Kobe Bean Bryant (born August 23, 1978 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is an NBA all-star shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. He is the son of former Philadelphia 76ers player and current Los Angeles Sparks head coach Joe Bryant. He rose to national prominence as he became the first guard to be drafted out of high school in league history. Bryant was ranked #59 on SLAM magazine's Top 75 NBA Players of all time in 2003.
Kobe Bryant was born the only son of Joe and Pam Bryant. His parents named him after a kind of steak seen on a restaurant menu prior to his birth. At the age of six, he, his two sisters and his parents moved to Italy, where his father began playing professional basketball. While living there, he gradually became accustomed to the lifestyle and subsequently learned to speak Italian fluently. At an early age, he learned how to play soccer and admitted that if he had stayed in Italy, he would have stuck with soccer and may have even tried to become a pro soccer player. His favorite team was AC Milan. In 1991, the Bryants moved back to the United States. After a spectacular high school career in the Philadelphia suburb of Lower Merion, at Lower Merion High School, Bryant achieved national recognition as a prodigious basketball talent. While his SAT score of 1080 would have ensured his basketball scholarship to various top-tier colleges, Bryant eventually scrapped his original plans of continuing on to college by making the leap from high school directly to the NBA, a bold but controversial decision made by the then 17-year-old.
A few years later, the 20-year-old Bryant met 16-year-old Vanessa Laine on the set of a music video where Laine was working as a background dancer. The two began dating and were engaged six months later. They married on April 18, 2001 in Dana Point, California, while Laine was still a senior at Marina High School in Huntington Beach, California. Bryant's parents initially were staunchly opposed to the marriage for a number of reasons, citing the couple's young age as their primary concern. This disagreement resulted in an estrangement period of over two years, during which Kobe Bryant did not have any contact with his parents.
The Bryants' first child, a daughter named Natalia Diamante Bryant, was born on January 19, 2003. The birth of Natalia influenced Bryant to reconcile his differences with his parents, and the family was once again on good terms. Vanessa Bryant suffered a miscarriage due to an ectopic pregnancy in the spring of 2005. In the fall of that same year, the Bryants announced that they were expecting their second child. Their second daughter, Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, was born on May 1, 2006, and happened to be born within 6 minutes of former teammate/rival Shaquille O'Neal's daughter, Me'arah Sanaa.
Kobe has many really close friends, one of them being Quintin Weathers of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Quintin says he was always with him through the sexual assault case. Quintin, being 16, looks up to Kobe. He said, I just love the way Kobe plays ball and runs with it."
Early NBA Career
Even before he was chosen as the 13th pick overall by the Hornets in 1996, Bryant had made a lasting impression on then-Lakers general manager Jerry West, who immediately foresaw the potential in Bryant's basketball talent during pre-draft workouts. West stated that Bryant's workout was one of the best he had ever witnessed. West continued his quest to return the Lakers to championship status by trading then-starting center Vlade Divac to the Hornets for the 18-year old Bryant.
During his first season with the Lakers, he mostly came off the bench behind guards Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel. Bryant played limited minutes initially but this changed as the season continued. He earned himself a reputation as a high-flyer and a fan-favorite by winning the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest.
In Bryant's second season (1997–98), he received more playing time and began showing more of his abilities as a talented young guard. He was the runner-up for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, and, through fan voting, he also became the youngest NBA All-Star starter.
While his statistics were impressive for his age, he was still a young guard who lacked the experience to complement Shaquille O'Neal and significantly help the team contend for a championship.
However, Bryant's fortunes would soon change when Phil Jackson became coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. After years of steady improvement, Bryant had become one of the premier shooting guards in the league, a fact that was evidenced by his annual presence in the league's All-NBA, All-Star, and All-Defensive teams. The Los Angeles Lakers became perennial championship contenders under Bryant and O'Neal, who formed an outstanding center-guard combination. Their success gave the Lakers three consecutive NBA championships in 2000, 2001, and 2002.
End of a Dynasty
In the 2002-03 NBA season, Bryant averaged 30 points per game and embarked on a historic scoring run, posting 40 or more points per game in nine consecutive games while averaging 40.6 in the entire month of February. In addition, he averaged 6.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.2 steals per game, all career highs up to that point. For the first time in his career Bryant was voted on to both—All-NBA and All-Defensive 1st teams. After finishing 50-32 in the regular season, the Lakers floundered in the playoffs and lost in the Western Conference Semifinals to the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in six games.
In the following 2003-04 NBA season, the Lakers were able to acquire legends Karl Malone and Gary Payton to make another push at the NBA Championship. With a starting lineup of four future hall of fame players, including: Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton, the Lakers were able to reach the NBA Finals. In the Finals, that Laker team was eventually defeated by the Detroit Pistons in 5 games. In that series, Kobe averaged 22.6 points per game and 4.4 assists.
