Kobe Bean Bryant was born on August 23, 1978 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When Bryant was 6 years old his father Joe retired from the NBA and moved the family to Italy where he would continue his basketball career overseas.
Bryant played both basketball and soccer while in Italy becoming huge fans of the Los Angeles Lakers as well as the A.C. Milan soccer team. When Bryant was 13 his family moved back to Philadelphia.
Bryant attended Lower Merion High School, starting on the varsity team as a freshman. He was named Philadelphia Player of the Year as a junior and a fourth team All-American. In Bryant’s senior season he was named both Gatorade and Naismith High School Basketball Player of the Year as well as being a McDonalds All-American. He led Lower Merion to their first state championship in 53 years and was Southeastern Pennsylvania’s all-time leading scorer.
Despite scholarship offers from nearly every major college, Bryant decided to enter the 1996 NBA Draft.
Kobe was drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets and immediately dealt to the Lakers for starting center Vlade Divac. Then-GM Jerry West had become enamored with Bryant following a workout in which he dominated former NBA players Michael Cooper and Larry Drew in scrimmages. This move also freed up salary cap space which the Lakers used to sign Shaquille O’Neal.
Kobe spent his first two seasons mostly as a reserve behind Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel. He saw very limited minutes early on, but did become the youngest player to play in an NBA game when he made his debut, playing 6 scoreless minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Bryant would score his first NBA point, a free throw, in the team’s next game against the New York Knicks.
As the season went on, Bryant gradually began to earn more minutes and became the youngest player to start an NBA game in a January 28 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. During All-Star Weekend Bryant would win the 1997 Slam Dunk Championship and his performance through the season earned an NBA All-Rookie Second Team selection.
The Lakers would make the second round of the playoffs that season, falling to the Utah Jazz 4-1. In the deciding fifth game, Bryant found himself on the floor down the stretch and in overtime, but airballed multiple shots as the Jazz would clinch the elimination.
Bryant remained a reserve for his second season, but his minutes increased and as a result, his scoring more than doubled. He would earn his first All-Star selection, along with teammates O’Neal, Jones, and Van Exel, and finished second in Sixth Man of the Year voting to behind Toni Kukoc of the Chicago Bulls.
After the Lakers traded away Jones and Van Exel, Bryant became a full-time starter in his third season. He also signed a six-year, $70 extension with the Lakers during the season, and was named to the All-NBA Third Team.
Phil Jackson became the Lakers head coach ahead of the 1999-2000 season and his presence immediately paid dividends as he structured the famed triangle offense around Kobe and Shaq. The Lakers would win 67 games as O’Neal would win NBA MVP. Kobe grew immensely as well, being named to his first All-Defense First Team while also making All-NBA Second Team. He was also named to his second All-Star team, beginning a streak of 17 straight selections. On March 12, 2000, Kobe notched his first career 40-point game in a 109-106 win over the Sacramento Kings.
Kobe’s growth was even more evident in the playoffs. In Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers, Kobe led the Lakers with 25 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 block, as the Lakers came back from a 15-point fourth quarter deficit to advance to the NBA Finals. He punctuated the victory with the famous alley-oop to Shaquille O’Neal.
Bryant also came up huge in those Finals, particularly in Game 4 where he scored 22 points in the second half and led the Lakers to a huge 120-118 road win in overtime after Shaquille O’Neal fouled out. The Lakers would go on to win the series in 6 games, winning their first NBA Championship since 1988.
The 2000-01 season saw more growth from Bryant as he raised his scoring to 28.5 points per game. He dropped his first 50 point game on December 6, 2000 and Kobe was named All-NBA Second Team again. The Lakers would go on arguably the most dominant playoff run ever, going 15-1 in route to their second straight NBA Championship.
In 2002 Bryant garnered his first All-NBA First Team selection as well as his first All-Star Game MVP award. Bryant’s all-around play continued and he set a new career-high with 56 points on January 12 against the Memphis Grizzlies. Despite their toughest playoff series to date, in the Western Conference Finals against the Sacramento Kings, the Lakers would push through, beating the Kings in a Game 7 on the road before sweeping the New Jersey Nets for their third straight Championship.
The 2003 and 2004 seasons saw Kobe’s individual play grow to even greater heights, but the Lakers team success faltered as friction between himself and Shaq grew. Kobe averaged 30 points per game for the first time in ’03, leading the Lakers, and finishing third in NBA MVP voting. He also went on a streak of nine straight 40-point games in February of that year but L.A. fell to the San Antonio Spurs in six games in the second round.
The team added future Hall of Famers Gary Payton and Kobe Bryant the following year, but the issues between Kobe and Shaq grew even greater. The Lakers returned to the Finals but were dominated by the Detroit Pistons in five games, as Kobe struggled mightily against the stout Pistons defense.
As a free agent that summer Bryant strongly considered signing with the Los Angeles Clippers, but would ultimately re-sign with the Lakers on a seven-yea max contract just one day after the team dealt away Shaquille O’Neal to the Miami Heat. Head coach Phil Jackson also left that off-season with the Lakers choosing not to renew his contract.
The 2005 season marked the first time in Kobe’s career that his team failed to make the playoffs. He was still named All-NBA Third Team, but failed to make the All-Defensive Team as the Lakers finished just 34-48.
Phil Jackson would return as the team’s head coach in 2006 as Kobe would have best individual season, staking his claim as the best player in the league. Bryant averaged 35.4 points, becoming just the fourth player in history to reach that mark and the first since Michael Jordan in 1987. He famously scored 62 points in 3 quarters against the Dallas Mavericks on December 20, 2005, singlehandedly outscoring Dallas 62-61 during that stretch before sitting out the final period.
