Kobe Bryant



Kobe Bean Bryant
(born August 23, 1978) is an American professional basketball player who plays shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Bryant enjoyed a successful high school basketball career at Lower Merion High School, where he was recognized as the top high school basketball player in the country.[1] He decided to declare his eligibility for the NBA Draft upon graduation, and was selected with the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets, then traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. As a rookie, Bryant earned himself a reputation as a high-flyer and a fan favorite by winning the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest.

Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA championships from 2000 to 2002A heated feud between the duo and a loss in the 2004 NBA Finals led to O’Neal’s departure following the 2003–04 season. In 2003, Bryant was accused of sexual assault after having sex with a hotel employee in Edwards, Colorado. In September 2004, prosecutors dropped the case after his accuser refused to testify,[2] and Bryant had to rebuild his image while becoming the cornerstone of the Lakers. He led the NBA in scoring during the 2005–06 and 2006–07 seasons, setting numerous scoring records in the process.[3] In 2006, Bryant scored a career high 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, the second most points scored in a single game in NBA history,[4] second only toWilt Chamberlain‘s 100 point performance.[4] In the 2007–08 season, he was awarded the regular season’s Most Valuable Player Award (MVP).[5] After losing in the 2008 NBA Finals, Bryant led the Lakers to two consecutive championships in 2009 and 2010 and was named NBA Finals MVP on both occasions.[6]

Bryant currently ranks fourth and twelfth on the league’s post-season scoring and all-time scoring lists, respectively. He is also the all-time leading scorer in Lakers franchise history. Since his second year in the league, Bryant has started in every NBA All-Star Gamethat has been held with twelve All-Star appearances, winning the All-Star MVP Award three times (20022007, and 2009). He is a twelve-time member of the All-NBA team and ten-time All-Defensive team, and is the youngest player ever to receive defensive honors. At the 2008 Olympics, he won a gold medal as a member of the USA national team.[7] In 2009, Sporting News and TNT named Bryant the NBA player of the 2000s decade.[8]

Early years

Childhood and youth

Kobe Bryant was born in PhiladelphiaPennsylvania as the youngest of three children and the only son of former Philadelphia 76ersplayer and former Los Angeles Sparks head coach Joe “Jellybean” Bryant and Pamela Cox Bryant.[3] He is also the maternal nephew of John “Chubby” Cox. His parents named him after the famous beef of KobeJapan, which they saw on a restaurant menu.[3] Bryant was raised Roman Catholic.[9] When Bryant was six, his father left the NBA and moved his family to Italy to begin playing professional basketball.[10] Bryant became accustomed to his new lifestyle and learned to speak Italian and Spanish fluently.[10][11] During summers, Bryant would come back to the United States to play in a basketball summer league.[12] He started playing basketball when he was 3 years old,[13] and his favorite team growing up was the Lakers.[14] Bryant’s grandfather would mail him videos of NBA games, which Bryant would study.[14] At an early age he also learned to play soccer; his favorite team is AC Milan.[15] He has said that if he had stayed in Italy, he would have tried to become a professional soccer player;[15] Bryant is a big fan of former FC Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard and their former player Ronaldinho.[16] Upon Joe Bryant’s retirement from playing basketball in 1991, the Bryant family moved back to the United States.

High school

Bryant earned national recognition during a spectacular high school career at Lower Merion High School located in the Philadelphia suburb of Lower Merion. As a freshman, he played for the varsity (junior and senior) basketball team.[17] His father coached him his sophomore year of high school. Although during his first year the team was mediocre, the following three years the Aces compiled a 77-13 record, with Bryant playing all five positions.[17]At Adidas ABCD camp, Bryant earned the 1995 senior MVP award,[18] while playing alongside future NBA teammate Lamar Odom.[19] While in high school, then 76ers coach John Lucas invited Bryant to work out and scrimmage with the team, where he played one-on-one with Jerry Stackhouse.[20] In his senior year of high school, Bryant led the Aces to their first state championship in 53 years. During the run, he averaged 30.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4.0 steals, and 3.8 blocked shots in leading the Aces to a 31–3 record.[21] He ended his career as Southeastern Pennsylvania‘s all-time leading scorer at 2,883 points, surpassing both Wilt Chamberlain and Lionel Simmons.[22] Bryant received several awards for his performance his senior year including being named Naismith High School Player of the YearGatorade Men’s National Basketball Player of the Year, a McDonald’s All-American, and a USA Today All-USA First Team player.[23] Bryant’s varsity coach, Greg Downer, commented that Bryant was “a complete player who dominates”.[21] In 1996, Bryant took R&B singer Brandy Norwood to her senior prom,[24] though the two were/are just friends. His SAT score of 1080[25] would have ensured his basketball scholarship to various top-tier colleges. Ultimately, however, the 17-year-old Bryant made the decision to go directly into the NBA, only the sixth player in NBA history to do so.[17] Bryant’s news was met with a lot of publicity at a time when prep-to-pro NBA players was not very common (Kevin Garnett being the only exception in 20 years).[17] Bryant has stated that had he decided to go to college after high school, he would have attendedDuke University.[26]

