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Kobe Bryant, On The Road To Greatness

Kobe Bryant was born August 23, 1978, the son of a former 76ers player and Los Angeles Sparks head coach, Kobe began playing basketball at age 3.  Raised Roman Catholic, Kobe’s family moved to Italy when Kobe was sick, so his dad could resume as a professional basketball player.  While there Kobe learned to speak fluent Italian and Spanish. During summers Kobe would return to the US to play summer league basketball. Kobe remembers going to his first NBA game, when his parents surprised him with Lakers tickets, which is Kobe’s favorite basketball team.  Kobe played soccer in Italy and said had his family remained there he would have tried to become a pro soccer player.  However, Kobe’s family did return to the US and Kobe played high school basketball at Lower Merion High School. Kobe played varsity ball starting his freshman year.  During his high school career Kobe became known as the best high school basketball player in the country and college recruiters were standing in line for a shot at Kobe.  However, Kobe decided to declare his eligibility for the NBA draft right out of high school.  At the age of 17 Kobe was drafted in the thirteenth round by the Charlotte Hornets, but was immediately traded as the result of a previous agreement, to the LA.  Kobe was the first guard ever to be taken by the NBA right out of high school.

During Kobe’s rookie year, he immediately became a fan favorite by winning the Slam Dunk Contest. That first year Bryant mostly came off the bench behind two other guards, but was the youngest player ever to play in the NBA. For this reason, many people flocked to LA to purchase Lakers tickets to become part of NBA history.  Kobe would eventually become the youngest NBA starter and made the all rookie second team.  Bryant’s second season he saw more playing time and his abilities began to shine and he averaged 15.4 points per game and became the youngest NBA All Star. Kobe’s fame really made people from around the world wanted to see this young player make his mark.

In 1999, Phil Jackson became the Laker’s head coach and Kobe became a top shooting guard in the league. They became championship contenders with Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal as teammates. With that awesome of a combination, the Laker’s won the championships in 2000, 2001, and 2002.  After coming off of a 3P victory, finding  tickets only got harder. In 2000 Kobe was the youngest player named to the All-NBA Defensive team.  In 2001 he averaged 28.5 points per game and tension between Kobe and O’Neal began to surface.  That year, they won only 56 games but went on to win the NBA Championships against Philadelphia.  In the 2001-2002 season Kobe played 80 games for the first time in his career, averaged 25.2 points per game, made the All Star team, the All NBA Defensive team and for the first time the All NBA First team.

From 2002 through 2004, Kobe averaged 30 points per game in 2002 and a nine-game run of 40 points or more per game, and made the All NBA and All Defensive first team.  In 2003 Kobe was arrested for sexual assault and missed several games due to court appearances.  In the end, Kobe still came on strong and led his team to the NBA finals, but they were defeated in 5 games against the Pistons.  At the end of the season Phil Jackson’s contract was not renewed and O’Neal was traded.  The very next day Kobe signed a seven year contract with the Lakers.

From 2004 through 2007 Kobe first had to deal with a damaged reputation from the alleged assault charges and then Phil Jackson wrote a book in which he said that Kobe was not coachable.  Then things deteriorated when the Laker’s new head coach resigned stating personal medical concerns as the reason and the team was taken over by the assistant coach.  Even through all this Kobe was the leagues second leading scorer at 27.6 points per game, but they fell flat and missed the playoffs for the first time in over ten years.  In the 2005-2006 season Phil Jackson returned as head coach and he and Kobe seemed to work well together.  They made the playoffs and Bryant had his best statistical season in his career.  On December 20, 2005, Bryant scored 62 points in three quarters of play.  Later that season when Bryant and O’Neal met as opponents they were amicable and the feud seemed to have ended. In 2007 Kobe changed his number from 33 to 24, his old high school number.  That year Bryant made his ninth All Star game appearance and his second career All Star Game MVP trophy.  That year Kobe was fined for elbowing opponents on three different occasions.  Maybe Kobe was getting tired, or maybe not.  In March 2007 Kobe had a 65 point game, then a 50 point game, then a 60 point game and then another 50 point game.  He became only the second player in NBA history with four straight games of 50 points or more.  In the 2006-2007 season Kobe’s number 24 jersey was the NBA’s best selling jersey.

In the 2007-2008 season on December 23, Kobe became the youngest player at 29 years, 122 days, to score 20,000 points.  He led his team to win the Western Conference that season and Kobe was the MVP for the first time in his career.  The Lakers then went on to win the semifinals against the Jazz and the Western Conference playoffs in five games against San Antonio.  In the NBA finals they were devastated when they lost to the Celtics in 6 games.

In 2008 through 2009 the team went 21-3 by December and Bryant was named to his eleventh consecutive All Star game and shared the MVP honors with O’Neal.  The y finished the season 65-17 and Kobe was named to the All NBA First team and All Defensive team for the seventh time in his career.  The Lakers went to their second NBA finals and took the title in five games and Bryant won his first NBA Finals MVP.

In 2009 through 2010 Bryant reaches the 25,000 point mark, the youngest player to do so at 31 years, 51 days, surpassing Wilt Chamberlain.  Later in the season he surpassed Jerry West as the all time leading scorer in franchise history.  In April, 2010 Kobe signed a three year contract extension valued at 87 million dollars.  injuries plagued Kobe the entire season, but he still led them to another appearance in the BA Finals where they defeated the Celtics and Kobe received his second consecutive NBA Finals MVP award.

During the 2010-2011 season Bryant became the youngest player to reach 26,000 points and then the youngest to reach 27,000 points. On February 1, 2011 Kobe became one of only seven players in NBA history with at least 25,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, and 5,000 assists.  Bryant was selected for his thirteenth straight All Star game and won his fourth All Star MVP award.  All this happened even though he finished the season with less than 20 shots per game, his lowest average since the 2003-2004 season.  In an unfortunate incident in April 2011 Bryant was fined $100,000 for directing a gay slur toward a referee out of frustration.  Kobe apologized and he and the Lakers did Public Service Announcements denouncing the behavior.  The Laker’s hopes for a three-peat were dashed when they lost to the Mavericks in the second round payoffs.

Kobe, inarguably, is a truly great basketball player.  He may end up one of the best basketball players of all time.  Clearly he is also human and seems to fall off his pedestal from time-to-time. Some players say he is a ball hog and doesn’t help to make his teammates better players.  Conversely, he is certainly an elite athlete, a team leader, and most players seem to respect him well.  Whatever other players think of Kobe Bryant the Los Angeles Lakers would not be the team they have been, nor enjoyed the success they have had without Kobe Bryant.