Kobe Bryant is arguably one of the greatest professional Basketball Players to ever be in the National Basketball League. He started at the young age of three and worked his way into being the top shooting guard in the sport. Despite having several personal issue off-the-court, it is hard to argue that the sport would not be where it is now without his contribution over the last two decades.
Bryant earned national recognition during a spectacular high school career at Lower Merion High School located in Ardmore, in the Philadelphia suburb of Lower Merion. As a freshman, he played for the varsity basketball team. He became the first freshman in decades to start for Lower Merion’s varsity team, but the team finished with a 4–20 record. The following three years, the Aces compiled a 77–13 record, with Bryant playing all five positions. During his junior year, he averaged 31.1 points, 10.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists and was named Pennsylvania Player of the Year, attracting attention from college recruiters in the process. Duke, North Carolina, Villanova and Michigan were at the top of his list; however, when Kevin Garnett went in the first round of the 1995 NBA Draft, he began considering going directly to the pros. At Adidas ABCD camp, Bryant earned the 1995 senior MVP award, while playing alongside future NBA teammate Lamar Odom. While in high school, then 76ers coach John Lucas invited Bryant to work out and scrimmage with the team, where he played one-on-one with Jerry Stackhouse. In his senior year of high school, Bryant led the Aces to their first state championship in 53 years. During the run, he averaged 30.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4.0 steals, and 3.8 blocked shots in leading the Aces to a 31–3 record. Bryant ended his high school career as Southeastern Pennsylvania’s all-time leading scorer at 2,883 points, surpassing both Wilt Chamberlain and Lionel Simmons. Bryant received several awards for his performance his senior year including being named Naismith High School Player of the Year, Gatorade Men’s National Basketball Player of the Year, a McDonald’s All-American, and a USA Today All-USA First Team player. Bryant’s varsity coach, Greg Downer, commented that he was “a complete player who dominates” and praised his work ethic, even as the team’s top player. Ultimately, however, the 17-year-old Bryant made the decision to go directly into the NBA, only the sixth player in NBA history to do so. Bryant’s news was met with a lot of publicity at a time when prep-to-pro NBA players were not very common (Garnett being the only exception in 20 years). His basketball skills and SAT score of 1080 would have ensured admission to any college he chose, but he did not officially visit any campuses. In 2012, Bryant was honored as one of the 35 Greatest McDonald’s All-Americans.
Bryant debuted in the Summer Pro League in Long Beach, California, scoring 25 points in front of a standing-room-only crowd. Defenders struggled to get in front of him, and his performance excited West and Lakers coach Del Harris. He scored 36 points in the finale, and finished with averages of 24.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in four game. At the time he became the youngest player ever to play in an NBA game (18 years, 72 days), and also became the youngest NBA starter ever (18 years, 158 days). During the All-Star weekend, Bryant participated in the Rookie Challenge and won the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest, becoming the youngest dunk champion ever at the age of 18. Bryant’s performance throughout the year earned him a spot on the NBA All Rookie second team with fellow bench teammate Travis Knight. The Lakers advanced to the Western Conference semifinals in the playoffs against the Utah Jazz, when Bryant was pressed into a lead role at the end of Game 5.
In Bryant’s second season, he received more playing time and began to show more of his abilities as a talented young guard. As a result, Bryant’s point averages more than doubled from 7.6 to 15.4 points per game. Bryant would see an increase in minutes when the Lakers “played small”, which would feature Bryant playing small forward alongside the guards he would usually back up. Bryant was the runner-up for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, and through fan voting, he also became the youngest NBA All-Star starter in NBA history. He was joined by teammates O’Neal, Van Exel, and Jones, making it the first time since 1983 that four players on the same team were selected to play in the same All-Star Game. Bryant’s 15.4 points per game was the highest of any non-starter in the season.
Bryant’s fortunes would soon change when Phil Jackson became coach for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1999. After years of steady improvement, Bryant became one of the premier shooting guards in the league, earning appearances in the league’s All-NBA, All-Star, and All-Defensive teams. The Los Angeles Lakers became true championship contenders under Bryant and O’Neal, who formed a legendary center-guard combination. Jackson utilized the triangle offense he used to win six championships with the Chicago Bulls, which would help both Bryant and O’Neal rise to the elite class of the NBA. The three resulting championships won consecutively in 2000, 2001, and 2002 further proved such a fact.
Bryant wanted a sixth championship to match Jordan’s total. The Lakers started the 2010–11 season by winning their first eight games. In his ninth game of the season, playing against the Denver Nuggets, Bryant became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 26,000 career points. Bryant also recorded his first triple double since January 21, 2009. On January 30 against the Celtics, he become the youngest player to score 27,000 points. On February 1, 2011, Bryant became one of seven players with at least 25,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 5,000 assists. In Boston, on February 10, Bryant scored 20 of his 23 points in the second half as the Lakers rallied from an early 15-point deficit for a 92–86 win over the Celtics. It was the Lakers’ first victory of the season against one of the league’s top four teams, as they entered the game 0–5 in previous matchups and had been outscored by an average of 11 points. Bryant, selected to his 13th straight All-Star game after becoming the leading vote-getter, had 37 points, 14 rebounds, and three steals in the 2011 All-Star Game and won his fourth All-Star MVP, tying Hall of Famer Bob Pettit for the most All-Star MVP awards. During the season, Bryant moved from 12th to 6th place on the NBA all-time career scoring list.
