• Thu. Jul 9th, 2020

2020 Hall of Fame Class: The Career of Kobe Bryant

ByAaron Shapo

Apr 8, 2020

The Black Mamba, Kobe Bryant, was one of the greatest players in the history of not just the NBA, but in sports in general. Kobe Bryant had an incredible career with five championships, 18 All-Star appearances, 15 All-NBA honors, 12 All-Defensive honors, two scoring titles, and an MVP. His career has brought the general consensus that he is a top-three player of all-time, in competition with Michael Jordan and LeBron James for the Greatest of all Time conversation.

As we all know, Kobe Bryant tragically passed away in a helicopter crash in late January of this year. His death struck the world at its core and the NBA found all sorts of ways to pay tribute to the fallen icon.

This was the first year Kobe was eligible for the hall of fame, and he was entered without question. Without further ado, here is the career of Kobe Bryant:

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Kobe Bryant was drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 NBA draft, the best draft choice of Charlotte’s history. Unfortunately for the Hornets, Kobe Bryant had made it clear that he was not willing to play for a small-market franchise and immediately demanded a trade. The Los Angeles Lakers were intrigued with the young prospect and traded their Center Vlade Divac, current owner of the Sacramento Kings, for the 18-year-old prospect. Kobe Bryant would spend his entire career, 20 years, with the team.

Kobe’s first season with the Los Angeles Lakers was a pretty average one for a late lottery pick. The Lakers were being led by a prime Shaquille O’Neal at the time so the Lakers weren’t hurting for talent. Kobe played around 15.5 minutes per game off the bench, only starting in six games in his rookie season. In his first season, the 18-year-old averaged 7.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.3 assists. He was looking like he would become a solid player in the NBA. After his first season, no one would have guessed that this kid would become the Black Mamba. The Lakers had made the playoffs, losing 4-1 in the second round against John Stockton and Karl Malone.

Kobe began to flourish in his second season. After an underwhelming rookie season, expectations were not that high for the young man, but that didn’t hinder him at all. Kobe would break out in his second season, putting up averages of 15.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. He had improved in every category and his play, despite still coming off the bench, earned him his first all-star appearance. Kobe and the Lakers would return to the playoffs as the #3 seed, but fall to the Jazz once again in the Conference Finals 4-0.

The 1998-1999 lockout season was the season that solidified Kobe Bryant as a starter as Eddie Jones was moved to the bench. Despite further improvements to his game, averaging 19.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists, he was not granted his second all-star appearance, but it would be the last season he wasn’t an all-star. He was, however, awarded with All-NBA 3rd team honors. The Lakers were still Shaq’s team, but the Shaq and Kobe era was fast approaching in LA. The Lakers would claim the #4 seed and would be swept by Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.

The 1999-2000 season would solidify Kobe Bryant as a star in the NBA. It would also be the beginning of the Shaq and Kobe era. Kobe continued to show consistent improvement, averaging 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.9 assists. Keep in mind that he was just 21. Kobe was put on the All-NBA Second Team and the All-Defensive First Team. His teammate Shaq would win the MVP. The Lakers would become NBA Champions for the first time since 1988, defeating the Pacers in six games. Shaquille O’Neal would be rewarded the Finals MVP.

Image: Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers pose with the NBA Championship trophy at the Staples Center in 2000.
Andrew D. Bernstein / Getty Images

The next two seasons were more of the same for Kobe, Shaq and the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe would get All-NBA and All-Defensive honors both years and the Lakers would win two more NBA Championships. Shaq would get both Finals MVPs giving him a personal Three-peat. The Lakers had solidified themselves as an NBA dynasty. It was a fragile dynasty, however. Kobe Bryant felt that Shaq wasn’t committed enough to basketball and cared too much about money, and he was also jealous of Shaq’s limelight as he was seen as the secondary player.

The Lakers would fall to Tim Duncan and the Spurs in six games the next year in the second round, but Shaq and Kobe would return to the finals in 2004. The Lakers had just taken out Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves and most saw their Finals matchup against the Detroit Pistons as an easier opponent. The Lakers could not have been more wrong as Ben Wallace locked down Shaq while the suffocating defense of Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince shut down Kobe. The Lakers lost the series in five games.

After their failure in the finals, tensions erupted between Shaq and Kobe. Kobe, being just 25, had the Lakers behind him and Shaq was shipped off to Miami. Kobe was now on his own ready to prove to the world that he is the best player in the NBA.

Kobe, at the age of 25, already had three championships, six all-star appearances, six All-NBA appearances, and five All-Defensive appearances. He was now ready to begin his new chapter as the sole star of Los Angeles.

It wouldn’t get off to a great start, though. Kobe and the Lakers flat-out missed the playoffs in the 2004-2005 playoffs, Kobe’s first time missing the playoffs in his career. The next two years weren’t much better.  They’d fall in the first round to Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns 3-4 and 1-4 respectively. Kobe would achieve individual success, however, grabbing the scoring titles in 2006 and 2007.

In the 2007-2008 season, things finally began to change for the better. The now 29-year-old Kobe Bryant was paired with another star by the name of Pau gasol. Gasol was an all-star Power Forward from Memphis but had now joined Kobe with the Purple and Gold. Together, along with the improving Andrew Bynum, they finally returned to the NBA Finals, but were shut down by the Celtics Big 3 in six games Kobe, for his part, was awarded his first and only MVP award of his career for helping return the Lakers to the playoffs.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 5: Kobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center on April 5, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Noah Graham / Getty Images

The 2008-2009 season finally saw Kobe back on top. Kobe Bryant along with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum finally achieved greatness. They marched through the Western Conference playoffs and faced Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals. Dwight was a phenomenal player at the time, a player the Laker would love to have. (Not foreshadowing anything) The Lakers would win in five games and Kobe would earn his first Finals MVP of his career.

They’d win the 2010 NBA Championship as well, cementing Kobe in his place among the all-time greats. It would be his last Championship, but the Lakers still had hope for more at the time.

This brought about the infamous Dwight Howard trade. The four-team trade that nobody won. After falling to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, the Lakers wanted to make one last attempt to get Kobe one last ring. The Lakers 2012-2013 starting five, on paper, looked like an unstoppable force. Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard. The Lakers expectations were as high as ever, and boy did they fall. Steve Nash’s age started to show, Dwight Howard wasn’t the same player he was in Orlando and the locker room was a mess. Kobe, now 34, decided to take it upon himself to carry the Lakers to another championship. Unfortunately, his season would fall short after he tore his achilles. The lakers would be swept in the first round and haven’t made the playoffs since.

Kobe played with the Lakers until 2016 where he’d retire as a legend. The Black Mamba had one of the best careers known to man. The tragedy of his death struck us all, but we will all remember him. His name is immortal and it’s great to see him in the Hall of Fame.