Kobe Bryant is well-known as not only one of the greatest Los Angeles Lakers of all time, but as one of the greatest NBA players ever. His 20-year career included a plethora of awards, including 18 All-Star Game appearances, 15 All-NBA teams, 5 NBA championships, and an NBA Most Valuable Player award in 2008. From his famous “Mamba Mentality” to his incredible work ethic to his penchant for clutch shots, Kobe Bryant is an unparalleled figure in NBA lore.
But as amazing as Kobe’s career was, it had an inauspicious start. He was selected by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 NBA Draft with the 13th overall pick, and was immediately traded to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. This trade would prove to be one of the best trades in Lakers history. His first three years saw improvement in each, including his first All-Star appearance in the 1997-98 season at only 19 years old.
Then, in his fourth season, the legend of Kobe Bryant truly took off. He became one of the NBA’s best shooting guards, starting the first of a whopping 14 straight seasons averaging 20 points per game or more. Kobe’s leadership became central as well, as the Lakers won the 2000 NBA championship that season. Over the next two seasons, Kobe improved even more, and the Lakers ended up with two more championships, creating a “three-peat” that would help cement the legacy of Kobe Bryant. And at only 24 years old, Kobe was already the face of the league.
During the next few seasons, Kobe excelled statistically, even as the Lakers came up short in their quest for an NBA championship. Proving to be the best scorer in the NBA, he averaged a whopping 35.4 PPG in the 2005-06 season, then followed it up with a 31.6 PPG average the following year. During the 2007-08 season, Kobe played all 82 regular season games for the first time in his career and led the Lakers to the NBA Finals. While they lost that year to their arch rival Boston Celtics, Kobe Bryant was far from done.
Road to Be a Legend
In the 2008-09 season, Kobe once again played in every game, leading the Lakers back to the NBA Finals. This time, he led them to a victory over the Orlando Magic to clinch his 4th NBA ring. The very next season, the Lakers repeated as back-to-back NBA champions for Kobe’s 5th NBA title. During both title runs, Kobe was at his best as a scorer, averaging 30.2 and 29.2 PPG, respectively.
Over the next few years, even an aging Kobe Bryant proved to be one of the NBA’s best players. He averaged over 20 PPG in 4 of his final 6 seasons, fought through several tough injuries, and delivered a masterful performance in his final NBA game on April 13, 2016. Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in that game, outscoring the entire Utah Jazz team in the 4th quarter, to end his NBA and Lakers careers with a win.
There have been many great NBA players in the game’s history, and there will undoubtedly be many more to come. But there is only one Black Mamba; only one Kobe Bryant.