On Sunday January 26th, it was announced former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant passed away in a tragic helicopter accident along with his 13 year old daughter Gianna as well as 7 other passengers. This week, we mourn the death of one of the greatest basketball talent’s the world has ever seen, and we reflect on his unprecedented impact on the game of basketball.
Andrew D. Bernstein, 2019, Via Getty Images
(Kobe Bryant with daughter Gianna at Dallas Mavericks game in late December 2019)
It all started in high school where Kobe Bryant would attend Lower Merion in Ardmore Pennsylvania. In his first three seasons with the Aces, he led them to a combined 77-13 record including a junior year where he averaged 31.1 points per game, along with 10.4 rebounds, and 5.2 assists. Bryant’s senior year is where things really took off as he earned himself a trip to the McDonald’s all-American game as well as the Gatorade men’s national basketball player of the year award.
Bryant would decide to forgo college basketball and would instead enter the 1996 NBA draft where he would be selected 13th overall to the Charlotte Hornets ahead of future NBA legends Steve Nash (15) and Jermaine O’Neal (17). Bryant would later be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for veteran center Vlade Divac which would turn out to be the best decision in Laker franchise history. Kobe Bryant entered his first season with the Lakers as an 18 year old, fresh out of high school. Bryant had a somewhat underwhelming rookie season averaging points in single digits but showed glimpses of star potential. Bryant became an NBA All-Star in only his second season where he would get the chance to play against his idol growing up, Michael Jordan. He emerged quickly as one of the NBA’s most relentless scorers, helping the Los Angeles Lakers reach the NBA finals in only his fourth season. The Lakers would go on to three-peat, and despite averaging 25.7 points per game throughout this three year period, Kobe would not win a finals MVP as they were all credited to Shaquille O’Neal.
Lucy Nicholson, 2002, AP
(Kobe & Shaq fooling around on the bench in the 2001-02 season)
Although Kobe was not getting the recognition through awards and accolades, he was recognized league wide as one of the most vicious scorers in the game. Kobe was playing championship level basketball with another superstar, but it was evident that he wanted to be the man in Los Angeles and prove that he could win championships without “The Diesel”. O’Neal decided to leave the LA Lakers in the summer of 2004 to go play with an up and coming guard by the name of Dwyane Wade, and Kobe was given the full set of keys to the team. Bryant did not disappoint however, the Lakers did not look like they once did, at least for now. In the 2005-06 season, Bryant would win his first scoring title averaging 35.4 points per game and it was highly debated he was snubbed of the Most valuable player award . He won an additional scoring title in the 2006-07 season to establish himself as without a doubt the best scorer in the league. The Lakers continued to win basketball games, and Kobe Bryant even earned himself an MVP award, but haven’t seen their championship form they once had with Shaquille O’Neal.
Kobe Bryant would quickly change things around, and the 2008-09 season saw a finals matchup between the Lakers and the Orlando Magic which featured the league’s most vicious scorer in Kobe Bryant and the defensive player of the year Dwight Howard. Kobe Bryant looked to silence the haters and prove that he could be the main man on a championship roster , and he did just that averaging 30.1 points in the playoff run and beating a tough Orlando Magic team in 5 games to bring home the NBA championship as well as his very first finals MVP. Bryant saw himself in the finals again after the 2009-10 season however this time against the Boston Celtics led by Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, and Ray Allen. Despite coming up against the biggest super team in basketball, Kobe Bryant averaged 28.5 points in the series to bring home yet another championship to Los Angeles along with his second consecutive finals MVP. These two historic championship runs are what cemented Bryant’s legacy.
Kevork Djansezian, 2010, Getty Images
This would be the end of Kobe Bryant’s peak as we would begin to see him go on a slow decline up until his retirement in 2016. Kobe Bryant has one of the best resumes and is widely considered a top five player to ever play the game. Bryant ended his career with a slam dunk title, 18 time all-star, 5 time NBA champion, 2 time finals most valuable player, the 2007-08 most valuable player, as well as 15 all-NBA selections and 12 all-defensive selections.
Andrew D. Bernstein, 1997, Getty Images
I think it’s safe to say that we all had the privilege to witness one of the greatest players to ever play the beautiful game of basketball.