Bio and early career
Kobe Bean Bryant is the youngest child and only son of former NBA player Joe "Jellybean" Bryant. In 1984, his family moved to Italy where his father player in the Italian Lega Basket Serie A. They returned to his hometown of Philadelphia for high school, where Kobe established himself as a top basketball player in the country while playing for Lower Merion. Bryant entered the NBA directly from high school, and was chosen as the 13th overall draft pick by the Charlotte Hornets. He was soon traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for center Vlade Divac.
Bryant's NBA career began in 1996. At the outset of his career, he was not a starter and only averaged 15 minutes a game. He started to become a fan favorite following his high-flying victory at the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest, and eventually became the team's starting shooting guard. Along with center Shaquille O'Neal, the Lakers dominated the league. Kobe and Shaq served as one of the most deadly one-two punches in NBA history, leading the Lakers to three straight Finals wins (2000-2002) and four appearances (2000-2002, 2004).
During this time the Lakers were coached by Phil Jackson. Jackson had won six championships as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls along with Michael Jordan, and was known for his unique approach to coaching, embracing holistic methods inspired by Eastern philosophies and Native American spirituality. This earned Jackson the nickname "The Zen Master."
Despite their success together, Kobe and Shaq did not get along all that well. When Shaq required surgery on his toe, he waited until training camp for the 2002-2003 season began to get the operation, his rationale being that since he "got hurt on company time" he was going to "heal on company time." O'Neal missed the first 12 games of the season that ended with the Lakers being defeated by the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs. In the offseason, the Lakers added veteran power forward Karl Malone and guard Gary Payton, two legends at the end of their careers looking for one last chance at an NBA championship.
In July of 2003, Kobe was arrested in Eagle, Colorado and charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year old hotel employee. Bryant maintained the sex was consensual. Appearances in court would occasionally cause Kobe to miss games. The case was thrown out after his accuser refused to testify in court. A lawsuit was brought into civil court but it was settled out of court. During the investigation, Kobe told police Shaq had paid women off in the past to keep them quiet about "situations like these." This further opened the already present rift between the two superstars.
Shaq had also shown up to that season's training camp overweight and nonetheless demanded a contract extension and pay raise. In an interview with ESPN, Kobe was openly critical of Shaq, calling into question's the Diesel's physical shape, leadership skills, and commitment to the team. Following the Laker's loss to the Pistons in the 2004 Finals, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was also critical of Shaq. O'Neal was subsequently traded to the Miami Heat for the 2004-2005 season. In addition, Lakers coach Phil Jackson's contract expired at the end of the season, and the team declined to sign him to a new one. In Phil's book about the failed 2003-2004 team, entitled, The Last Season: A Team in Search of its Soul, Kobe was described as "un-coachable."
Shaq's departure marked what many consider to be the start of Kobe's prime as a player. He won back-to-back scoring titles in 2006 and 2007, and on January 22, 2006, Bryant scored a career high 81 points against the Toronto Raptors. Despite his prolific scoring, the Lakers' mediocre supporting cast kept the Lakers out of serious contention. The Lakers fortunes improved somewhat after the Lakers rehired Phil Jackson in June of 2005.
In August of 2006, Kobe switched his number from 8 to 24. In an interview with TNT, Kobe said he chose 24 to represent working all 24 hours in a day. He reportedly wanted to wear 24 as a rookie, but it was already taken, and his high-school number (33) was retired by the Lakers because it was worn by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Many speculate the move was an attempt by Bryant to reinvent his image following the rape trial. Some fans also theorize it is because he originally chose 8 after Mike D'Antoni, a player in the Italian league he liked. D'Antoni went on to be a head coach in the NBA, and Kobe's number change happened after his Lakers lost a grueling seven game series to his Phoenix Suns.
The Lakers were able to return to contention after acquiring Spanish forward Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for the draft rights to his younger brother Marc. Along with Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest) and the Zen Master, the Lakers made three straight Finals from 2008 to 2010, winning in 2009 and 2010 against the Magic and Celtics respectively.
Kobe gave himself the nickname "El Vino" because he aged like a fine wine.
Following the Lakers win in the 2010 Finals against the rival Celtics, fans and commentators began discussing if Kobe could match the six championship mark set by Michael Jordan. In 2011, the Lakers season ended in ignominious fashion. They were swept by the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks, suffering a blow-out loss in Game 4 where Lakers center Andrew Bynum was ejected after a flagrant foul of JJ Barea. As he was exiting the court, Bynum stripped off his jersey and threw it into the stands. This would be Phil Jackson's final game as an NBA coach.
In the 2012 playoffs, the Lakers got bounced by the Thunder in five games. That offseason, the Lakers made a big splash in free agency by acquiring center Dwight Howard and point guard Steve Nash. These two, along with Bryant, Metta, and Gasol, gave the Lakers a starting five of five All-Stars. This team drew comparison to the other "super-team," the Miami Heat with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in the Eastern Conference. The Lakers "dream team" would turn out to be a major disappointment.
