On January 26th, 2020, the world was shocked to learn of the death of Kobe Bryant. Bryant, one of the most beloved players in NBA history was killed in a helicopter crash along with his daughter Gianna and seven other passengers. He was 41 years old.
Bryant was drafted out of High School in the 1996 NBA Draft. Selected 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets, he was immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. In addition, he was the first guard to be taken out of high school. Playing in the league for 20 years, he accomplished just about everything. Aside from playing in the NBA, he represented the United States in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, winning a Gold Medal in both events.
Kobe’s List of Accomplishments:
- Five NBA Titles
- Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist
- Two-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (2009 and 2010)
- NBA’s Most Valuable Player (2008)
- Two-time NBA Scoring Champion (2006 and 2007)
- 18 NBA All-Star appearances
- Four-time All-Star Most Valuable Player
- 1997 Slam Dunk Contest Champion (youngest player to win the contest)
- The fourth all-time leading scorer in NBA (33, 643)
- The fourth all-time leading scorer in the post-season (5,640)
- Lakers all-time leading scorer
- The second-youngest player in NBA history to reach 30-000 career points.
Kobe’s early years and emergence:
Bryant’s career was quite unique. His first two seasons saw him as a bench player, starting just seven games during that time. His emergence began in the 1998-99 season with him starting all 50 games that season, averaging about 20 points per game. In addition, during the playoffs that season, Bryant played a significant role, averaging close to 20 points per game as the Lakers were eliminated in the west conference semifinals by the San Antonio Spurs.
The arrival of Phil Jackson in 1999 is when Bryant’s career skyrocketed. Going on to win the title that year and two more in consecutive years saw the Lakers’ famous three-peat. Rising to prominence and earning a reputation as a dominant shooting guard under Jackson’s triangle offense scheme.
However, despite Bryant’s success, it was a bit of a difficult time for him as he and teammate Shaquille O’Neal were in a feud. The world remembers a fistfight between the two in a pickup game during the 1998-99 NBA lockout. Based on the knowledge between the two, it’s quite clear they didn’t like each other. When O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat shortly after the team’s loss to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA finals, and immediately Bryant signed a new long-term deal, going on to become the Lakers’ next superstar.
The rivalry continued, however. At one point, O’Neal claims that the Lakers would have won the 2004 Championship if Bryant had “passed the ball more.” In addition, who can forget about Bryant criticizing O’Neal’s work ethic? The bottom line is that they both didn’t like each other yet they still somehow managed to win three titles together.
So that’s the early difficult part of Bryant’s career; playing with a teammate that he couldn’t stand but achieving success regardless.
Kobe’s prime and two more championships:
The next three seasons were disappointing. The 2004-05 season saw the Lakers missing the playoffs for the first time since the 1993-94 season. Bryant and the Lakers made the playoffs the next two years only to suffer elimination in the first round courtesy of the Phoenix Suns. In addition, during that rough year period, Bryant did fairly well winning his two NBA scoring titles and winning the 2007 NBA All-Star MVP award.
Furthermore, during the 2005-06 and 2006-2007 seasons, Bryant led the league in average points per game. He had a few great moments during that time such as his 62-point performance in a 32-minute span on 31 shots against the Dallas Mavericks in December 2005. Also, the world remembers Bryant’s career-high 81-point performance in a game against the Toronto Raptors on January 22nd, 2006, which is a Lakers franchise record and it’s the second-highest point performance in a single game.
Positive changes began in the 2007-08 season, with the Lakers making it to the finals only to come up short against the Boston Celtics. However, that year Bryant was named the season’s MVP. Bryant and the Lakers would return to the finals again and defeat the Orlando Magic to claim their first title since 2002. The following year they would win it all again, this time exacting revenge against their long-time rivals, the Celtics. In addition, Bryant was the Finals MVP in both years, averaging close to 30 points in both.
Post Championship/final years and injuries:
In the 2010-11 season, as the two-time defending champions, the Lakers were a favorite again. However, their season infamously came to an end with Bryant & company were unexpectedly swept by Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks in the conference semifinals.
Jackson would retire from coaching after LA’s elimination and Mike Brown would take over. Starting the season strong, he scored 48 points in a game against the Suns on January 10, 2012, going on to score at least 40 points in the next three games against the Jazz, Clippers, and Cavaliers. However, during that time, injuries began plaguing Bryant. During the All-Star game, he broke his nose and suffered a concussion. The Lakers would win their division only to lose in the conference semifinals against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Following the 2011-2012 season, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard would find their way to the Lakers. Coming into the 2012 season, a total of five All-Stars were in the starting lineup. Bryant alongside Howard, Nash, Metta World Peace, and Pau Gasol. Expectations were high. However, the Lakers finished 45-37, the team’s first worst record since 2007. In addition, they were swept in the first round by the Spurs. During that season, Bryant tore his Achilles tendon, thus missing the rest of the season.
Bryant missed the first two months of the 2013-14 season. He would sign a two-year extension in November before playing his game on December 8th, 2013. Unfortunately, he would soon suffer a knee injury, going on to miss the entire season. That season, the Lakers finished 27-55, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2005. At that point, it became clear that Bryant’s body was beginning to take its toll on the sport of basketball. In other words, his career was drawing closer to its conclusion.
The 2014-15 season was just more bad luck Bryant and the Lakers. Injuries plagued the team and at one point were sitting with a record of 14-41. Bryant only played 35 games as he suffered a torn rotator cuff on January 21, 2015, thus ending his season. The Lakers finished 21-61, the fourth-worst record in Lakers franchise history. In Kobe’s case, his body was further shutting down as he had suffered season-ending injuries in three consecutive seasons. Furthermore, it became clear that the end of Bryant’s playing days was just around the corner.
Bryant returned for the 2015-16 season. This season would be his last. He announced his intention to retire from the game on November 29th, 2015. In his final year, he appeared and started in 66 games, average close to 18 points per game. In the final game of his career against the Utah Jazz, Bryant scored 60 points in a Lakers’ winning effort, thus becoming the oldest player to score 60+ points in a game. With his last several seasons in the league being rough, Bryant finished his career off in style.
No doubt, he is one of the greatest players in NBA history and one of the biggest athletes in American Sports History. Furthermore, he goes down as a hero all around the world. A staunch advocate of the WNBA, his support of Women’s Professional Basketball is a big part of his legacy.
Breaking records was a huge part of his career they paint a big image on his legacy. At one point, he was the youngest player to reach the milestones of 10,000, 15,000, 18,000, 20,000, 22,000 and 23,000 points respectively. However, those records would each go on to be surpassed by LeBron James. Furthermore, his 20 years with the Lakers ties a record with Nowitzki for most seasons played in one franchise.
LeBron James has declared that Bryant’s legacy is now his responsibility with a promise to continue Bryant’s legacy. It’s safe to say there will never be another Kobe Bryant. His success and impact on the court paved the way for many young players in the league today.
Bryant will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, class of 2020 alongside Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. The legacy of Kobe Bryant will live forever.