NBA career

1996 NBA Draft

The first guard to ever be taken out of high school, Bryant was chosen as the 13th overall draft pick by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996.[27] However, according to Arn Tellem, Bryant’s agent at the time, Bryant playing for the Charlotte Hornets was “an impossibility”.[28] However, Bill Branch, the Hornets’ head scout at the time, said that the Hornets agreed to trade their draft selection to the Lakers the day before the draft. The Lakers didn’t tell the Hornets who to select until five minutes before the pick was made.[29] Prior to the draft, Bryant had worked out in Los Angeles, in which he scrimmaged against former Lakers players Larry Drew and Michael Cooper, and according to then-Laker manager Jerry West “marched over these people”.[30] On July 1, 1996, West traded his starting centerVlade Divac, to the Hornets in exchange for Bryant’s draft rights.[31] Since he was still 17 at the time of the draft, his parents had to cosign his contract with the Lakers until he was able to sign his own when he turned 18 before the season began.[32]

First three seasons (1996–99)

During his rookie season, Bryant mostly came off the bench behind guards Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel.[33] At the time he became the youngest player ever to play in an NBA game (a record since broken by teammate Andrew Bynum), and also became the youngest NBA starter ever.[34] Initially, Bryant played limited minutes, but as the season continued, he began to see some more playing time. By the end of the season, he averaged 15.5 minutes a game. During the All-Star weekend, Bryant was the winner of the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest, becoming the youngest player to be named the slam dunk champion at the age of 18.[35] Bryant’s performance throughout the year earned him a spot on the NBA All Rookiesecond team with fellow bench teammate Travis Knight.[36] His final minutes of the season ended in disaster when he shot 3 air balls at crucial times in the game.[21] He missed the first shot to win the game in the 4th quarter and 2 three-pointers to tie the game in the last minute of overtime. With that the Utah Jazz ended the playoffs for the Lakers in the first round.Shaquille O’Neal commented years later that “[Bryant] was the only guy who had the guts at the time to take shots like that.”[37][38]

In Bryant’s second season, he received more playing time and began to show more of his abilities as a talented young guard. As a result Bryant’s point averages more than doubled from 7.6 to 15.4 points per game.[39] Bryant would see an increase in minutes when the Lakers “played small”, which would feature Bryant playing small forward along side the guards he’d usually back up.[40] Bryant was the runner-up for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award,[41] and through fan voting, he also became the youngest NBA All-Star starter in NBA history.[42] He was joined by fellow team mates Shaquille O’Neal, Nick Van Exel, and Eddie Jones, making it the first time since 1983 that four players on the same team were selected to play in the same All-Star Game. Bryant’s 15.4 points per game was the highest of any non-starter in the season.[43]

The 1998–99 season marked Bryant’s emergence as a premiere guard in the league. With starting guards Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones traded, Bryant started every game for the lockout-shortened 50 game season. During the season, Bryant signed a 6-year contract extension worth $70 million.[43] This kept him with the Lakers till the end of the 2003–04 season. Even at an early stage of his career sportswriters were comparing his skills to that of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.[32][44][45] The playoff results, however, were no better, as the Lakers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semi-finals.[46]

Three-peat (1999–2002)

Bryant’s fortunes would soon change when Phil Jackson became coach for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1999.[47] After years of steady improvement, Bryant became one of the premier shooting guards in the league, earning appearances in the league’s All-NBA,[48] All-Star, and All-Defensive teams.[49]The Los Angeles Lakers became premier championship contenders under Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, who formed an outstanding center-guard combination. Jackson utilized the triangle offense he used to win six championships with the Chicago Bulls, which would help both Bryant and O’Neal rise to the elite class of the NBA. The three resulting championships won consecutively in 20002001, and 2002 further proved such a fact.[50]

Bryant started the 1999–2000 season sidelined for six weeks due to an injury to his hand in a preseason game against the Washington Wizards.[51]With Bryant back and playing over 38 minutes a game, he saw an increase in all statistical categories in the 1999–2000 season. This included leading the team in assists per game and steals per game. The duo of O’Neal and Bryant backed with a strong bench led to the Lakers winning 67 games, tied for fifth-most in NBA history. This followed with O’Neal winning the MVP and Bryant being named to the All-NBA Team Second Team and All-NBA Defensive Team for the first time in his career (the youngest player ever to receive defensive honors).[52] While playing second fiddle to O’Neal in the playoffs, Bryant had some clutch performances including a 25 point, 11 rebound, 7 assist, 4 block game in game 7 of the Western Conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers.[53] He also threw an alley-oop pass to O’Neal to clinch the game and the series. In the 2000 NBA Finals against theIndiana Pacers, Bryant injured his ankle in the second quarter of game 2 and missed the rest of the game and game 3. In game 4, Bryant scored 22 points in the second half, and led the team to an overtime victory as O’Neal fouled out of the game. Bryant scored the winning shot to put the Lakers ahead 120–118.[54] With a game 6 victory, the Lakers won their first championship since 1988.[55]

