Last week we had a look at the early stages of Kobe Bryant’s life, his life before the NBA. Now we will be looking into his first years at the league all the way throughout his legendary career at the NBA.
The decision to go pro
We saw last week how Kobe considered entering the NBA straight after High school, just like Kevin Garnett had done. When rumours of Kobe Bryant going pro began circulating, Kobe made no attempt to negate them.
Nationwide debate was being sparked, as to whether Kobe Bryant will be a lottery pick if he was drafted to the NBA. He was only 17 and when he decided to skip College and join the NBA, his decision was met with a lot of mixed opinions; some believing Kobe was more than ready to start balling with the big boys, while others questioned the decision, citing Kobe’s tender age.
NBA draft and Rookie year
Kobe was chosen as the 13th pick of the 1996 NBA draft by the Charlotte Hornets as the first ever Guard straight out of high school. But this was all part of a plan, an arrangement between the Hornets and guess who? The Los Angeles Lakers!
Kobe had previously been training with the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers where the Lakers’ manager Jerry West had been impressed with the 17- year old Kobe and what he could possibly do for their franchise in the long run. The Hornets had agreed to trade their draft selection to the Lakers and thus Kobe entered the legendary Los Angeles Lakers franchise. Lakers also drafted an aggressive but defensive minded Point guard in Derek Fisher. The 2 Rookie signings created the cap space necessary to sign the free agent from Orlando Magic: Shaquille O’Neal. This was the beginning of what would become a legendary partnership between Shaq and Kobe.
Kobe was delighted at the idea of playing for the Purple and Gold as it was his favourite team growing up. The Lakers had an impressive 56-26 season and Kobe was voted to be a starter at the All-Star game going up against the “G.O.A.T” (Greatest of All Time) – Michael Jordan himself. Kobe was the youngest NBA All-Star starter and remains to be so, to date. Kobe showed signs of what was to come in that match and went on to win the Slam Dunk contest in his rookie year too.
The Shaq-Kobe Era
From their 1st year together to the early 2000s, the Lakers performed well but failed to win any championships, falling twice in the Western Conference semifinals and losing to the Utah Jazz in the finals of the 1997/1998 season after establishing a 61 game winning streak during the regular season.
Then came a new era in the 1999/2000 season, when Phil Jackson, the man who led Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls to 6 NBA Championships, took over. Kobe and the Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers in 6 games and were crowned NBA champions for the 1st time since 1988. Kobe’s contribution towards this was immense. Kobe suffered a knee injury in the 2001/2002 season, but came back strong to help the Lakers win back to back championships, beating the Philadelphia Sixers 4 games to 1 in the finals.
After having a 58-24 regular season record, they beat the Sacramento Kings 4 games to 3 in the finals of the 2001/2002, clinching a 112-106 overtime victory in Game 7; The Black Mamba had unleashed himself on the World of Basketball and the Lakers completed a three-peat.
Lakers- Boston rivalry 2.0
In the 2002/2003 season Kobe became the youngest player to reach the 10,000 points mark and proceeded to reach new heights, dropping a career high of 81 points in a game in 2006! But things got a little tough for him around this time and in 2007, Kobe voiced displeasure against the way the franchise was being run and wanted to be traded, but Coach Phil Jackson managed to change his mind.
A bitter feud in the early 2000s saw Shaq traded to the Miami Heat and Kobe became the undisputed team leader for the Lakers. In the 2007/2008 season, Spanish All-Star Pau Gasol signed with the Lakers. Kobe, Pau and the rest of the crew including Fisher, Bynum and Odom had a 57-25 record in the regular season, and made it all the way to the finals against their age old rivals – The Boston Celtics. They came out as 2nd best however, losing 4 games to 2 but Kobe won the NBA MVP Award that year.
