Cornerstone of The Lakers
“Since my arrival in the NBA, I've set about improving each year and I've been able to do that.” Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant is an American All-Star shooting guard in the National Basketball Association (NBA) who has played for the Los Angeles Lakers since 1996. Rising to national fame after becoming the first guard in league history to be drafted out of high school, the Pennsylvania native had an important role in leading the Lakers to three consecutive NBA championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002, a notable victory he shared with teammate Shaquille O'Neal. After the 2004 season, O'Neal left the Lakers and Bryant has since embarked as the backbone of the Lakers' franchise. One of the NBA's biggest talents, Bryant became the NBA leading scorer in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons.
In 2003, Bryant shared a degree of notoriety after he was accused of raping a 19-year-old hotel employee in Eagle, Colorado. Although the charges were later dropped, the incident badly damaged his reputation. One of his biggest sponsors, Coca Cola, decided to terminate its contract with Bryant. Bryant's endorsement contracts with Nutella, Ferrero SpA and McDonald's were also terminated. Bryant's wife, Vanessa Laine Bryant, whom he married in 2001, supported him, as did his Lakers teammates. Bryant and Vanessa have two daughters together.
Childhood and Family:
Kobe Bean Bryant was born on August 23, 1978, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant and Pam. His parents named him after the renowned beef of Kobe, Japan, which they saw on a restaurant menu. Kobe is the youngest of three.
Kobe was raised in Philadelphia until age 6, when his father left the league and moved the family to Italy. Young Kobe quickly adapted to the new lifestyle and became fluent in Italian. Though his father continued to professionally play basketball there, Kobe discovered an early attraction to soccer and was an avid fan of AC Milan.
The Bryant family moved back to the United States in 1991 when Kobe was 13. He attended Lower Merion High School in the Philadelphia suburb of Lower Merion and was a basketball star there. After graduating high school, he started his professional career with the NBA.
Kobe Bryant, whose nickname is “Black Mamba,” married Vanessa Laine Bryant on April 18, 2001, in Dana Point, California. His wife is of half-Irish and half-Mexican lineage, which reportedly became one of the causes why Kobe's family did not attend their wedding. The conflict led to an alienation period of over two years, during which time Kobe lost contact with his parents. Kobe met Vanessa while she was working as a background dancer on the Tha Eastsidaz music video “G'd Up.” At the time, Kobe was 21 and Vanessa was only 17. The two became engaged six months later in May 2000 while Vanessa was still a senior in high school.
On January 19, 2003, Kobe and his wife welcomed their first child, daughter Natalia Diamante Bryant. The birth influenced Kobe to reconcile his differences with his parents. The couple's second daughter, Gianna Maria-Onore, was born on May 1, 2006.
NBA's Youngest All-Star
After spending part of his childhood in Italy where he became interested in soccer, Kobe Bryant returned to the USA to make a name for himself in basketball. The son of a former NBA player, he emerged as a star player with Lower Merion High School. He led his team to a Class AAAA state title and along the way, broke records with an average of 30.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4.0 steals, 3.8 blocked shots per game, and a total of 2,883 points. In his high school career, Bryant became the leading scorer in the history of Southeastern Pennsylvania and was acknowledged for his natural basketball talents by being named “Gatorade Circle of Champions High School Player of the Year” and the “Naismith Player of the Year.” He also became a McDonald's All-America Team member.
Going directly from high school to professional basketball, Bryant was chosen as the 13th overall draft pick by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996.The Hornets then traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchanged for starting center Vlade Divac. At the time, 18-year-old Bryant was the youngest NBA player to ever debut in the league. In his first season, Bryant spent much of his time sitting on the bench, but as the season continued, he started to gain some playing time. He won the 1997 Slam Dunk Competition and soon made a reputation for himself as a high-flyer and a fan-favorite. He also set a new record at the 1997 Rookie Game by collecting 31 points and 8 rebounds.
Bryant's career continued to flourish the following season. He ranked No. 2 on the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award and was selected through fan voting as the youngest NBA All-Star starter during the 1998 game. When Bryant was appointed starting guard in the 1998-1999 season, following the trade of Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones, the Lakers were defeated by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semi-finals. His luck's started to change in 1999 when Phil Jackson became the team's coach. Under Jackson's direction, Bryant became one of the top shooting guards in the NBA. With the Lakers, he and O'Neal led the team to become championship contenders and finally achieve three consecutive NBA championships in 2000, 2001, and 2002.
In the 2002-2003 NBA seasons, Bryant scored an average of 30 points per game and made history in scoring by posting 40 or more points per game in nine consecutive games while averaging 40.6 in the full month of February. He also attained 6.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.2 steals per game. After completing 50-32 in the regular season, the Lakers were swept by the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semi-finals. With the addition of NBA All Stars Karl Malone and Gary Payton, the Lakers could achieve the NBA Finals in the following 2003-2004 NBA season, but they lost to the Detroit Pistons in 5 games. In the series, Bryant averaged 22.6 points per game and 4.4 assists per game.
Following rape issues and conflicts with former teammates O'Neal and Malone, Bryant returned to the 2004-2005 NBA season and was chosen as the leader of his team after the Lakers traded O'Neal. His first season without O'Neal proved to be a very hard one. As a result of the previous year, Bryant was highly criticized and closely examined. His reputation was tarnished even further when Phil Jackson released the book “The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul,” which contained numerous criticisms of Bryant. In the book, Jackson also calls Bryant “uncoachable.” Though Bryant still demonstrated his capability of becoming the NBA's second leading scorer with 27.6 points per game, his overall status in the NBA showed a significant decline when he was assigned to the All-NBA Third Team.
In the 2005-2006 NBA seasons, Bryant enjoyed a renaissance in his basketball career. Phil Jackson returned to coach the Lakers and despite past differences, Bryant supported the move. The two reconciled and put the Lakers back in the playoffs. Bryant participated in the 2006 NBA All-Star Game and became the first player since 1965 to score 45 points or more in four consecutive games.
The 2006-2007 seasons were filled with a series of incidents Bryant committed on the court. He earned his first one-game suspension in January after striking his elbow against the face of San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili. His next suspension arrived in March when he hit Minnesota Timberwolves guard Marko Jarić. In his first game back after the second suspension, Bryant hit Kyle Korver in the face with his elbow and the incident was retrospectively re-classified as a Type 1 flagrant foul. In 2007, Bryant scored 50 points or more in four consecutive games, making him the only player other than Wilt Chamberlain to do so in one season.
Bryant remains with the Lakers for the 2007-2008 seasons.