Statistically, the 2000–01 season saw Bryant perform similarly to the previous year except Bryant was averaging 6 more points a game (28.5). It was also the year when disagreements between Bryant and O’Neal began to surface.[56] Once again he led the team in assists with 5 per game. The Lakers however, only won 56 games, an 11 game drop off from last year. The Lakers would respond by going 15–1 in the playoffs. They easily swept the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, and San Antonio Spurs, before losing their first game against the Philadelphia 76ers in overtime. They would go on to win the next 4 games and bring their second championship to Los Angeles in as many seasons. During the playoffs Bryant played heavy minutes which brought his stats up to 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game. In the playoffs teammate O’Neal declared Bryant the best player in the league.[21][57] Bryant ended up making the All NBA Second team and All NBA Defensive Team for the second year in a row. In addition, he was also voted to start in the NBA All-Star Game for the 3rd year in a row (no game in 1999).

In the 2001–02 season, Bryant played 80 games for the first time in his career. He continued his all-round play by averaging 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. He also had a career high 46.9% shooting and once again led his team in assists. While making the All-Star team and All-NBA Defensive team again, he was also promoted to the All-NBA First Team for the first time in his career. The Lakers won 58 games that year and finished second place in the Pacific Division behind in-state rival Sacramento Kings. The road to the Finals would prove a lot tougher than the record run the Lakers had the previous year. While the Lakers swept the Trail Blazers and defeated the Spurs 4–1, the Lakers did not have home court advantage against the Sacramento Kings. The series would stretch to 7 games, the first time this happened to the Lakers since the Western Conference Finals in the 2000 NBA Playoffs. However, the Lakers were able to beat their division rivals and make their third consecutive NBA Finals appearance. In the 2002 Finals, Bryant averaged 26.8 points, 51.4% shooting, 5.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists per game, which included scoring a quarter of the teams points.[58] At age 23, Bryant became the youngest player to win three championships.[58] Bryant’s play was notable and praised for his performance in the 4th quarter of games, specifically the last 2 rounds of the playoffs.[58][59] This cemented Bryant’s reputation as a clutch player.

Coming up short (2002–04)

In the 2002–03 season, Bryant averaged 30 points per game and embarked on a historic run, posting 40 or more points 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. Bryant was once again voted on to both the All-NBA and All-Defensive 1st teams,[3] and came in third place in voting for the MVP award. After finishing 50–32 in the regular season, the Lakers foundered in the playoffs and lost in the Western Conference semi-finals to the eventual NBA champions San Antonio Spurs in six games.[60]

In the following 2003–04 season, the Lakers were able to acquire NBA All-Stars Karl Malone, and Gary Payton to make another push at the NBA Championship.[61] Before the season began, Bryant was arrested for sexual assault.[62] This caused Bryant to miss some games due to court appearances or attend court earlier in the day and travel to play games later in same day.[63] In the final game of the regular season the Lakers played the Portland Trail Blazers. Bryant made two buzzer beaters to win the game and the Pacific Division title. At the end of the fourth quarter, Bryant made a three-pointer as time ran out to tie the game and send it into over time.[64] The game eventually went to a second over time and Bryant made another three pointer as time expired to lift the Lakers past the Trail Blazers 105–104.[64]

With a starting lineup of four future Hall of Famers, O’Neal, Malone, Payton, and Bryant, the Lakers were able to reach the NBA Finals.[65] In the Finals, they were defeated in five games by the Detroit Pistons, who won their first championship since 1990.[66] In that series, Bryant averaged 22.6 points per game and 4.4 assists. He shot a mere 35.1% from the field.[67] Phil Jackson’s contract as coach was not renewed, and Rudy Tomjanovichtook over.[68] Shaquille O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat for Lamar OdomCaron Butler, and Brian Grant.[69] The following day, Bryant declined an offer to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers and re-signed with the Lakers on a seven-year contract.[70]

Playoffs disappointments (2004–07)

Bryant was closely scrutinized and criticized during the 2004–05 season with his reputation badly damaged from all that had happened over the previous year. A particularly damaging salvo came when Phil Jackson wrote The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul. The book detailed the events of the Lakers’ tumultuous 2003–04 season and has a number of criticisms of Bryant. In the book Jackson called Bryant “uncoachable”.[71] Midway through the season, Rudy Tomjanovich suddenly resigned as Lakers coach, citing the recurrence of health problems and exhaustion.[72] Without Tomjanovich, stewardship of the remainder of the Lakers’ season fell to career assistant coach Frank Hamblen.[73] 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. The year signified a drop in Bryant’s overall status in the NBA, as he did not make the NBA All-Defensive Team and was also demoted to the All-NBA Third Team.[74] During the season, Bryant also engaged in public feuds with Ray Allen and Karl Malone.[75][76]

