“I have decided to skip college and take my talents to the NBA.”
A 17 year old kid from Philadelphia may have executed the unthinkable. Going right to the NBA draft is certainly not an easy task, as 99% of basketball players take their talents to the college level in order to prepare for the next level. This was not the case for Kobe Bryant, however.
How could someone who is legally still a kid have a chance to prove himself in the national basketball association? No ordinary kid would be ready to play for the NBA out of high school. But there was nothing ordinary about this basketball player.
Kobe Bryant was plucked as the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA draft, selected by the Charlotte Hornets. NBA executive and Jerry West was quick to jump all over the kid from Philly. West and the Hornets immediately came to terms with a trade, sending Kobe to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for starting center Vlade Divac. At the time, Laker fans were irate, as trading your starting center away for a player just coming out of high school is a very risky move.
Bryant’s is A one of a kind story. Kobe was hitching rides from teammates to the practice facility, as he was yet to get this license. Once turning 18 years old, that would change.
Kobe’s character was quickly criticized in his rookie year, in a playoff series against the Utah Jazz. In Game 5, with the Lakers down 3-1 in the best of seven series, and also tied with 10 seconds remaining, Bryant attempted to be the hero on a game winning three. The rookie completely air balled the three-point field goal, sending the game into overtime. In those few extra minutes, Kobe air balled three more shots, including one in the final seconds of overtime with LA down three points. This is something that no player in the history of basketball has ever done in the spotlight, which made critics think Kobe could not handle the pressure.
What people forget from that incident is that Bryant was only 18 years old and had much to learn. Coming off the bench in the next season, Bryant made the all star team.
In the 2000 season, Bryant finally got a co-star: Shaquille O'neal. At this point any believed Kobe needed Shaq more than Shaq needed Kobe. O’Neal has already proven himself in the finals once, but Bryant went in with confidence.
Reportedly, this created tension between Shaq and Bryant, as Kobe would talk about how Shaq needed to lose weight in order to help the team even more, criticizing his work ethic in the process. O’Neal, on the other hand, would talk about Kobe needing to stop being a ball hog and pass the ball in the paint more often for him to score. Seemed that there was some sort of beef between the two players. Despite the tension together they helped the Los Angeles Lakers win three straight championships, from 2000-2002.
After the 2004 Lakers lost in the NBA finals to the Detroit Pistons, a series in which the Lakers were favored to win, LA dealt an unhappy O’Neal away to the Miami Heat, leaving Bryant to fend for himself.
The move created an opportunity for Kobe Bryant to prove the haters wrong, however, to prove that he can win a championship without Shaquille O’Neal. It was somewhat of a long road for Bryant to win his next championship with his “own team,” but in the long process he made his name even bigger worldwide.
Bryant had one of the most historic performances of all time in a regular season game in 2006. Lakers v.s. Raptors had the Lakers trailing for a majority of the game. This sparked a fire inside of “The Black Mamba”, and made Bryant wheel his team to victory, by scoring a remarkable 81 points. This is the second highest amount of points in NBA history, behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point effort in 1962.
Bryant also gave the NBA community unforgettable moments, by hitting a variety of clutch shots during Laker playoff runs. The clutch shots introduced an opportunity for Kobe to prove the haters wrong by advancing to the 2008 NBA finals against the Boston Celtics. Kobe unfortunately fell short of his goal, losing in six games. This was the ‘toughest’ loss of his career, and it gave the media and basketball fans even more reason to explain why Bryant needed Shaq on his team.
The pressure rose to an all time high for Bryant, and would test his character. He absolutely dismantled all the teams around the league, and became a 2009 NBA champion and finals MVP. He followed that historic season by getting revenge on the Boston Celtics in the 2010 finals, winning in seven. Bryant solidified himself as being one of the greatest to ever play after these two seasons, and proved his dominance without Shaquille O’Neal.
But there was a decline, and it became noticeable in 2011. Despite a couple more playoff runs, the Lakers were never again viewed as a serious contender, which is something new for Bryant. The years of intense and fearless play was starting to take its toll, and Bryant became injury prone..
Twenty years on the court caught up to the 37 year old and had him sitting on the bench, as the Lakers finished with some pretty awful records. Despite the injuries and losing records, Bryant left the NBA community with one of the greatest individual games of all time. In his final game of his career in the 2015-2016 season, Kobe Bryant had a miraculous 60 points in a win against the Utah Jazz. It was the team win, and not his individual record during that game, that made him happy. That was the kind of player he was.
Despite being one of the best to ever step foot on a court, Kobe was also one of the best dads to ever step foot in a house. Playing a professional sport means that sacrifices have to be made, and both you and your family will lose out. But made up for it during retirement. He was there for his wife and kids every single day, including training/coaching his middle child Gianna Bryant in basketball. He was influential on the court for players, and off the court for parents.
On January 26, 2020 tragedy struck and Kobe Bryant, 13-year-old Gianna Bryant, and seven others died in a helicopter crash.
Since that Sunday morning, the world has suffered, stunned and shocked by the loss.
The nine victims had much to live for, and much more living to do.
Kobe made a short film right out of basketball to win an Oscar, named Dear basketball. Kobe never left the game completely, as he trained over the summer with young growing talent, making it a priority to improve the NBA. Mostly, he was a family fan and was there for his family 24/7. Kobe Bryant was an influence and superhero to many, and his legacy will live on forever.