On Nov. 3, 1996, Kobe Bryant made his NBA debut with the Los Angeles Lakers, beginning what would become an illustrious 20-year career. At 18 years, 72 days old, he became the youngest player to ever appear in an NBA game.
Though that mark was later broken by Jermaine O’Neal (18 years, 53 days) on Dec. 5, 1996, which then was surpassed by former Lakers center Andrew Bynum (18 years, 9 days) on Nov. 2, 2005.
Bryant only played six minutes off the bench in his debut, missed the only shot he took, grabbed one rebound and had one block. The Lakers were carried by 35 points and 19 rebounds from Shaquille O’Neal against a Timberwolves team that was led by a young Kevin Garnett.
Coincidentally, Garnett made his NBA debut exactly one year prior. Against the Lakers in 1996, he finished with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists.
While Bryant didn’t have much of an impact in his first game with the Lakers, he went on to average 7.6 points, 1.3 assists and 1.9 rebounds while appearing in 71 games and was named to the NBA All-Rookie second team.
Though, that season also famously ended with Bryant hoisting on air-ball after another in what was an elimination loss to the Utah Jazz in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. But rather than derail his career, the failure fueled Bryant to become one of the league’s all-time greats.
He and O’Neal would later lead the Lakers to three consecutive championships, establishing themselves as one of the best duos in NBA history. Then after a separation and rocky period for Bryant and the Lakers, they returned to the mountaintop once Pau Gasol was in the fold as a second star.
Phil Jackson also returned as head coach, and together he and Bryant helped guide the Lakers to three straight NBA Finals appearances and back-to-back titles.
For all he accomplished on the court, Bryant’s life and career off it was becoming equally as impressive and impactful. It was tragically cut short when the five-time champion, his daughter Gianna and other passengers died in a helicopter crash in January of this year.