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.[77] Bryant endorsed the move, and by all appearances, the two men worked together well the second time around, leading the Lakers back into the playoffs. Bryant’s individual scoring accomplishments posted resulted in the finest statistical season of his career. On December 20, 2005, Bryant scored 62 points in three quarters against the Dallas Mavericks. Entering the fourth quarter, Bryant had 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.[78] When the Lakers faced the Miami Heaton January 16, 2006, Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal made headlines by engaging in handshakes and hugs before the game, signifying a change in the feud that had festered between the two players.[79] A month later, at the 2006 NBA All-Star Game, the two were seen laughing together.[80]

On January 22, 2006, Bryant scored a career-high 81 points in a victory against the Toronto Raptors.[4][81] In addition to breaking the previous franchise record of 71 set by Elgin Baylor, Bryant’s 81-point game was the second highest point total in NBA history, surpassed only by Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962.[82] In that same month, Bryant also became the first player since 1964 to score 45 points or more in four consecutive games, joining Chamberlain and Baylor as the only players ever to do so.[83] For the month of January, Bryant averaged 43.4 points per game,[84] the eighth highest single month scoring average in NBA history and highest for any player other than Chamberlain.[85] By the end of the 2005-06 season, Bryant set Lakers single-season franchise records for most 40-point games (27) and most points scored (2,832).[86] He won the league’s scoring title for the first time, posting a scoring average of (35.4). Bryant finished in fourth place in the voting for the 2006 NBA Most Valuable Player Award, but received 22 first place votes—second only to winner Steve Nash.[87] The Los Angeles Lakers posted a 45–37 record, an eleven-game improvement over the previous season, and the entire squad seemed to be clicking.[88]

Later 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. Bryant’s first high school number was 24 before he switched to 33.[89] After the Lakers’ season ended, Bryant said on TNT that he wanted 24 as a rookie, but it was unavailable, as was 33, retired with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bryant wore 143 at the Adidas ABCD camp, and chose 8 by adding those numbers.[89] In the first round of the playoffs, the Lakers played well enough to reach a 3–1 series lead over the Phoenix Suns, culminating with Bryant’s OT-forcing and game-winning shots in Game 4. They came within six seconds of eliminating the second-seeded Suns in Game 6, however, they lost that game 126 to 118 in overtime.[90] Despite Bryant’s 27.9 points per game in the series, the Lakers broke down, and ultimately fell to the Suns in seven games.[90] Bryant received criticism for only taking three shots in the second half of the 90-121 loss to Phoenix in Game 7.[91] In the 2006 off-season, Bryant had knee surgery, preventing him from participating in the 2006 FIBA World Championship tournament.[92]

During the 2006–07 season, Bryant was selected to his 9th All-Star Game appearance, and on February 18, he logged 31 points, 6 assists, and 6 steals, earning his second career All-Star Game MVP trophy.[93] Over the course of the season, Bryant became involved in a number of on court incidents. On January 28 while attempting to draw contact on a potential game winning jumpshot, he flailed his arm striking San Antonio Spurs guardManu Ginóbili in the face with his elbow.[94] Following a league review, Bryant was suspended for the subsequent game at Madison Square Gardenagainst the New York Knicks. The basis given for the suspension was that Bryant had performed an “unnatural motion” in swinging his arm backwards.[95] Later, on March 6, he seemed to repeat the motion, this time striking Minnesota Timberwolves guard Marko Jarić.[94] On March 7, the NBA handed Bryant his second one-game suspension.[96] In his first game back on March 9, he elbowed Kyle Korver in the face which was retroactively re-classified as a Type 1 flagrant foul.[94]

On March 16, Bryant scored a season-high 65 points in a home game against the Portland Trail Blazers, which helped end the Lakers 7-game losing streak. This was the second best scoring performance of his 11-year career.[97] The following game, Bryant recorded 50 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves,[98] after which he scored 60 points in a road win against the Memphis Grizzlies—becoming the second Laker to score three straight 50-plus point games, a feat not seen since Michael Jordan last did it in 1987.[99] The only other Laker to do so was Elgin Baylor, who also scored 50+ in three consecutive contests in December 1962.[99] In the following day, in a game against the New Orleans Hornets, Bryant scored 50 points, making him the second player in NBA history to have 4 straight 50 point games behind Wilt Chamberlain, who is the all-time leader with seven consecutive 50 point games twice.[100] Bryant finished the year with a total of ten 50-plus point games,[101] becoming the only player beside Wilt Chamberlain in 1961–62 and 1962–63 to do so in one season. He also won his second straight scoring title that season.[102] Throughout the 2006–07 season, Bryant’s jersey became the top selling NBA jersey in the United States and China.[103] A number of journalists have attributed the improved sales to Bryant’s new number, as well as his continuing All-Star performance on the court.[104][105] In the 2007 NBA Playoffs, the Lakers were once again eliminated in the first round by the Phoenix Suns, 4–1.[106]

MVP year (2007–08)

