$13,000 a minute: Kobe's incredible riches

 

Kobe Bryant doesn't just leave behind a legacy as one of the greatest NBA players of all time. He was also a remarkable success off the court, with a vast fortune, a self-made business empire and a reputation for working harder than anyone else.

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine people who died yesterday when his helicopter crashed in California.

In the ensuing hours, the world paid tribute to his qualities as a man and astonishing record as a player - five championships, more than 33,000 points, two NBA Finals MVP awards and 18 All Star team selections, to name a few.

That playing career made Bryant fabulously rich but did not sate his appetite for success.

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Kobe Bryant was a success both on and off the basketball court. Picture: Getty Images
Kobe Bryant was a success both on and off the basketball court. Picture: Getty Images

KOBE THE PLAYER

When Bryant retired from basketball in 2016, Forbes estimated his career earnings, counting salary and endorsements, to be somewhere in the region of $680 million.

It was the highest total ever recorded by an athlete in a team sport, surpassed only by the likes of Tiger Woods and Floyd Mayweather.

In that context, Bryant's first contract as a player seems rather modest. His initial three years with the Los Angeles Lakers earned him $3.5 million.

Even early on, though, the young man's confidence was as obvious as his talent.

In the late 1990s, having started just seven games, Bryant was one of a very small group of players to vote against a collective bargaining agreement that would cap NBA stars' salaries. The limit would not have affected him then, but he knew he was well on his way towards it.

Less than a month after the bargaining agreement was finalised, Bryant signed a six-year contract extension worth $70 million.

His salary kept growing and eventually peaked at $30.4 million in 2013/14 when he was struck down by a devastating knee injury and had to miss the entire season.

That was followed, inevitably, by a pay cut. But in his final year, Bryant was still commanding an NBA-leading salary of $25 million. Breaking it down, he earned a staggering $13,432 for every minute he was on court in 2015-16.

Overall, he made $323 million from his salary throughout 20 years as a Laker.

At the same time, Bryant earned hundreds of millions of dollars through lucrative endorsement deals with a long list of companies, including Nike, Adidas, Sprite, Nutella, Giorgio Armani, Mercedes Benz, Nintendo, Lenovo and McDonald's.

His business acumen was apparent long before he left the court.

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Bryant was comfortable in a jersey …
Bryant was comfortable in a jersey …

KOBE THE MOGUL

"It's a hard thing for athletes to start over. You have to begin again," Bryant said in 2018.

He was highlighting a challenge most high-level sportspeople face. What do you do when your career inevitably ends and you're still in your 30s?

Few make the transition more deftly than Bryant did. Perhaps that is because he started to subtly plan for his second career before his first was even over.

In 2013, when Bryant was still playing for the Lakers, he co-founded a venture capital firm with businessman Jeff Stibel - though the basketballer deliberately kept his involvement quiet until he retired.

That firm, called Bryant Stibel, has worked with a bunch of recognisable names - the computer company Dell, e-commerce and retail giant Alibaba, restaurant booking company Reserve, legal technology business LegalZoom, and even Epic Games, the company behind the Fortnite craze.

Today it has more than $2 billion in assets.

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Separately, also in 2013, Bryant founded Kobe Inc, whose purpose was "to own and grow brands and ideas that challenge and redefine the sports industry".

His very first investment, paying $6 million for a 10 per cent stake in the sports drink maker BodyArmor, paid off big time when Coca-Cola decided to acquire the company in 2018. Bryant's initial stake ballooned to a value of $200 million.

He also founded a media company, Kobe Studios, which later rebranded as Granity Studios, and has been involved in producing sports-themed TV, film and podcast and book projects.

Bryant's foray into the entertainment industry earned him an Oscar in 2018 for the animated short film Dear Basketball, which was based off a poem he wrote.

"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," he said of his nomination for the award.

"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."

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Business figures were among those paying tribute to Bryant after his death, and there was a consistent theme in their words - his work ethic was unmatched.

"Last conversation I had with Kobe Bryant was about how excited he was to be doing tech investing and about the legacy he wanted to build off the court. He still believed he had work to do," said Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian

"Not sure I will ever know anyone else with his work ethic. Legend," said venture capitalist Chris Sacca, to whom Bryant frequently turned for counsel.

Speaking to The Los Angeles Times, Mr Sacca described Bryant's drive to succeed as "obsessive", saying he was known to call for advice while on the treadmill at 3am.

It is unclear exactly how much wealth Bryant compiled in the business world, though his final net worth has been estimated at $600 million. It is clear that he was no less passionate about his second career than his life as a player.

USA Today once asked Bryant directly what he found more satisfying - sinking a winning shot in the NBA playoffs or picking a winning company as an investor?

"It's finding that winning company as an investor because I always expected to hit a game-winning shot growing up," he replied.

Kobe Bryant, Oscar winner. Picture: Getty Images
Kobe Bryant, Oscar winner. Picture: Getty Images

KOBE THE FATHER

Bryant's plans increasingly involved Gianna, who had developed her own passion for basketball and wanted to become a WNBA player.

It was Gianna who got her father back into the sport in the years after his retirement.

"Before Gigi got into basketball I hardly watched it, but now that she's into basketball, we watch every night," he told Showtime Basketball's All the Smoke podcast in January.

The pair were spotted together courtside at several Lakers games late last year, watching Bryant's old team play. A video clip of them discussing the action went viral.

Those were the first games Bryant had attended since his jersey was retired all the way back in December of 2017.

As he increasingly focused on supporting Gianna, Bryant co-founded the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where he coached her basketball team. The pair were heading there when their helicopter crashed.

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And he appears to have been preparing for his daughter's first foray into business.

As ET has reported, Bryant filed a trademark for the term "Mambacita" less than a month before their death. It was a new spin on his own nickname "Black Mamba", and he'd been using it to refer to Gianna on social media.

The trademark would have enabled the Bryants to sell all sorts of sportswear products, from basketball jerseys to caps.

Having succeeded so often in his own life, both on the court and off it, Bryant was trying to help his daughter do the same.

 

… and in a suit and tie.
… and in a suit and tie.