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. He declared 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 championships from 2000 to 2002. A heated feud between the duo and a loss in the 2004 NBA Finals was followed by O'Neal's trade from the Lakers after the 2003–04 season. Following O'Neal's departure Bryant became the cornerstone of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. He led the NBA in scoring during the 2005–06 and 2006–07 seasons, setting numerous scoring records in the process. 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, second only to Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game in 1962. He was awarded the regular season's Most Valuable Player Award (MVP) in 2008. After losing in the 2008 NBA Finals, Bryant led the Lakers to two consecutive championships in 2009 and 2010, earning the NBA Finals MVP Award on both occasions.
At 34 years and 104 days of age, Bryant became the youngest player in league history to reach 30,000 career points. He is also the all-time leading scorer in Lakers franchise history. Since his second year in the league, Bryant has been selected to start every All-Star Game. He has won the All-Star MVP Award four times (2002, 2007, 2009, and 2011), tying him for the most All Star MVP Awards in NBA history. At the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, he won gold medals as a member of the USA national team. Sporting News and TNT named Bryant the top NBA player of the 2000s.
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. A civil suit was later filed and settled out of court.
Childhood and youth
Kobe Bryant was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as the youngest of three children and the only son of former Philadelphia 76ers player and former Los Angeles Sparks head coach Joe "Jellybean" Bryant and Pamela Cox Bryant. He is also the maternal nephew of John "Chubby" Cox. His parents named him after the famous beef of Kobe, Japan, which they saw on a restaurant menu. Bryant was raised Roman Catholic. When Bryant was six, his father left the NBA and moved his family to Rieti in Italy to continue playing professional basketball. Bryant became accustomed to his new lifestyle and learned to speak Italian and Spanish. During summers, he would come back to the United States to play in a basketball summer league.
Bryant started playing basketball when he was 3 years old, and his favorite team growing up was the Lakers.Bryant's grandfather would mail him videos of NBA games, which Bryant would study. At an early age he also learned to play soccer, and his favorite team is AC Milan. He has said that if he had stayed in Italy, he would have tried to become a professional soccer player. Bryant is a big fan of former FC Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard and player Ronaldinho as well as a fan of Galatasaray. Upon Joe Bryant's retirement from playing basketball in 1991, the Bryant family moved back to the United States.
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 basketball team. He became the first freshman in decades to start for Lower Merion's varsity team, but the team finished with a poor 4–20 record. The following three years, the Aces compiled a 77–13 record, with Bryant playing all five positions. During his junior year, he averaged 31.1 points, 10.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists and was named Pennsylvania Player of the Year. College recruiters from across the country were lined up to recruit him after his breakout year.Duke, North Carolina, Villanova and Michigan were at the top of his list; however, when Kevin Garnett went in the first round of the 1995 NBA Draft, he began considering going directly to the pros.
At Adidas ABCD camp, Bryant earned the 1995 senior MVP award, while playing alongside future NBA teammate Lamar Odom] 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. 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. Bryant ended his high school career as Southeastern Pennsylvania's all-time leading scorer at 2,883 points, surpassing both Wilt Chamberlain and Lionel Simmons.
Bryant received several awards for his performance his senior year including being named Naismith High School Player of the Year, Gatorade Men's National Basketball Player of the Year, a McDonald's All-American, and a USA Today All-USA First Team player. Bryant's varsity coach, Greg Downer, commented that Bryant was "a complete player who dominates". In 1996, Bryant took R&B singer Brandy Norwood to his senior prom, though the two were, and remain, just friends. 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. Bryant's news was met with a lot of publicity at a time when prep-to-pro NBA players were not very common (Garnett being the only exception in 20 years). His SAT score of 1080 would have ensured his basketball scholarship to various top-tier colleges and Bryant has stated that if he had decided to go to college after high school, he would have attended Duke University. In 2012, Bryant was honored as one of the 35 Greatest McDonald's All-Americans
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. According to Arn Tellem, Bryant's agent at the time, Bryant playing for the Charlotte Hornets was "an impossibility". However, Bill Branch, the Hornets' head scout at the time, said that the Hornets agreed to trade their draft selection to the Lakers before picking Bryant. The teams agreed to the trade the day before the draft and the Lakers did not tell the Hornets who to select until five minutes before the pick was made. Branch said that prior to the trade agreement, the Hornets never even considered drafting Bryant. 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". On July 1, 1996, West traded his starting center, Vlade Divac, to the Hornets in exchange for Bryant's draft rights. 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.
First three seasons (1996–99)
During his rookie season, Bryant mostly came off the bench behind guards Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel. At the time he became the youngest player ever to play in an NBA game (18 years, 72 days; a record since broken by Jermaine O'Neal and Andrew Bynum), and also became the youngest NBA starter ever (18 years, 158 days). 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. Bryant's performance throughout the year earned him a spot on the NBA All Rookie second team with fellow bench teammate Travis Knight. His final minutes of the season ended in disaster when he shot 4 air balls at crucial times in the game. He first missed a jumper to win the game in the 4th quarter and 3 three-pointers in overtime (2 of which would have tied the game in the final minute). With that the Utah Jazz ended the playoffs for the Lakers in the second 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."
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. Bryant would see an increase in minutes when the Lakers "played small", which would feature Bryant playing small forward alongside the guards he would usually back up. Bryant was the runner-up for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award, and through fan voting, he also became the youngest NBA All-Star starter in NBA history. He was joined by teammates 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.
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. This kept him with the Lakers until the end of the 2003–04 season. Even at an early stage of his career, sportswriters were comparing his skills to those of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. The playoff results, however, were no better, as the Lakers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals.[
Chasing the sixth championship (2010–present)
The Lakers started the 2010–11 season by winning their first eight games. 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. Bryant also recorded his first triple double since January 21, 2009. On January 30 against the Celtics, he become the youngest player to score 27,000 points. On February 1, 2011, Bryant became one of seven players with at least 25,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 5,000 assists. In Boston on February 10, Bryant scored 20 of his 23 points in the second half as the Lakers rallied from an early 15-point deficit for a 92–86 win over the Celtics. It was the Lakers' first victory of the season against one of the league's top four teams, as they entered the game 0–5 in previous matchups and had been outscored by an average of 11 points. Bryant, selected to his 13th straight All-Star game after becoming the leading vote-getter, had 37 points, 14 rebounds, and three steals in the 2011 All-Star Game and won his fourth All-Star MVP, tying Hall of Famer Bob Pettit for the most All-Star MVP awards. During the season, Bryant moved from 12th to 6th place on the NBA all-time career scoring list, passing John Havlicek, Dominique Wilkins, Oscar Robertson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes, and Moses Malone. Bryant finished the season averaging less than 20 shots a game, his fewest since the 2003–04 season.
On April 13, 2011, the NBA fined Bryant $100,000 for directing a gay slur at referee Bennie Adams in frustration in the previous day's game. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation praised the NBA's decision to fine Bryant, and the Human Rights Campaign said that Bryant's language was a "disgrace" and "distasteful". Bryant stated that he was open to discussing the matter with gay rights groups and wanted to appeal his fine. He later apologized for the use of the word. Bryant and other Lakers appeared in a Lakers public service announcement denouncing his behavior. The team's quest for another three-peat was ended when they were swept by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the playoffs. The Mavericks would go on to win the 2011 NBA Finals.