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Bryant, Kobe

Kobe Bryant

1978—

Basketball player

Kobe Bryant is a basketball superstar who has played for the Los Angeles Lakers since 1996, when at the age of eighteen he became the youngest player in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Bypassing college, Bryant moved straight from high school to the NBA, a feat accomplished by only twenty-seven other players since the league was founded in 1946. During his professional career Bryant has won nearly every honor associated with the sport of basketball, including being consistently named an all-star, being chosen the league's most valuable player, and helping the Lakers to win three NBA championships.

Lived in Italy during Childhood

The youngest of three children born to Joe and Pam Bryant, Kobe Bryant was born in Philadelphia in 1978. The Lakers press guide said his parents named him after a type of steak they saw on a restaurant menu shortly before he was born. Bryant's father was in the midst of a sixteen-year professional basketball career that took the family from Philadelphia, to San Diego, Houston, and then to Italy. When not traveling with his team, Joe played sports with his children, teaching them his moves. Kobe proved to be a particularly apt student, and he adored his father. Said Bryant in the New York Times, "Other kids don't have a father. I don't have anything in common with them. My father's my best friend. Those kids say I lead a Beaver Cleaver life. I don't care." Kobe was five years old when his father left the NBA and moved the family to Pistoia, Italy. There the elder Bryant competed eight more years in the Italian Professional Basketball League. Since no one in the Bryant family could speak Italian at first, the bonds between them grew even closer as they struggled with learning another language. "We didn't have anybody to depend on but our family. We had to stick together," Bryant remembered in the Riverside, California, Press-Enterprise. Bryant got along well with his sisters Sharia and Shaya, and—when time allowed—he played hoops with his father. He also played soccer, a favorite sport in Italy.

When Joe Bryant's professional career ended in 1991, the family returned to the United States and settled in a comfortable home on the Main Line, the most prestigious of Philadelphia's suburban areas. Thirteen- year-old Kobe surprised his fellow students at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore; they marveled at the young black man who could speak Italian fluently but who was relatively unaware of the hip urban attitudes popular among teens. In a Los Angeles Times profile, Bryant recalled that time: "It was kind of strange because, being away, I didn't know a lot of the slang that kids used. Kids would come up to me and say whatever, and I'd just nod."

Basketball helped bridge the gap between Bryant and his classmates at Lower Merion High. Tall and skilled, Bryant quickly became a starter for the varsity team and just as quickly began to make a name for himself in greater Philadelphia. His high school coach, Gregg Downer, encouraged him to aim for a professional career. "When I first met [Bryant], at age thirteen, and I saw him play, after five minutes I said, ‘This kid is going to be a pro,’" Downer told the Los Angeles Times. "Never was there one moment I doubted that. That it would happen so quickly, I may have doubted that. But I knew if he progressed so quickly and continued to make good decisions, he would someday get there."

Bryant concluded his high school career as the all-time leading scorer in the history of Southeastern Pennsylvania basketball. His 2,883 points far surpassed the 2,359 points of Hall-of-Famer Wilt Chamberlain. As a junior, he was named Pennsylvania's high school player of the year. In Bryant's senior year he led the Lower Merion Aces to a season record of 31-3 and the Class-AAAA state championship. He averaged 30.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4 steals, and 3.8 blocked shots per game. Accolades poured in from both local and national sources. USA Today named him National High School Player of the Year, and he also won the Naismith Player of the Year citation. Downer told the Los Angeles Times, "I know the high school market very well and I've watched it for close to twenty years, and to think there could be another player come into my hands and be this good, that's an abstract concept. [Kobe's] blessed with a lot of natural ability and great genes, but the work ethic is his and it's very strong. Kobe has the skills and the maturity and everything you could want."

Bypassed College for the Pros

Not surprisingly, Bryant was offered scholarships to almost every major college and university in the country. Not only was he a brilliant basketball player, he was also a good student, scoring an above-average 1,100 on his Scholastic Aptitude Test. Bryant and his parents remained coy about his future, however. They realized that they faced a momentous decision: whether to bypass college completely and go straight into the NBA draft. Bryant, meanwhile, catapulted to national prominence when the media learned that he would be escorting the pop star Brandy to his high school prom in downtown Philadelphia.