Conflicts and Turmoil
During 2003, the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case had tarnished Kobe's image, but before this point Bryant was known to publicly fight with then team-mate Shaquille O'Neal. In addition to his problems with O'Neal, Bryant feuded with other teammates during his career. In an isolated incident, he allegedly punched then teammate Samaki Walker in the face outside of the team bus. In 2004, a dispute between Bryant and former teammate Karl Malone became public prior to Malone's expected re-signing with the Lakers. Bryant claimed Malone had made inappropriate comments to Bryant's wife. Malone claimed the comments were in jest and that Bryant was overreacting. In the subsequent months, rather than re-join Bryant and the Lakers, Malone turned his attention to the possibility of joining another team, but ultimately decided to retire. More recently, there have been rumors of Bryant clashing with teammate Lamar Odom which both have denied and attribute to media rumors.
Bryant also clashed with coach Jackson. While remarkably efficient in Jackson's "triangle offense", Bryant had a personal distaste for Jackson's brand of basketball and subsequently called it "boring." In games, Bryant would often disregard the set offense completely to experiment with his own one-on-one moves, incensing the normally calm Jackson. Bryant managed to test Jackson's patience enough that the "Zen Master" even demanded that Bryant be traded, although Laker management rejected the request.
When O'Neal was traded, Bryant became the Lakers' unquestioned leader of the team going into the 2004-2005 season. As it turned out, however, his first season at the helm of a team would prove to be a very rocky one. With his reputation so badly damaged from all that had happened over the previous year, Bryant was closely scrutinized and criticized during the season.
A particularly damaging salvo came from Phil Jackson in The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul. The book detailed the sordid events of the Lakers' tumultuous 2003-04 season and hurled numerous harsh criticisms of Bryant. Along with other unsavory adjectives, Jackson called Bryant "uncoachable."
Then, midway through the season, Rudy Tomjanovich suddenly resigned as Lakers coach, citing the recurrence of health problems and exhaustion. Without "Rudy T," stewardship of the remainder of the Lakers' season fell to career assistant coach Frank Hamblen. Despite the fact that Bryant was the league's second leading scorer at 27.6 points per game, the Lakers floundered and missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. This year signified a drop in Bryant's overall status in the NBA by not making the NBA All-Defensive Team and being demoted to All-NBA Third Team.
The 2005-06 NBA season would mark a crossroads in Bryant's basketball career. Despite past differences with Bryant, Phil Jackson returned to coach the Lakers. Bryant endorsed the move, and by all appearances, the two men worked together well the second time around, leading the Lakers back into the NBA Playoffs. The team posted a 45-37 record, a twelve-game improvement over the previous season, and played well enough in the first round of the playoffs to come within a game of eliminating the second-seeded Phoenix Suns before finally falling short. Kobe Bryant was further questioned for his atypical performance in the 2nd half only taking 3 shots in the game 7 in the first round.
Other Notable Events
- When the Lakers faced the Miami Heat on January 16, 2006, Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal made headlines by engaging in handshakes and hugs before the game, an event that is believed to signify the end of the feud that had festered between the two players since O'Neal's acrimonious departure from Los Angeles. A month later, at the 2006 NBA All-Star Game, the two could be observed laughing and joking together on several occasions.
- Late in the season, it was reported that Bryant would change his jersey number from #8 to #24 at the start of the 2006-07 NBA season. #24 was Bryant's first high school number, before changing to #33. After the Lakers' season ended, Bryant made a television appearance on TNT, where he stated that when he came into the league, he wanted #24, but it was unavailable. He went on to say that he believed the new number signified the start of the second half of his career.
Awards and Accomplishments
- On December 20, Bryant scored 62 points despite playing only three quarters of play against the Dallas Mavericks. Entering the fourth quarter, Bryant had, by himself, outscored the entire Mavericks team 62-61, the only time a player has done this through three quarters since the advent of the 24-second shot clock.
- On January 22, Bryant scored 81 points in a 122-104 victory against the Toronto Raptors. In addition to breaking the previous franchise record of 71 set by Elgin Baylor, his point total in that game was second in NBA history only to Wilt Chamberlain's legendary 100-point game in 1962.
- Also in January, Bryant became the first player since 1964, and the only player aside from Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor to score 45 points or more in four consecutive games.
- For the month of January, Bryant averaged 43.4 per game, the eighth highest single month scoring average in NBA history, and highest for any player other than Chamberlain.
- By the end of the season, Bryant had also set Lakers single-season franchise records for the most 40-point games (27) and most points scored (2,832), among others.
- Bryant won the league's scoring title for the first time, posting the highest scoring average (35.4) since Michael Jordan's 37.1 average in 1986-87.
- Bryant finished in fourth-place in the voting for the 2006 NBA Most Valuable Player Award, but also received 22 first place votes, second only to winner Steve Nash, and by far the highest number of first-place votes Bryant had ever received in his career.