On May 27, 2007, ESPN reported that Bryant stated that he wanted to be traded if Jerry West did not return to the team with full authority.[107] Bryant later confirmed his desire for West’s return to the franchise, but denied stating that he would want to be traded if that does not occur.[108] However, three days later, on Stephen A. Smith‘s radio program, Bryant expressed anger over a Lakers “insider” who claimed that Bryant was responsible for Shaquille O’Neal‘s departure from the team, and publicly stated, “I want to be traded.”[109] Three hours after making that statement, Bryant stated in another interview that after having a conversation with head coach Phil Jackson, he has reconsidered his decision and backed off his trade request.[110] Bryant would later be shown on an infamous amateur video saying that center Andrew Bynum should have been traded for All-Star Jason Kidd.[111][112]

On December 23, 2007, Bryant became the youngest player (29 years, 122 days) to reach 20,000 points, in a game against the New York Knicks, inMadison Square Garden.[113] Despite an injury to his shooting hand’s small finger, described as “a complete tear of the radial collateral ligament, anavulsion fracture, and a volar plate injury at the MCP joint” that occurred in a game on February 5, 2008, Bryant played all 82 games of the regular season instead of opting for surgery. Regarding his injury, he stated, “I would prefer to delay any surgical procedure until after our Lakers season, and this summer’s Olympic Games. But, this is an injury that myself [sic] and the Lakers’ medical staff will just have to continue to monitor on a day-to-day basis.”[114] In early September 2008, Bryant decided not to have surgery to repair the injury.[115]

Leading his team to a West best 57–25 record, they swept the Nuggets in the first round and on May 6, 2008, Bryant was officially announced as theNBA Most Valuable Player award, his first for his career.[5] He said, “It’s been a long ride. I’m very proud to represent this organization, to represent this city.”[116] Jerry West, who was responsible for bringing Bryant to the Lakers, was on hand at the press conference to observe Bryant receive his MVP trophy from NBA commissioner David Stern. He stated, “Kobe deserved it. He’s had just another great season. Doesn’t surprise me one bit.”[117] In addition to winning his MVP award, Bryant was the only unanimous selection to the All-NBA team on May 8, 2008 for the third straight season and sixth time in his career.[118] He would then headline the NBA All-Defensive First Team with Kevin Garnett, receiving 52 points overall including 24 first-place nods, earning his eighth selection.[119]

The Lakers concluded the 2007–08 regular season with a 57–25 record, finishing first in the Western Conference and setting up themselves for a first-round contest against the Nuggets. In Game 1, Bryant, who said he made himself a decoy through most of the game, scored 18 of his 32 points in the final 8 minutes to keep Los Angeles safely ahead.[120] That made Denver the first 50-win team to be swept out of the first round of the playoffs since the Memphis Grizzlies fell in four to the San Antonio Spurs in 2004.[121] In the first game of the next round against the Jazz, Bryant scored 38 points as the Lakers beat the Jazz in Game 1.[122] The Lakers won the next game as well, but dropped Games 3 and 4, even with Bryant putting up 33.5 points per game.[123] The Lakers then won the next two games to win the semifinals in 6.[123] This set up a Western Conference Finals berth against the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers defeated the Spurs in 5 games, sending themselves to the NBA Finalsagainst the Boston Celtics. This marked the fifth time in Bryant’s career and the first time without Shaquille O’Neal to go to the NBA Finals.[124] The Lakers then lost to the Boston Celtics in 6 games.[125]

Repeat (2008–10)

In the 2008–09 season, the Lakers opened the campaign by winning their first seven games.[126] Bryant led the team to tie the franchise record for most wins to start the season going 17–2,[127] and by the middle of December they compiled a 21–3 record. He was selected to his eleventh consecutive All-Star Game as a starter,[128] and was named the Western Conference Player of the Month for December and January in addition to being named Western Conference Player of the week three times.[129] In a game against the Knicks on February 2, 2009, Bryant scored 61 points, setting a record for the most points scored at Madison Square Garden.[130] During the 2009 NBA All-Star Game, Bryant who tallied 27 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, and 4 steals was awarded All-Star Game co-MVP with former teammate Shaquille O’Neal.[131] The Lakers finished the regular season with the best record in the west with a 65–17 record. Bryant was runner-up in the MVP voting behind LeBron James,[132] and was selected to the All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team for the seventh time in his career.

In the playoffs, the Lakers defeated the Utah Jazz in five games and the Houston Rockets in seven games in the opening two rounds. After finishing off the Denver Nuggets in the Conference Finals in six games, the Lakers earned their second straight trip to the NBA Finals where they defeated the Orlando Magic in five games. Bryant was awarded his first NBA Finals MVP trophy upon winning his fourth championship,[133] becoming the first player since Jerry Westin the 1969 NBA Finals to average at least 32.4 points and 7.4 assists for a finals series[134] and the first since Michael Jordan to average 30 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists for a title-winning team in the finals.[135]

