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Kobe Bryant: The Athlete, the Legend, the Investor

Kobe Bryant was far more than a basketball star. He was a champion, a legend, an inspiration and a mentor - in the business, finance, tech and venture capital worlds.

Kobe Bryant, one of few in the world of sports, celebrity, entertainment and fame known the world over by just his first name, was far more than a five-time NBA champion, two-time Olympic medal winner, Oscar winner, author, mentor and family man.

Even before retiring from the Los Angeles Lakers following the 2015-16 season, Bryant was already intensely focused on his second act: putting money to work in new initiatives, businesses and ventures.

Some three years before his last layup for the Lakers, and seven years before his tragic and untimely death on Sunday alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash, Bryant already was doing what many in the world of business, finance and technology spend careers and lifetimes looking to break into: Venture capital – investing money into that next three-pointer that is going to win the game.

Bryant was a co-founder in Bryant Stibel in 2013 “to provide strategy, capital, and operational support to businesses with a focus across technology, media, and data,” according to the firm’s website.

The Bryant side was the creative vision of Kobe, one of the world’s most well-known and respected sports icons. The Stibel side was CEO and serial entrepreneur Jeff Stibel, known for coaxing out proverbial unicorns and turning them into money-making hits.

“Kobe was not about efficiency or advanced metrics or even those best-ever debates. His career was about bending the game to his will,” Sports Illustrated columnist Michael Rosenberg wrote on Sunday.

Koby Bryant's Death Is a Tragedy On Many Levels

Koby Bryant's Death Is a Tragedy On Many Levels

Bending the game to his will, in sports and in business, and helping others achieve the same, is what he brought to the table with $2 billion investment firm Bryant Stibel.

Focusing on three core strategies – growth equity, ventures and value – Bryant, Stibel and their team took proverbial long shots at a variety of businesses with familiar consumer brands – and scored.

Among them: Lost-item tracker-maker Tile; Epic Games, the company behind “Fortnite;” Desktop sharing and online collaboration company TeamViewer; online retail giant Alibaba  (BABA) - Get Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Report; Dell Technologies  (DELL) - Get Dell Technologies Inc Class C Report; National Vision  (EYE) - Get National Vision Holdings, Inc. Report; VIPKid; restaurant-booking company Reserve; LegalZoom; Jessica Alba’s wellness brand The Honest Company; body care products maker Art of Sport; and even Cholula, a company and brand that makes hot sauce.

As of last year, Bryant Stibel had invested in 28 companies, with three of them – Dell Technologies, Alibaba and National Vision – that are publicly traded. It most recently partnered with investment firm Permira on a $1.7-billion institutional- and high-net-worth-focused fund called Permira Growth Opportunities.

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But it was Bryant’s very first investment foray – a 10% stake in healthy sports drink maker BodyArmor – that truly scored, after Coca-Cola  (KO) - Get Coca-Cola Company Report purchased a majority stake that turned Bryant’s initial $6 million investment into more than $200 million.

"Words cannot express the heartbreak we feel right now. Kobe Bryant was more than a legend to us," BodyArmor said in a statement. "He was an incredible friend to the entire BodyArmor team and a devoted family man and father. Our thoughts and prayers are with Kobe’s family and everyone affected by this tragedy."

Of course, post-NBA Bryant never needed to focus on making money. With $323 million in career salary and another estimated $680 million in career endorsement deals with the likes of Nike  (NKE) - Get NIKE, Inc. Class B Report, McDonald's  (MCD) - Get McDonald's Corporation Report, Nintendo, Lenovo, Hublot and Panini, the "Black Mamba," as he was known, had it made long before hanging his VC shingle.

Even within Bryant Stibel, Bryant was working on other projects including his own production company, Granity Studios, with the goal of "creating new ways to tell stories around sports."

In 2017, Kobe's animated short film "Dear Basketball," a short firm produced by Granity Studios, won an Academy Award.

In addition to his studio and investment work, Bryant opened the new Mamba Sports Academy, a multi-sport facility providing holistic training to young athletes looking to improve their game. 

He also was the owner of youth sports club teams, and served as head coach for the Mambas, his daughter’s club basketball team - where he, Gianna and others were headed to on Sunday morning.

But it was hitting the winning shot with Bryant Stibel – a venture that didn’t even mention Bryant in its first five years of existence in order to keep moths from flying to the purple and gold flame – that Bryant himself perceived as his most satisfying and exciting career win.

"It's finding that winning company as an investor," Bryant told USA TODAY personal technology columnist Edward Baig last September. "Because I always expected to hit a game-winning shot growing up."