Just before prom time, Bryant called a news conference to declare his decision to make himself available for the 1996 NBA draft in June. Philadelphia sports fans who had expected Bryant to enroll at one of the local colleges greeted the announcement with jeers. The criticism escalated when Joe Bryant quit his job as an assistant coach at La Salle University to manage his son's career. Answering all his detractors in the New York Times, Joe Bryant stated, "Would Kobe be more accepted going to the NBA if he'd been a dummy? Do you have to be poor, with five kids, living on welfare?" He concluded, "Kobe should have had the key to the city. Instead they tried to crucify him. No one saw how special he is."

At a Glance …

Born August 23, 1978, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Joe (a professional basketball player and coach) and Pam Bryant; married Vanessa Laine, 2001; children: Natalia Diamante, Gianna Maria-Onore. Education: Graduate of Lower Merion High School, Ardmore, PA.

Career: Professional basketball player, Los Angeles Lakers, 1996—.

Awards: National High School Player of the Year, USA Today, 1996; Naismith Player of the Year, 1996; Gatorade Circle of Champions High School Player of the Year, 1996; McDonald's All-American, 1996; NBA Rookie All-Star, 1997; NBA All-Star, 1998, 2000-08; NBA All-Star game Most Valuable Player, 2002, 2007; All-NBA First Team, 2002-08; All-NBA Defensive First Team, 2002-08; NBA scoring champion, 2006, 2007; NBA Most Valuable Player, 2008; Gold Medal with U.S. Olympic men's basketball team, 2008.

Addresses: Home—Pacific Palisades, CA. Office—Los Angeles Lakers, Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90015.

No one, that is, except the Charlotte Hornets, who chose Bryant as the thirteenth pick in the first round of the 1996 NBA draft. No one but Adidas, who swooped in to sign the young star to a product endorsement contract. No one but Brandy, who praised her prom date as a terrific guy and invited him to guest-star on her television show, Moesha. And no one but the Los Angeles Lakers, who traded veteran center Vlade Divac to obtain the untested rookie. A month shy of his eighteenth birthday, Bryant signed a three-year, $3.5 million contract with the Lakers and moved into a mansion in Pacific Palisades, California. If anyone could be said to be "on top of the world," it was Bryant.

Saw Limited Action as a Rookie

Poised for greatness, Bryant took the Southern California Summer Pro League by storm. He appeared in four games—drawing huge, overflow crowds—and netted twenty-seven points in one game and thirty-six in another. Then, just before training camp was due to start in September, he broke his wrist playing pickup ball and could not practice for five weeks. This setback effectively undercut his first chance to learn the NBA style of play. To make matters worse, he took a body shot from an opponent in Philadelphia during an exhibition game in October of 1996 and missed not only the rest of the preseason but also the season opener in November.

The injuries gave Bryant a huge disadvantage during the regular season. Lakers coach Del Harris explained in the Press-Enterprise that "You've got to figure that not only did [Bryant] skip college, he also skipped training camp. Given that, the fact that he was able to compete at this level by January [1997] is incredible—especially with a team that's been in first or second place all year, rather than a team that might say, ‘Well, we're not going anywhere anyway, so let's play the young guys.’"

Harris saw Bryant as a novice who needed more training in the pro game and restricted his playing time accordingly. Bryant averaged 15.5 minutes of playing time, 7.6 points, 1.3 assists, and 1.9 rebounds per game in 71 regular season appearances. Naturally the former high school star felt frustrated by the limited play. "One of the hardest things this year was not knowing whether you're going to play or how many minutes you're going to play," Bryant acknowledged in an Associated Press report. "But at the same time that kind of helps you, because you just have to be ready every night."

Bryant's chance to shine as a rookie came during the All-Star break, when he scored thirty-one points in the Rookie All-Star Game and aced the slam-dunk title with a dramatic shot that began between his legs. That moment of fame was some compensation for his slow start as a professional, and it served to reinforce his coaches' conviction that he would make an impact within a year or two.

