Untold truth of Kobe Bryant

It's official, folks: Kobe Bryant has hung up his laces. And with Bryant's retirement comes the end of an era, not just for the Los Angeles Lakers, but for the NBA and basketball in general. For the past two decades, no player has been as synonymous with his team, and with winning, as Kobe Bean Bryant. But just how much do you actually know about him? Read on to discover the often difficult man behind the icon.

He's named after a menu item

Let's start right at the top with that unusual name: Kobe Bean Bryant. Just how did Mr. and Mrs. Bryant come up with that one? They took inspiration from a menu, of all places. While dining at a restaurant, Bryant's parents Joe and Pamela noticed that one of the entrees on the menu featured the world famous Kobe beef from Kobe, Japan. They liked the sound, especially when paired with the middle name Bean, which is a shortening of Joe's nickname "Jellybean." Let this be a lesson to you: never name your children when you're hungry.

He comes from basketball royalty

So just how does a person become a once-in-a-lifetime basketball talent? Well, in the case of Kobe Bryant, he was born into it. That's because he's descended from basketball stars on both sides of his family. His father, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, played professionally for 16 years, including eight years in the NBA, before becoming a coach. And his mother's brother "Chubby" Cox also played professionally, earning a brief stint in the NBA with the Washington Bullets. With those kind of genes, Kobe was almost designed to be a basketball prodigy.

He grew up in Italy

If you ever think you hear Kobe speaking perfectly fluent Italian, don't worry, you're not having a stroke. In fact, Bryant learned Italian during his childhood, because he actually grew up in Italy. When he was just six years old, his dad signed on with an Italian basketball team and moved the family to Europe. While his contemporaries were watching Care Bears on Saturday morning, Bryant spent his developmental years exploring the ancient fortress city of Reiti. But he never left his American roots behind, returning to the U.S. every summer to play in developmental basketball leagues.

He was a high school phenom

Returning to America at the end of his father's playing career, Kobe immediately became a sensation thanks to his legendary feats as a high school basketball player. After suffering through a brutal 4-20 campaign his freshman year, he went on a tear, going 77-13 over the rest of his career while winning a state title and earning national honors, including the Naismith High School Player of the Year Award. He was so good he was invited to scrimmage with the Philadelphia 76ers while still in high school. The experience convinced him he was already at an NBA level, so he opted to skip college entirely and entered the draft straight out of high school. The NBA agreed; Bryant was the 13th pick in the draft in 1996 despite never playing a single college game.

He was signed to a record deal as a rapper

Everyone is familiar with the rap efforts of Bryant's Lakers teammate Shaquille O'Neal, but most people probably have forgotten (perhaps intentionally) that Bryant once had a serious musical career of his own. Yes, it's true: in high school, Bryant performed as part of a rap group called CHEIZAW, which was then signed to a record deal by Sony. It was Bryant who was the main draw, though, so after dumping the rest of the group, Sony pushed Bryant to record a solo album. Called Visions, the album was set to be released in 2000. But after the debut single "K.O.B.E." totally tanked, Sony scrapped the album entirely and dropped Bryant from the label. In basketball terms, his rap career turned out to be a massive airball.

His relationship with his parents is strained

For Kobe, if one good thing came out of his failed rap career it's the fact that he met his future wife Vanessa Laine while filming the video for "K.O.B.E." But their engagement caused a severe rift with Kobe's parents, who disapproved of their future daughter-in-law. In fact, they refused to attend the wedding and didn't speak to Kobe or his new bride for two years. And that was just the start of the family squabble. After his mother tried to sell some of Kobe's memorabilia, he brought legal action against his parents, eventually forcing them to issue a written apology that acknowledged the financial support he had provided them. Thanksgivings must be a blast at the Bryant household.

He was accused of rape

In 2003, Bryant was accused of rape by a 19-year-old hotel worker in Colorado. Kobe admitted to cheating on his wife Vanessa, but claimed the sex was consensual. He and his legal team went on a public crusade to shame and discredit the victim, using media outlets to paint her as a fame-seeking gold-digger while also pursuing legal action to restrict not just her rights as an alleged victim, but the rights of all rape victims in Colorado. The alleged victim eventually dropped the case; according to some studies, the effects of the case are still being felt, with rape victims less willing than ever to publicly accuse their attackers out of fear of being publicly shamed.

His Olympic career got off to a rocky start

It's every athlete's dream to represent their country in the Olympics…or so you'd think. But perhaps because he grew up in Italy and wasn't quite so invested, Kobe's career with the U.S. National Basketball team got off to a very rocky start. After refusing to play for the national team in both 2000 and 2002, he had to withdraw due to injury in 2003. Then in 2004, he dropped out again due to those aforementioned rape accusations. In 2006 he was again given a chance to play for America, but again he dropped out due to injury. Once he finally got around to suiting up for the USA, though, he made the most of it, winning Olympic gold medals in both 2008 and 2012.

His feud with Shaq was the real deal

Many celebrity "feuds" are either overblown by the media in order to generate clicks, or orchestrated by the celebrities themselves to keep their names in the limelight. But not the feud between Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. That one was legit. Despite winning three championships together, Shaq and Kobe were constantly at each other's throats, ripping each other both in the media and behind closed doors. Following Kobe's rape accusations in the summer of 2004, the team went in the tank, sending their feud into overdrive and eventually leading O'Neal to leave the team. Shaq followed up with his infamous rap verse, "Kobe, tell me how my ass tastes." Kobe…don't answer that. No one wants to know.

He's a surefire hall of famer

It's safe to say that Kobe has had his problems—and his critics—both on and off the court. But when it comes to basketball alone, there's no question that Bryant is among the greatest and most successful players of all time. Over the course of his 20 seasons, he made 18 All-Star teams, won five championships, and earned one league MVP trophy. He may not be very likeable (just ask his teammates or, you know, his own parents), but he can definitely play basketball very well. And for many sports fans, that's all that really matters.