The Los Angeles Lakers struck gold during the 1996 NBA Draft with their trade for Kobe Bryant from the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for starting center Vlade Divac.
Bryant immediately made history by becoming the first guard drafted out of high school, and joined the fray of a Lakers team that was ready to take the next step and contend for a championship. While expectations were high for Bryant, he often found himself on the bench in favor for veteran guards Eddie Jones and Nick Van Excel.
During an interview on “Holding Court with Geno Auriemma”, Bryant revealed to the legendary UConn women’s basketball coach that he didn’t enjoy his rookie season because of his lack of playing time, but that it ultimately allowed him to mature and approach every practice with a focused mindset:
“I hated it. It was really, really rough. I wasn’t playing much at all, and I was seeing my peers, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, these guys were out there playing and performing at a high level. And I felt that I could compete with them, but my butt was glued to the bench. When I’d get in, the minutes were sporadic. What I decided to do was, how can I be efficient? How can I come into the game and make an impact quickly in certain areas? And then in practice I had to work extremely hard, because I had to earn my minutes. I had to be able to prove that I can do this, that, and the other. So, all though when I was going through it, I hated it. But in looking back, it helped me tremendously because it helped me behave and take every practice as if it was life or death.”
Bryant appeared in 71 games during his rookie season, but only started in six of them while averaging a little over 15 minutes per contest. Two games came against Michael Jordan, with Bryant, at 18 years old, looking to ‘destroy’ his counterpart in their first matchup.
During the playoffs of his rookie season, Bryant saw the floor in all nine games and logged an average of just under 15 minutes. He infamously shot one airball after another in an elimination loss to the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals.
The 18-time NBA All-Star saw an increase in playing time during his sophomore season, and the rest was history as Bryant went on to cement himself as one of the greatest basketball players the sport has ever seen.
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