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The Kobe Bryant Estate: A ‘Mamba Mentality’ Towards a Comprehensive Estate Plan

By: Alexander J. Swabuk & Henry Howe

Kobe Bryant (“Kobe”) is widely considered one of the greatest players in NBA history.

He played in the Association for 20 years, all of them for the Los Angeles Lakers. In that span, Kobe (aka the “Black Mamba”) was a five-time NBA champion, an 18-time all-star, the 2008 league MVP, and the winner of many other individual awards. At present, he is ranked 4th all-time in league scoring and elementary school children (…and maybe even 31 year old estate litigators) still shout “Kobe” when throwing paper balls into recycling bins.

Tragically, Kobe was killed in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020, at the age of 41 years old.[1] The helicopter was transporting Kobe, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant (“Gianna”) (a budding basketball player in her own right who was ready to follow in her father’s footsteps); baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their basketball-playing daughter Alyssa; mother and daughter Sarah and Payton Chester; Mamba Academy basketball coach Christina Mauser; and pilot Ara Zobayan.[2] Flying in foggy conditions, through hilly terrain near Calabasas, California the helicopter descended suddenly before crashing into a hill.

No one survived the crash.

Kobe’s Legacy

Since that fateful day on January 26th the sports world has collectively been in shock and has continued to mourn the former Lakers legend. Bryant was a role model to a generation of NBA players, much like Michael Jordan had been before him. In the aftermath of his death, teams around the NBA and in every other major North American professional sport have paid tribute to him. Some players, who wore Bryant’s jersey numbers (8 and 24) precisely because of his influence on them, have now changed their numbers to honour him.[3] Current Lakers star LeBron James wrote in an Instagram post that he was struggling to give a response to Kobe’s death, adding that he was “heartbroken and devastated,” and promising to “continue [Kobe’s] legacy”.[4]

Before he reached the NBA, Kobe was already recognized as a dominant player for Lower Merion High School, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He became a starter for the team as a freshman, was named Pennsylvania Player of the Year in his junior year, and led the team to a state championship in his senior year.[5] Kobe’s early success, which included breaking the all-time scoring record among Pennsylvania high school players, led to his decision to reject all college offers, and immediately pursue a professional career. At just 17 years old, Kobe was drafted to the NBA. Kobe met his wife, Vanessa Laine, in 1999 and together the couple had four daughters: Natalia, Gianna, Bianka, and Capri. Bryant, who once enthusiastically described himself to an ESPN anchor as a “girl dad,”[6] was a famously proud father to his daughters, and was closely involved in Gianna’s development as a basketball player.

After retiring from the NBA in 2016, Kobe used his often revered “Mamba mentality” and turned his attention to investments. He launched his own $100 million venture fund, Bryant Stibel, which focused on tech and media industry investments. When CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla asked if his legacy will be in basketball or investing 20 years from now, Kobe didn’t hesitate to say “investing,” adding it’s more meaningful because of its lasting influence:

“Playing basketball, the focus is always winning. Winning championships. Winning championships come and go. It’s going to be another team that wins another championship, another player that wins another MVP award,” Bryant said. “If you really want to create something that lasts generations, you have to help inspire the next generation, right? They create something great. And then that generation will inspire the one behind them. That’s when you create something forever. And that’s what’s most beautiful.”

Kobe’s Legacy & Estate

Kobe’s legacy extends beyond his time on the hardwood or as venture capitalist. Accordingly, his Estate is expected to be the subject of increasing interest for his family and others. At present, it has not been confirmed if Kobe had a testamentary plan in place at the time of his tragic death.

It has been estimated that Kobe died with a net worth of $600 million and assets in his venture capital firm valued at more than $2 billion. Given Kobe’s personality, cerebral business mind and lengthy period in the sports-media/pop culture spotlight, one could reasonably assume that he died with a comprehensive estate plan in place. Perhaps Kobe’s estate plan, if one exists, involved the use of trusts or other vehicles to remove assets from his estate for federal estate tax purposes (California currently has no state estate tax).[7] However, because Kobe was so young and was still actively involved in numerous business ventures, it is quite unlikely that all of his assets had been fully realized, or indeed transferred into those protective planning vehicles.

There is always a possibility of litigation in any estate. Ultimately, Kobe’s untimely passing is yet another example that death is not reserved for the elderly or the sick. Instead, death is often unpredictable and outside of an individual’s control. Fortunately, one aspect of death a person can control is their personal estate plan.

[1] Moshtaghian, Artemis et al. “Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, among 9 killed in a helicopter crash in California”. CNN: www.cnn.com/2020/01/26/us/calabasas-helicopter-crash-trnd/index.html.

[2] https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-01-27/kobe-bryant-helicopter-crash-victims

[3] “Multiple NBA players change jersey numbers to honor Kobe Bryant”. NBA: www.nba.com/article/2020/01/29/nba-jersey-number-changes-honor-kobe-bryant

[4] James, LeBron. www.instagram.com/p/B72NUtWA0gS/ .

[5] Verrier, Justin. “Before they were stars: Kobe Bryant”. ESPN: www.espn.com/nba/playoffs/2010/columns/story?page=beforetheywerestars-kobe-100601

[6] “Anchor’s touching Kobe Bryant tribute sparks #GirlDad trend”. CNN: www.cnn.com/videos/us/2020/01/29/kobe-bryant-girl-dad-espn-elle-duncan-orig-llr.cnn.

[7] https://www.wealthmanagement.com/high-net-worth/kobe-bryant-and-importance-estate-planning

This paper is intended for the purposes of providing information only and is to be used only for the purposes of guidance. This paper is not intended to be relied upon as the giving of legal advice and does not purport to be exhaustive.


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