During the 2009–10 season, Bryant made six game-winning shots including a buzzer-beating, one-legged three point shot against the Miami Heat on December 4, 2009.[136] Bryant considered the shot one of the luckiest he has made.[136] A week later, Bryant suffered an avulsion fracture in his rightindex finger in a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.[137] Despite the injury, Bryant elected to continue playing with it, rather than take any time off to rest the injury.[137] Five days after his finger injury, he made another game winning shot, after missing on an opportunity in regulation, this time against the Milwaukee Bucks in an overtime game.[138] Bryant also became the youngest player (31 years, 151 days) to reach 25,000 points during the season, surpassing Wilt Chamberlain.[139] He continued his dominant clutch plays making yet another game winning three-pointer against the Sacramento Kings,[140] and what would be the game-winning field goal against the Boston Celtics.[141] The following day, he surpassed Jerry West to become the all-time leading scorer in Lakers franchise history.[142] After being sidelined for five games from an ankle injury, Bryant made his return and made another clutch three-pointer to give the Lakers a one point lead with four seconds remaining against the Memphis Grizzlies.[143] Two weeks later, he made his sixth game-winning shot of the season against the Toronto Raptors.[144]

On April 2, 2010, Bryant signed a three-year contract extension worth $87 million.[145] Bryant finished the regular season missing four of the final five games, due to injuries to his knee and finger. Bryant suffered multiple injuries throughout the season and as a result, missed nine games. The Lakers began the playoffs as the number one seed in the Western Conference against the Oklahoma City Thunder,[146] eventually defeating them in six games.[147] The Lakers swept the Utah Jazz in the second round[148] and advanced to the Western Conference Finals, where they faced Phoenix Suns. In Game 2, Bryant finished the game with 13 assists, setting a new playoff career high; it was the most assists by a Laker in the playoffs since Magic Johnson had 13 in 1996.[149]The Lakers went on to win the series in six games capturing the Western Conference Championship and advancing to the NBA Finals for a third straight season.[150] In a rematch against the 2008 Champions Boston Celtics, Bryant, despite shooting 6 for 24 from the field, led the Lakers back from a thirteen-point third quarter deficit in Game 7 to win the championship; he scored 10 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter, and finished the game with 15 rebounds. Bryant won his fifth championship and earned his second consecutive NBA Finals MVP award.[151] This marked the first time the Lakers won a Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.[152] Bryant said that this was the most satisfying of all of his five championships.[153]

2010–11 season

The Lakers started the 2010–11 season by winning their first eight games.[154] In his ninth game of the season, playing against the Denver Nuggets, Bryant became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 26,000 career points.[155] Bryant also recorded his first triple double since January 21, 2009.[156]

Player profile

Bryant is a shooting guard who is capable of playing the small forward position. He is considered one of the most complete players in the NBA,[157][158]has been selected to every All-NBA Team since 1999, and has been featured in the last twelve NBA All-Star games.[3] Sports writers and sports casters have frequently compared Bryant to Michael Jordan, a comparison Bryant dislikes.[159] In 2007, an ESPN poll of sportswriters voted him as the second best shooting guard in NBA history behind Jordan.[158]

He is a prolific scorer, averaging 25.3 points per game for his career, along with 5.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.5 steals (as of the end of the 2009–2010 regular season).[160] He is known for his ability to create shots for himself and is a standout three-point shooter, sharing the single-game NBA record for three pointers made with twelve.[161] Bryant is often cited as one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA,[162] though his 45.4% career field goal average is considered moderate. He utilizes his wide array of moves and shots to elude defenders and score from virtually anywhere on the floor. Some of Bryant’s best moves are his turnaround jump shot, and his ability to post up his defenders and score with a fadeaway jumpshot. Chris Ballard, a Sports IllustratedNBA writer, describes a “jab step-and-pause” as a move Bryant uses where he jabs his non-pivot foot forward to let the defender relax and instead of bringing the jab foot back, he pushes off it and drive around his opponent to get to the basket.[163]

Aside from his scoring ability, he has established himself as a standout defender, having made the All-Defensive first or second team ten of the last eleven seasons.[3] Bryant has also been noted being one of the premier clutch performers in the NBA.[164] For nine consecutive seasons, Bryant has been selected by an NBA GM survey as the player they most want taking the shot with the game on the line.[165] Both Sporting News and TNT named Bryant the NBA player of the 2000s decade.[166][167]

NBA career statistics

Legend
GP Games played GS Games started MPG Minutes per game
FG% Field-goal percentage 3P% 3-point field-goal percentage FT% Free-throw percentage
RPG Rebounds per game APG Assists per game SPG Steals per game
BPG Blocks per game PPG Points per game Bold Career high