After an 1-4 start, Lakers coach Mike Brown was fired and replaced with former Suns and Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni. Injuries plagued the team, particularly Nash, and the All-Star lineup of Nash/Bryant/Metta/Gasol/Howard did not see much time together. With the team struggling, the 34-year old Bryant took it upon himself to carry the Lakers to the playoffs. Towards the end of the season, Kobe began playing nearly all 48 minutes, and finished the season averaging 38.6 minutes per game, his most in six years and second only to Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard. Kobe had also taken on the role as the team's primary facilitator, and began racking up double-digit assist games. In an April 12 contest against the Golden State Warriors, Kobe tore his Achilles tendon, ending his season. Bryant's efforts helped the Lakers get the seventh seed in the playoffs, but in his absence they were swept in the first round by San Antonio.
Howard, whose relationship with Kobe was reportedly poor, left the Lakers for the Houston Rockets in the offseason. Nash continued to struggle with injuries and was unable to provide meaningful support to the team. He eventually retired at the end of the 2014-2015 season. Metta World Peace was waived at the end of the "dream team" season to help provide cap relief. Gasol left the team for the Chicago Bulls in free-agency in the 2014 offseason.
The Lakers finished the 2013-2014 season with a 27-55 record, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Kobe only played 6 games this season. D'Antoni resigned at the end of the season, and he was replaced with Byron Scott, a former teammate of Bryant. The next season, Bryant's season was again cut short due to injury, and he was only able to play 35 games. The Lakers plodded to a 21-61 record.
Kobe had a rough start to the 2015-2016 season. His "highlights," characterized by a glut of airballs and poor shooting performances, became a recurring punchline for sports pundits. In a game against the Warriors, Kobe had a career-worst performance, going 1 for 14 from the field and scoring just 4 points. On November 29, in a piece for The Player's Tribune, Kobe announced the 2015-2016 season would be his last. The season soon took on sentimental value, with fans in other cities cheering on their final opportunity to watch Bryant play. This "retirement tour" took precedence in the season as the Lakers continued their streak of being a league doormat.
The Mamba played his final game on April 13, 2016 at home against the Utah Jazz. This day came to be known as "MambaDay," with fans across the world paying tribute to the legendary player's final performance. Ticket prices for the game rivaled the prices fans paid for the Finals games in 2010. The Lakers had "8" and "24" decals printed on the floor in honor of him. In front of a sold-out crowd, Kobe scored 60 points, his sixth career 60-point game, helping lift the Lakers to victory with several clutch shots. Among those watching were notable NBA fans like Jack Nicholson, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and George Lopez as well as former teammates like Shaq, Rick Fox, Gary Payton, and Lamar Odom. His 60 points was also the highest for any player in a single game in the 2015-2016 season. After the game, Kobe joked "my whole career, people were telling me to pass the ball. And now everybody's telling me to shoot it."
Death and Legacy
On January 26, 2020, Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, along with seven other passengers, died in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles. The news was met with worldwide shock and grief, even outside the world of sports. Several basketball games taking place on the day of or in the days after would commemorate the tragedy. Players in NBA games took 8 second and 24 second violations to recognize both of Bryant's jersey numbers. Players on the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team all wore #2 for a game in honor of Gianna Bryant, a talented young basketball player in her own right who cheered for UConn. Several NBA players who wore either #8 or #24 announced they would switch numbers out of respect for Kobe. A game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers scheduled days after the accident was cancelled, and was later replayed as one of the first games in the NBA's post-COVID-19 "bubble."
Reactions from players, especially those who knew Bryant, were particularly passionate. In games immediately after the news was announced, NBA players could be seen crying on court. Coach Doc Rivers, who coached against Kobe's Lakers in two NBA Finals, was in tears during a post-game interview when talking about it. In a segment for TNT's Inside the NBA, Kobe's former teammate Shaq teared up when talking about his relationship with Kobe, as did former Laker's GM Jerry West (the man behind the NBA's iconic logo), who was responsible for acquiring the future legend from the Hornets. On the first game back, the now LeBron James-led Lakers held a tribute, with LeBron himself making a speech to commemorate Kobe, Gianna, and all those who were lost in the crash. In Kobe's televised funeral, there were speeches from many players, including Michael Jordan, as well as comments by the widow Vanessa Bryant.
The outpour of grief from the city of Los Angeles itself was substantial. Thousands gathered outside the Stapes Center on the day the news was announced, and many murals and memorials have been put up around the city to honor Kobe, Gianna, and the others who died in the crash. Kobe Bryant remains one of the most beloved and influential basketball players of all time.
Standing at 6' 6'', Bryant played the shooting guard position. Kobe has been praised for his potent offensive repertoire, complete with mid-range post moves and high-flying dunks that closely mirrored Michael Jordan.
- Youngest player to reach 30, 000 points.
- The all-time leading scorer in Lakers history.
- Third leading scorer in NBA history.
- 2007-2008 NBA MVP
- 2-time NBA Finals MVP
- 5-time NBA champion
- 18-time NBA All Star
- 4-time NBA All-Star MVP (most all-time)
- 15-time NBA All-Team (11x first team, 2x second team, 2x third team) (most all-time)
- 12-time NBA All-Defensive (9x first team, 3x second team)
- 2-time NBA scoring champion.
- Kobe is the only guard to play 20 seasons in the NBA.
- His 20 seasons with the Lakers is the most any player has any spent with a single team.
- 2nd-most 60 point games (6)
- Most points in a final NBA game (60)
- Second most points in an NBA game (81)
Bryant is considered one of the best players in NBA history, and a future Hall of Famer.
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