Kobe and Bear: Bryants who were giants

When Kobe Bryant was born to Joe and Sharia Bryant on Aug. 23, 1978, another Bryant had 20 years behind him at Alabama as the most successful football coach of the 20th Century.

Paul Bryant was ten days from the start of a season in which his Crimson Tide would win a contested national title over John Robinson’s USC team that beat Bama 24-14 at Birmingham a dozen days after the leader known by friend and foe as “Bear” celebrated his 65th birthday.

The Bear was 41 months from death when Kobe Bean Bryant was born 940 miles away from Tuscaloosa in Philadelphia.

Although the younger Bryant was a city kid who never attended college, he traveled the world with his basketball-playing dad and spoke three languages.

Paul Bryant was a country boy who escaped the poverty of the Great Depression by migrating from rural Arkansas to attend the University of Alabama.

When Bear Bryant died of heart failure on Jan. 26, 1983, telephone service in Alabama was interrupted due to the volume of activity from those who loved the legendary coach and were compelled to call a friend or relative and share the news that Bear was gone at 69 with seven national championships (one at Kentucky and six at Alabama) and a record that included only 46 defeats in 25 years at his alma mater.

When Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020, 37 years to the day that the coach took his last breath, the American social media phenomenon exploded with the news as did cable news outlets who went wall to wall with coverage on the Sunday before the Super Bowl.

Kobe retired four years ago as an 18-time NBA All Star and five-time NBA champion. The tragedy that

took his life in Calabasas, Ca. also claimed eight other victims, including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter


The giants named Bryant were not universally liked.

Kobe had a well-documented feud with his equally

famous teammate Shaquille O’Neal. The two greats joined the Lakers simultaneously in 1996 and won

three league titles together despite periodic quarrels between “The Big Aristotle and the Black Mamba,”

nicknames that were self-chosen by the NBA MVPs.

Bear Bryant despised a celebrated colleague, Bobby Dodd of Georgia Tech, and the men went to their graves with unresolved issues. The Alabama coach survived a scandal in which Bryant was accused of fixing a 1962 game with Georgia won 35-0 by the Crimson Tide.

The telephonic exchange Bryant conducted with Georgia Athletic Director and former head coach Wally

Butts was intercepted via party line. The reporting of the episode by the Saturday Evening Post resulted

in lucrative lawsuit awards to Butts and Bryant in cases of hometown justice.

When Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault in 2003, a trial was avoided when his accuser declined

to testify and settled with Bryant out of court. The incident elicited an apology from Bryant about how

the plaintiff viewed the encounter much differently than he did.

The Bryant icons forged remarkable comebacks and left their respective stages as two of the most decorated contributors in the history of their sports.

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Jim Engster | President, Tiger Rag

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