Regular season

Year↓ Team↓ GP↓ GS↓ MPG↓ FG%↓ 3P%↓ FT%↓ RPG↓ APG↓ SPG↓ BPG↓ PPG↓
1996–97 L.A. Lakers 71 6 15.5 .417 .375 .819 1.9 1.3 .7 .3 7.6
1997–98 L.A. Lakers 79 1 26.0 .428 .341 .794 3.1 2.5 .9 .5 15.4
1998–99 L.A. Lakers 50 50 37.9 .465 .267 .839 5.3 3.8 1.4 1.0 19.9
1999–00 L.A. Lakers 66 62 38.2 .468 .319 .821 6.3 4.9 1.6 .9 22.5
2000–01 L.A. Lakers 68 68 40.9 .464 .305 .853 5.9 5.0 1.7 .6 28.5
2001–02 L.A. Lakers 80 80 38.3 .469 .250 .829 5.5 5.5 1.5 .4 25.2
2002–03 L.A. Lakers 82 82 41.5 .451 .383 .843 6.9 5.9 2.2 .8 30.0
2003–04 L.A. Lakers 65 64 37.6 .438 .327 .852 5.5 5.1 1.7 .4 24.0
2004–05 L.A. Lakers 66 66 40.7 .433 .339 .816 5.9 6.0 1.3 .8 27.6
2005–06 L.A. Lakers 80 80 41.0 .450 .347 .850 5.3 4.5 1.8 .4 35.4
2006–07 L.A. Lakers 77 77 40.8 .463 .344 .868 5.7 5.4 1.4 .5 31.6
2007–08 L.A. Lakers 82 82 38.9 .459 .361 .840 6.3 5.4 1.8 .5 28.3
2008–09 L.A. Lakers 82 82 36.1 .467 .351 .856 5.2 4.9 1.5 .4 26.8
2009–10 L.A. Lakers 73 73 38.8 .456 .329 .811 5.4 5.0 1.6 .3 27.0
Career 1021 873 36.4 .455 .340 .838 5.3 4.7 1.5 .6 25.3
All-Star 11 11 27.1 .503 .354 .778 4.5 4.6 2.7 .4 18.8

Playoffs

Year↓ Team↓ GP↓ GS↓ MPG↓ FG%↓ 3P%↓ FT%↓ RPG↓ APG↓ SPG↓ BPG↓ PPG↓
1996–97 L.A. Lakers 9 0 14.8 .382 .261 .867 1.2 1.2 .3 .2 8.2
1997–98 L.A. Lakers 11 0 20.0 .408 .214 .689 1.9 1.5 .3 .7 8.7
1998–99 L.A. Lakers 8 8 39.4 .430 .348 .800 6.9 4.6 1.9 1.2 19.8
1999–00 L.A. Lakers 22 22 39.0 .442 .344 .754 4.5 4.4 1.5 1.5 21.1
2000–01 L.A. Lakers 16 16 43.4 .469 .324 .821 7.3 6.1 1.6 .8 29.4
2001–02 L.A. Lakers 19 19 43.8 .434 .379 .759 5.8 4.6 1.4 .9 26.6
2002–03 L.A. Lakers 12 12 44.3 .432 .403 .827 5.1 5.2 1.2 .1 32.1
2003–04 L.A. Lakers 22 22 44.2 .413 .247 .813 4.7 5.5 1.9 .3 24.5
2005–06 L.A. Lakers 7 7 44.9 .497 .400 .771 6.3 5.1 1.1 .4 27.9
2006–07 L.A. Lakers 5 5 43.0 .462 .357 .919 5.2 4.4 1.0 .4 32.8
2007–08 L.A. Lakers 21 21 41.1 .479 .302 .809 5.7 5.6 1.7 .4 30.1
2008–09 L.A. Lakers 23 23 40.8 .457 .349 .883 5.3 5.5 1.7 .9 30.2
2009–10 L.A. Lakers 23 23 40.1 .458 .374 .842 6.0 5.5 1.4 .7 29.2
Career 198 178 39.4 .448 .337 .815 5.2 4.8 1.4 .7 25.5

Accomplishments and records

International career

Bryant’s senior international career with the United States national team began in 2006. He was a member of the 2007 USA Men’s Senior National Team and USA FIBA Americas Championship Team that finished 10–0, won gold and qualified the United States men for the 2008 Olympics. He started in all 10 of the USA’s FIBA Americas Championship games. He is ranked third on the team for made and attempted free throws, ranked fourth for made field goals, made 3-pointers. Among all FIBA Americas Championship competitors, Bryant is ranked 15th in scoring, 14th in assists, and eighth in steals. Bryant scored double-digits in eight of the 10 games played. Bryant also made the game winning 14 feet (4.3 m) jumper above the foul line with seconds left in the game. He currently averages a .530 shooting percentage, with 16.3 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 3.1 assists.[168]

As a part of his international expansion, he is also featured in a Chinese reality TV show, called theKobe Mentu show, which documents Chinese basketball players on different teams going through drills, preparing to play each other while Bryant gives advice and words of encouragement to the players while they practice.[169]

On June 23, 2008, he was named to the USA Men’s Senior National Team for the 2008 Summer Olympics.[170] This was his first time going to the Olympics. Bryant scored 20 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter, along with six assists, as Team USA defeated Spain 118–107 in the gold medal game of the 2008 Summer Olympics on August 24, 2008, for its first gold medal in a worldwide international competition since the 2000 Olympics.[171] He averaged 15.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists while shooting .462 from the field in eight Olympic contests.

