracker Tile.

Bryant’s $6 million early stake in sports drink BodyArmor in 2014 turned into $200 million after Coca-Cola bought a huge stake in the Gatorade competitor in 2018.

Of course, Bryant was hardly the only NBA star to catch the tech investing bug. LeBron James, Andre Iguodala, and Steph Curry, among many others, have all become known for the same. All of them watched Bryant do it first. In an interview with Yahoo Finance last year, former L.A. Laker Lamar Odom named Bryant as the athlete he has most taken cues from in business: “I learned the most from him... on and off the court.”

Even beside investing, Bryant’s breadth of achievements in media and youth sports are remarkable.

In 2018, he won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short for “Dear Basketball,” the movie he created, wrote, and produced based on his own poem. That year, he launched Granity Studios, a multimedia company focused on inspiring content for young people across television, film, and book publishing. Granity’s projects have included the podcast “The Punies,” the ESPN+ analysis show “Detail,” and Bryant’s book “Mama Mentality: How I Play the Game,” published last year. And it has a large slate of projects coming this and next year, including more books in the young adult “Wizenard Series.”

Bryant said in 2018 that he launched Granity “as a platform to create and share original stories to inspire today’s young athletes. There’s surprisingly little content that combines the passion of sports and the traditions of original storytelling.” He had made it one of his core business missions to inspire young people. Atlanta Hawks rookie Trae Young said on Sunday that in one of their last conversations, Bryant reiterated “how he wants me to continue being a role model for kids growing up, and for Gigi and all the kids looking up to me.”

On “Detail,” Bryant analyzed in great depth the styles of fellow basketball stars; in 2018, he recruited NFL legend Peyton Manning to narrate a season of analyzing quarterbacks. “Detail” was one of the earliest exclusive shows on the ESPN+ streaming app, and likely contributed to the service amassing 3.5 million paying subscribers in its first 18 months.

Bryant in 2018 also opened the Mamba Sports Academy in L.A., where he worked out NBA players, WNBA players, and hosted his daughter Gianna’s AAU club basketball team. Gianna Bryant was a promising young star herself and was headed for her own playing career. In recent years, Bryant often took her to Lakers games, L.A. Sparks WNBA games, and USC Trojans women’s basketball games. (NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s statement on Bryant’s death took care to note that Bryant took “special delight in passing down his love of the game to Gianna.”) He was also a huge supporter of women’s sports outside of basketball, like the U.S. women’s national soccer team.

In media interviews over the last few years about his business endeavors, Bryant repeatedly said he had zeroed in on his post-NBA passion: “storytelling.”

Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance and closely covers sports business. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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