Kobe Bryant was one of the greatest basketball players that the world has ever witnessed. His skill and showmanship on the court were simply unbelievable and his trademark Mamba Mentality and mind-blowing devotion to his craft made him an inspiration. In the process of cementing himself as one of the most august icons and role models of all time, he set a standard for professionals of all walks of life on how to approach a respective craft with the utmost intensity, passion, and perfectionism.
Bryant’s prodigious basketball career at Lower Merion High School not only earned him national attention but spectators began drawing comparisons between him and Michael Jordan. Bryant entered the 1996 NBA Draft straight out of high school, becoming the first guard ever to successfully do so. He was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers (incidentally his favorite team growing up) soon after he was drafted no. 13 overall by the Charlotte Hornets. Since he was still a few months under the age of 18 when he signed his first NBA contract, his parents, including his father Joe, who had previously played in the NBA for several teams, had to co-sign it with him. The Lakers also signed megastar Shaquille O’Neal shortly after trading for Bryant with the hopes that the two would grow to forge one of the greatest one-two-punches in history.
The degree of Bryant’s bravado was apparent to Los Angeles from day one thus earning him the nickname “Showboat.” But it wasn’t actually until his third season, 1998-99, that he earned the consistent role of being a starter for the Lakers. In his second season, 1997-98, the crowd-pleasing Bryant became the youngest player to start in an NBA All-Star Game — marking his first of an astounding 18 All-Star appearances total (second-most in history).
In the offseason of 1999, the legendary Phil Jackson, who had guided the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls to six championships over the past decade, was hired to coach the Bryant-and-O’Neal Lakers. From 1999-00 – 2001-02, Bryant and O’Neal cemented their place in history, leading the Lakers to three straight championships, while proving to indeed be one of the most dynamic and thrilling NBA tandems of all time. During their championship run, Bryant had proven himself as one of the most amazing two-way guards ever seen, while O’Neal dominated to a degree that very few centers ever have. The Bryant-and-O’Neal dynasty would come to a halt in the offseason of 2004, with O’Neal being traded, and Jackson’s short-lived departure.
Throughout the Lakers’ rebuilding years, Bryant worked tirelessly to perfect his game, while becoming a better teammate and leader. After the Lakers missed the playoffs in 2004-05 for the first time in Bryant’s career, Coach Jackson was rehired. Bryant would have one of the most statistically historic NBA regular seasons in 2005-06, highlighted by an 81-point game — the second-highest single-game scoring performance in NBA history. In the summer of 2006, he decided to change his Laker jersey from the No. 8 to the No. 24. Bryant won his second consecutive scoring title in 2006-07 but the Lakers, just as the year prior, lost in the first round of the playoffs. Bryant had an MVP season in 2007-08 and the Lakers’ acquisition of Pau Gasol just before the trade deadline had helped make them championship contenders again. Following the Lakers’ devastating 2008 Finals loss to the franchise’s arch-rival Boston Celtics, Bryant helped lead the United States to capture the gold medal, while astonishing the entire Olympic team full of elite superstars with his peerless work ethic. Bryant triumphantly led the Lakers to two championships in 2008-09 and 2009-10, and was named the Finals MVP both times. His 2010 title victory provided overwhelming revenge for him and the Lakers as it came against the Celtics in the Finals in one of the most dramatic seven-game series in history.
Jackson retired from coaching following the Lakers 2011 playoff loss. Bryant continued to play at the top of his game for a few more seasons. He won his second Olympic gold medal in the summer of 2012. Towards the very end of the 2012-13 regular season, Bryant suffered a torn Achilles tendon; he unbelievably continued to knock down two free throws on his torn Achilles before limping to the locker room. As one of the most physically and mentally tough athletes imaginable, Bryant had repeatedly, throughout his career, exhibited an uncanny ability to play at or near his best through nagging injuries; no injury, though, would prove to be more hampering than this one.
Early on in the 2015-16 season, Bryant announced that he would be retiring at the season’s end; he received an overwhelming farewell tour throughout the season. In his final NBA game, Bryant displayed one of the most memorable farewell performances in sports history, scoring a staggering 60 points, including 15-straight points for the Lakers late in the fourth quarter to lead them to a come-from-behind victory. This was certainly a fitting way for Bryant, one of the most clutch performers of all time, to go out, before then addressing the audience with his signature “Mamba Out” speech. Bryant retired as the first NBA player to play 20 seasons with the same organization, and fittingly for the team that he idolized growing up.
On December 18, 2017, the Lakers immortalized Bryant’s No. 8 and his No. 24 in the rafters, making him the first-and-only NBA player to have two separate jersey numbers retired by the same organization. Bryant was selected to the All-NBA First Team 11 times throughout his career (a feat topped only by LeBron James). He was one of the most unbelievably consummate offensive maestros that the basketball world will ever see and ranks fourth on the NBA’s all-time career regular season and playoff scoring list. He was also one of the most dedicated defensive aces ever, which earned him a spot on the NBA All-Defensive First Team a record-tying nine times. This top-tier entertainer and competitor often shined bright in All-Star games, winning the All-Star Game MVP a record-tying four times. And recently, the NBA named the All-Star Game MVP award after Bryant. Bryant, the five-time NBA champion, two-time NBA Finals MVP, and 2007-08 MVP, was one of the most avid students and historians of the game, and his place in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will be the ultimate honor to salute his storybook career.
Listen to Legends Of Sport’s interview with Kobe Bryant or watch the full video here.