Bryant has committed to playing for the national team at the 2012 Summer Olympics.[172]

Off the court

Personal life

In November 1999, 21-year-old Bryant met 17-year-old Vanessa Laine while she was working as a background dancer on the Tha Eastsidaz music video “G’d Up”.[173] Bryant was in the building working on his debut musical album, which was never released. The two began dating and became engaged just six months later in May 2000,[173] while Laine was still a senior at Marina High School in Huntington Beach, California. To avoid media scrutiny, she finished high school through independent study.[173] According to Vanessa’s cousin Laila Laine, there was no prenuptial agreement. Vanessa said Bryant “loved her too much for one“.[174]

They married on April 18, 2001, at St. Edward Roman Catholic Church in Dana Point, California.[175] Neither Bryant’s parents, his two sisters, longtime advisor and agent Arn Tellem, nor Bryant’s Laker teammates attended. Bryant’s parents were opposed to the marriage for a number of reasons. Reportedly Bryant’s parents had problems with him marrying so young, especially to a woman who was not African-American.[173] This disagreement resulted in an estrangement period of over two years, which ended when Bryant had his first daughter.

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. Vanessa Bryant suffered a miscarriage due to an ectopic pregnancy in the spring of 2005. Their second daughter, Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, was born on May 1, 2006. Gianna was born six minutes ahead of former teammate Shaquille O’Neal‘s daughter Me’arah Sanaa, who was born in Florida.[176] In an early 2007 interview, it was revealed that Bryant still speaks Italian fluently.[10]

Bryant assigned himself the nickname of “Black Mamba”, citing a desire for his basketball skills to mimic the snake of that name‘s ability to “strike with 99% accuracy at maximum speed, in rapid succession.”[177]

Sexual assault allegation

In the summer of 2003, the sheriff’s office of EagleColorado arrested Bryant in connection with an investigation of a sexual assault complaint filed by 19-year old hotel employeeKatelyn Faber. Bryant had checked into The Lodge and Spa at Cordillera hotel in Eagle in advance of undergoing knee surgery nearby. Faber accused Bryant of raping her in his hotel room the night before Bryant was to have the procedure. Bryant admitted an adulterous sexual encounter with his accuser, but denied her sexual assault allegation.[178][179]

The accusation tarnished Bryant’s reputation, as the public’s perception of Bryant plummeted, and his endorsement contracts with McDonald’s and Nutella were terminated. Sales for Bryant’s replica jersey fell significantly from their previous highs.[180] However, in September 2004, the assault case was dropped by prosecutors after Faber refused to testify in the trial. Afterward, Bryant agreed to apologize to Faber for the incident, including his public mea culpa: “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.”[181] Faber filed a separate civil lawsuit against Bryant, which the two sides ultimately settled with the specific terms of the settlement being undisclosed to the public.

Endorsements

Before starting the 1996–97 NBA season, Bryant signed a 6-year contract with Adidas worth approximately $48 million.[182][183] His first signature shoe was the Equipment KB 8.[184] Bryant’s other earlier endorsements included deals with The Coca-Cola Company to endorse their Sprite soft drink, appearing in advertisements for McDonald’s, promoting Spalding‘s new NBA Infusion Ball, Upper Deck, Italian chocolate company Ferrero SpA‘s brandNutellaRussell Corporation,[185] and appearing on his own series of video games by Nintendo. Many companies like McDonald’s and Ferrero SpA terminated his contracts when rape allegations against him became public.[186] A notable exception was Nike, Inc., who had signed him to a 5-year, $40–45 million contract just before the incident.[187][188] However, they refused to use his image or market a new shoe of his for the year, but eventually did start promoting Bryant once his image recovered 2 years later.[188] He has since resumed endorsement deals with The Coca-Cola Company, through their subsidiary Energy Brands to promote their Vitamin Water brand of drinks.[189] Bryant was also the cover athlete for NBA ’07: Featuring the Life Vol. 2 and appeared in commercials for the video games Guitar Hero World Tour (with Tony HawkMichael Phelps, and Alex Rodriguez) in 2008 and Call of Duty: Black Ops (alongside Jimmy Kimmel) in 2010.[190]

In 2008 Bryant completed a pair of viral videos showing him doing dangerous stunts to promote Nike’s Hyper Dunk shoes. The first showed Bryant jumping over a speeding Aston Martin and the second one showed Bryant with the crew of Jackass jumping over a pool of snakes. Both videos received over 4.5 million views each on YouTube. Bryant later hinted that the stunts were fake, as actually doing them would violate his contract with the Lakers by participating in dangerous activities. After promoting Nike’s Hyperdunk shoes, Bryant came out with the fourth edition of his signature line by Nike, the Zoom Kobe IV. In 2010 Nike launched another shoe, Nike Zoom Kobe V.[191] In 2009, Bryant signed a deal with Nubeo to market the “Black Mamba collection”, a line of sports/luxury watches that range from $25,000 to $285,000.[192] On February 9, 2009, Bryant was featured on the cover of ESPN The Magazine. However, it wasn’t for anything basketball related, rather it was about Bryant being a big fan of FC Barcelona.[193] CNN estimated Bryant’s endorsement deals in 2007 to be worth $16 million a year.[194] In 2010, Bryant was ranked third behind Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan in Forbes‘ list of the world’s highest-paid athletes with $48 million.[195]