In the 2008/2009 season, Kobe led the Lakers to a 65-17 regular season record. They made their 2nd straight trip to the NBA finals after annihilating all their Western conference opponents at the Playoffs. They beat the Orlando Magic 4-1 to become the new NBA champions. In 2009/2010 Kobe roared on with the same incredible form throughout the season, until he got hit with an injury to his index finger, but he kept going and in a NBA Finals rematch against the Boston Celtics unleashed his Mamba mentality in Game 7, crashing boards to cover for his bad shooting form and making some clutch shots in the 4th quarter to win his 5th NBA championship. Kobe expressed that it was the most satisfying of all the championships he had won.
Kobe fell prey to injuries too often during the twilight of his career. They ranged from torn tendinitis, to rotator cuff injuries in his right shoulder to shin injuries and progressively, things got worse. His sheer will to play carried him through and there were still a few matches where Kobe was playing like he did before, but a young, rebuilding Lakers unit and his injury plagued body derailed Kobe’s efforts of winning a 6th championship.
On November 29, 2015 Bryant announced via the The Players’ Tribune that he will be retiring at the end of the season.
Sri Lanka and Kobe
Just as Kobe had admirers, he also had his share of critics too, here is one of them. Pamod Lankatilaka says “The most selfish basketball player I have ever witnessed! He never wanted to give his spotlight away, even after 20 years in the league, for the team’s success. He kept it until the LA Lakers stopped making it to the playoffs anymore, and the Lakers are the worst team this year”!
Shangith Vasudevan from Melbourne responded with “How can you call a player with 6,000 Assists the most selfish player? There is more to it than taking shots, it’s more about the confidence and will rather than being selfish”. Another Kobe fan Tharindu Wattuhewa from Malabe said ‘He is the reason I play basketball, the game is not going to be the same without him”.
Deandre Mendis, “You can’t really compare Kobe with modern players and shooters like Curry (Steph), because Kobe set the benchmark for shooting that the new era of players used as a platform for improvement. He set the standard!”
Hesharn Thilakawardena, says “Kobe came the closest to Michael Jordan”. Rahul De Sylva, 20 from Thalawathugoda who claims he is an OKC fan said “He is a Legend, there’s no argument that he will go down as one of the best players the world has ever seen. And we should consider ourselves lucky to have witnessed his greatness”.
Kobe’s Basketball Career Accolades
- 5 × NBA champion with LA Lakers
- 2 × Olympic Gold medalist with Team USA
- NBA Most Valuable Player (2008)
- 17 × NBA All Star
- 11 × All NBA First team
- 9 × NBA All-Defensive First team
- 2 × NBA Scoring Champion (2006,2007)
- Los Angeles Lakers All-time Leading Scorer
- NBA Slam Dunk champion (1997)
When this NBA season ends so will the legendary career of one of the game’s greatest to ever step on the hard wood. Kobe had many moments of joy and many moments of pain and his fair share of controversy too, but no one can take anything away from the teen prodigy who went onto become a superstar.
I would like to end this tribute with a poem written by the great man himself as he bids farewell to the game.
From the moment
I started rolling my Dad’s tube socks
And shooting imaginary
In the Great Western forum
I knew one thing was real
I fell in love with you
A love so deep I gave you my all –
From my mind & body
To my spirit & soul.
As a six-year old boy
Deeply in love with you
I never saw the end of the tunnel.
I only saw myself
Running out of one.
And so I ran.
I ran up and down every court
After every loose ball for you.
You asked for my hustle
I gave you my heart
Because it came with so much more.
I played through the sweat and the hurt
Not because challenge called me
But because YOU called me
I did everything for YOU
Because that’s what you do
When someone makes you feel as
Alive as you’ve made me feel
You gave a six- year old his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body says it’s time to say goodbye.
And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savour every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other.
All that we have.
And we both know, no matter what I do next
I’ll always be that kid
With the rolled up socks
Garbage can in the corner
:05 seconds on the clock
Ball in my hands.
Love you always,
Until we meet next time on ‘Swishing the Nets’ at thepapare.com keep balling and make sure to catch all of Kobe’