After recovering to play in the 2015–16 preseason, Bryant suffered a calf injury and missed the final two weeks of exhibition games. However, he played in the season opener to begin his 20th season with the Lakers, surpassing John Stockton’s league record of 19 for the most seasons with the same team. On November 24, 2015, the Lakers fell to 2–12 after losing 111–77 to the Warriors, as the defending NBA champions improved to 16–0 and broke the league record for consecutive wins to start a season. Bryant scored just four points in 25 minutes on 1-for-14 shooting, matching the worst-shooting game of his career in which he attempted at least five shots, and he continued a trend of shooting air balls that season.
On November 29, 2015, Bryant announced via The Players’ Tribune that he will be retiring at the end of the season. In his poem titled “Dear Basketball”, Bryant wrote that he fell in love with the game at age six; “A love so deep I gave you my all/From my mind & body/To my spirit & soul.” The 2015–16 season “is all I have left to give./My heart can take the pounding/My mind can handle the grind/But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye./And that’s OK./I’m ready to let you go.” In a letter distributed to Lakers’ fans before that evening’s game against the Indiana Pacers, Bryant wrote, “What you’ve done for me is far greater than anything I’ve done for you. … My love for this city, this team and for each of you will never fade. Thank you for this incredible journey.”
At the time of his announcement, he was second on the team in minutes (30.8) behind Jordan Clarkson and leading the team with 16.7 field goal attempts per game, while averaging just 15.7 points and shooting a career-low 31.5 percent. His free throw attempts had dropped from his career average, and his game had become over-reliant on pump fakes and long-range shots, making a league-worst 19.5 percent from three-point range while attempting seven a game, almost double his career average.
Bryant requested that opposing teams on the road not hold any on-court ceremonies in his honor or present him any gifts in public. Prior to announcing his retirement, he had been steadfast about not wanting the fuss of a staged farewell tour, preferring to hear boos instead of cheers. Still, he was honored around the league with video tributes, and fans greeted him with ovations. Previously, Bryant was respected but not beloved, and he was astonished at the cheers he was now receiving.
On February 3, Bryant made seven three-pointers and scored a season-high 38 points, including 14 of the team’s 18 points in the last 5:02 of the game, for a 119–115 win over Minnesota. The win ended a 10-game losing streak, and the Lakers averted establishing the longest losing streak in franchise history. Bryant became just the fourth NBA player over 37 years old to log at least 35 points, five rebounds, and five assists in a game. Bryant was the leading overall vote-getter for the 2016 All-Star Game with 1.9 million votes, ahead of Stephen Curry’s 1.6 million.
On April 13, 2016, Bryant played his final NBA game against the Utah Jazz, scoring a season-high 60 points (the most points scored by a player that season), including outscoring the entire Jazz team 23–21 in the fourth quarter, and the winning shot with only 31.6 seconds left, in the Lakers’ 101-96 victory.
Bryant was called “one of the greatest players in the history of our game” by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, and The New York Times wrote that he has had “one of the most decorated careers in the history of the sport.” Reuters called him “arguably the best player of his generation”, while both Sporting News and TNT named him their NBA player of the decade for the 2000s. In 2008 and again in 2016, ESPN ranked him the second greatest shooting guard of all-time after Jordan. The Press-Enterprise described Bryant as “maybe the greatest Laker in the organization’s history”.He is the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer, and his five titles are tied for the most in franchise history.
With career averages of 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.4 steals per game, he is considered one of the most complete players in NBA history. He was the first player in NBA history to have at least 30,000 career points and 6,000 career assists, and is one of only four players with 25,000 points, 6,000 rebounds and 6,000 assists. Bryant led the NBA in scoring during the 2005–06 and 2006–07 seasons. His 81-point performance against Toronto in 2006 was the second-highest in NBA history, behind only Chamberlain’s 100. He has scored at least 50 points 24 times in his career, which is third in league history behind Jordan (31) and Chamberlain (118); six times Bryant scored at least 60. He was just the third player in NBA history to average 40 points in a calendar month, which he has accomplished four times. Bryant was voted the league MVP in 2008 and led his team to the 2008 NBA Finals as the first seed in the Western Conference. In the 2008 Summer Olympics, he won a gold medal as a member of the U.S. men’s basketball team, occasionally referred to as “The Redeem Team.” He won another gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics. He led the Lakers to two more championships in 2009 and 2010, winning the Finals MVP award on both occasions.
Bryant is an 18-time All-Star, which ranks second behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 19. He has been chosen a record 18 straight times, each time as a starter. On four occasions (2003, 2011, 2013, 2015) he was the leading vote-getter. Four times Bryant was named the All-Star MVP, a record he shares with Bob Pettit. He has been selected to the All-NBA Team on 15 occasions, tied for the most with Abdul-Jabbar and Tim Duncan, and his 11 first-team honors are tied for the most ever with Karl Malone. Bryant is also a 12-time All-Defensive Team selection, trailing only Duncan’s 15, and nine times he was named to the All-Defensive First Team, tied with Jordan, Garnett, and Gary Payton for the most all-time. He was the first guard to play 20 seasons in the NBA. He also won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1997 and is its youngest winner. In his career, Bryant has scored 40-plus points in 121 games, and 21 times he has recorded a triple-double.