Just over a month later Bryant would score 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in a 122-104 victory, the second-highest scoring game in NBA history. This was also a Lakers franchise record, breaking Elgin Baylor’s 71-point night in 1960. Kobe would set Lakers single-season franchise records for total points (2,832) and 40-point games (27). He was also named to his first of eight straight All-NBA First Teams and six straight All-Defensive First Teams.
Kobe would finish fourth in NBA MVP voting this season, but had the second most first-place votes behind only eventual winner Steve Nash. He also led the Lakers back to the playoffs where they pushed the heavily favored Phoenix Suns to seven games before falling in the first round.
Then in 2007, Bryant changed his number to 24 before a season in which he again lead the NBA in scoring. This included a streak of four straight 50-point games, two of which were 60-point contests and ten 50-point outings in the season, but the Lakers again fell to the Suns in the first round of the playoffs.
The following offseason, Bryant publicly demanded a trade, but ultimately backed off his demand. Boosted by an in-season trade for All-Star big man Pau Gasol, Kobe led the Lakers to a 57-25 record, landing him his first and only NBA MVP award after averaging 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1.8 steals. The Lakers would march through the Western Conference playoffs setting up an NBA Finals meeting with the Boston Celtics which they lost in 6 games.
That summer Kobe starred on the USA Men’s National Team. In the Gold Medal game against Spain, Bryant scored 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to help USA pull away for a 118-107 victory, the country’s first gold medal since 2000.
Motivated by their failures the previous season the Lakers went on a tear in 2009, finishing 65-17. Kobe finished second in MVP voting to LeBron James, but the Lakers again blew through the Western Conference for their second straight NBA Finals appearance. This time facing the Orlando Magic the Lakers defeated them 4-1 with Kobe winning his fourth NBA Championship and first NBA Finals MVP after averaging 32.4 points, 7.4 assists, and 5.6 rebounds.
Despite dealing with numerous injuries throughout the regular season, Kobe missed just nine games as the Lakers again had the best record in the West at 57-25. On February 1, 2010 Kobe surpassed Jerry West to become the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer. Kobe would sign a three-year, $87 million extension during the season as well.
The Lakers had struggles in the playoffs with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Phoenix Suns, but ultimately advanced to their third straight NBA Finals where they would have a rematch with the Boston Celtics. The teams would engage in a back-and-forth seven game series with the Lakers ultimately prevailing. Though Bryant struggled mightily against the Celtics defense, he still finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds in the final game, winning his fifth championship, and second straight NBA Finals MVP.
Bryant would continue to push for his sixth championship in the following years. Kobe won his fourth All-Star Game MVP and climbed up to sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list in 2011, but the Lakers were swept by the eventual NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks in the second round. This also marked Bryant’s final appearance on the All-NBA First Team. Following the season Phil Jackson would leave as Lakers head coach.
In 2012 Bryant struggled with minor injuries, missing 8 games, but remaining among the NBA’s elite players. He had his sixth career streak of at least four 40-point games and became the All-Star Game’s all-time leading scorer, but the Lakers again fell in the second round of the playoffs, this time in six games to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Bryant would play for the Men’s National Team for the final time this summer. Though no longer the best player on the team, Bryant took on the role as the team’s top perimeter defender and again helped lead USA to a Gold Medal.
The Lakers would acquire All-Stars Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in the offseason in an attempt to get Bryant one last championship, but the team never gelled as expected with Mike D’Antoni took over as head coach in the middle of the season. Nash missed 32 games due to injury while Kobe and Howard struggled to get along as the Lakers underachieved.
In an attempt to push the Lakers to the playoffs, Bryant took on a major load, scoring at least 30 points in six of 10 games. Unfortunately in the last of those contests, Bryant crumbled to the floor during a drive, rupturing his achilles tendon. Following a timeout, Bryant would slowly limp on the court and make two free throws before leaving the floor to a rousing ovation. Bryant was named to his final All-NBA First Team in 2013.
Due to the achilles tear Bryant missed the first 19 games of the 2013-14 season. He signed one last contract extension, a two-year $48.5 million deal before returning to the floor. He scored just nine points in his return on December 8, 2013, a 12-point loss to the Toronto Raptors. However, in just his sixth game back, Kobe suffered a lateral tibial fracture in his left knee, ultimately being ruled out for the remainder of the season.
2015 did not go much better for Bryant as he played in only 35 games. On December 14, 2014 Kobe surpassed Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with a free throw in a 100-94 win over the Timberwolves. Kobe suffered a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder in a January game against the New Orleans Pelicans. Once again showing his toughness, Bryant would return to the game, playing almost exclusively left-handed before being pulled out and eventually undergoing season-ending surgery.
On November 29, 2015, Bryant announced that the current season would be his last, penning a poem in The Players Tribune entitled ‘Dear Basketball.’ Though Bryant requested that no road teams have any on-court ceremonies for him, teams would honor Bryant with video packages and opposing fans showered him with raucous standing ovations. Bryant played in his final All-Star Game, finishing with 10 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds.
In the final game of his career on April 13, 2015, Bryant would put forth an incredible 60-point performance in a 101-96 win over the Utah Jazz. Bryant scored 23 points in the fourth quarter of the game and became the oldest player in NBA history to score 60 points in a game.
After a 20-year career spent entirely with the Lakers, Kobe Bryant retired as the franchise career leader in points, games, minutes, and steals as well as total field goals, three-pointers, and free throws made.
On December 18, 2017 the Los Angeles Lakers retired both Kobe Bryant’s no. 8 and 24 jerseys in a ceremony at Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and 7 others were tragically killed in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020. He and his daughter were buried in a private memorial on February 7 and a public memorial was held at Staples Center on February 24.