Adjusted to NBA Lifestyle

Debate, meanwhile, still raged over whether Bryant had taken a wrong turn when he decided to skip college. As Theresa Smith observed in the Orange County Register, "It's still too early…. If he hadn't turned pro, he'd be learning strategy and refining skills in frequent practice sessions, and starring for a Top 25 team two days a week. Instead, his practice time is limited by a rigorous game and travel schedule and his game time is limited by Harris, who has the incongruous task of developing young talent and winning at the same time." The New York Times quoted Harris as expressing similar frustrations: "I don't want to be remembered … [as] the guy who wouldn't let Kobe Bryant play." He also observed, "I have to do it. I can't give him special treatment just because he's eighteen. He elected to come into a man's world and he'll have to play by a man's rules."

That "man's world" presented many challenges for a person of Bryant's age. Not yet old enough to order an alcoholic beverage legally and enormously wary of the multitude of other temptations beckoning NBA players, he generally kept to himself both at home and on the road. His parents often traveled with him, and they lived in his Pacific Palisades home.

In addition to his multimillion-dollar contract, Bryant had product endorsement deals for such companies as Adidas, Nintendo, Spalding, and Sprite. "I like getting out there for promotional appearances and having a good time and meeting people," he said in the Los Angeles Times. "I like to see the end product, and I take pride in it." At the same time, he added, "I understand basketball is what got me here and on top of that, I love to do it so much that it will always be my focal point."

Evolved into an Pro Star

By age twenty-one, Bryant was well on his way to becoming an elite player in the NBA. Rather than squander his money on the high life, Bryant became the co-owner of an Italian basketball team, Olimpia Milano. He also released a hip-hop album, K.O.B.E. Larry Brown, then coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, told Sports Illustrated, "Kobe's a model of what a young player should aspire to be. Year by year he has learned and made his game more solid, and now he's not just a highlight-film guy but an accomplished NBA player."

Along with the NBA's Most Valuable Player, Shaquille O'Neal, in 2000 Bryant helped the Lakers win their first championship in twelve years. The media frequently mentioned tension between O'Neal and Bryant. According to Los Angeles Magazine, "Shaq had never become an adult, while Kobe had never been a child."

The Lakers repeated as champions in 2001 and 2002. In 2003 Bryant was accused of sexual assault in Eagle County, Colorado. Prosecutors dropped the charge in September of 2004, saying the accuser, a nineteen-year-old hotel employee, could not move forward with the case. She did, however, file a civil suit against Bryant. They settled the suit early in 2005, under terms that remained concealed. Bryant often took shuttle flights between the trial in Colorado and Lakers games. He still made the All-NBA first team. The Lakers reached the NBA Finals in 2004, losing four games to one to the Detroit Pistons. After the season, the team settled the simmering feud between Bryant and O'Neal by trading O'Neal to the Miami Heat and signing Bryant to a seven-year, $136 million contract extension. Coach Phil Jackson left the Lakers after the season, and during the 2004 offseason he wrote a book in which he said Bryant's trial and attitude in general wore down the team.

Bryant was again an All-Star in 2005, but the Lakers missed the playoffs for only the second time in twenty-nine years. After the season, team owner Jerry Buss rehired Jackson as head coach, and he and Bryant both publicly said they were at peace.

Early in 2006 Bryant scored 81 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors, the second-highest total ever scored in an NBA game. He was again named as a Western Conference starter for the NBA All-Star game, and ended the 2005-06 season as the NBA scoring champion, with an average 35.4 points per game. In July of 2006 he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, missing the Lakers' preseason exhibition games and the first two regular season games. With his knee progressing slowly, Bryant was back in the lineup by early November.

Bryant changed his jersey number from 8 to 24 for the 2006-07 season. He also won his second All-Star game MVP award, scoring 31 points as the West defeated the East, 153-132. After the season, during which the Lakers lost in the first round of the playoffs, Bryant alternately asked for a trade, then recanted. In one day, Bryant first told ESPN Radio: "I would like to be traded. And as tough as it is to say that, as tough as it is to come to that conclusion, there's no other alternative." However, later the same day he said on another broadcast: "I don't want to go anyplace else. I don't want to. I want to be a Laker. I want to be here for the rest of my career."

Competed in the 2008 Olympics

Bryant, who played on a five-stop tour of Asia before the start of the 2007-08 season, returned to the Lakers. Midway through the season, he was named a starter for the Western Conference All-Star team. He was to compete in his tenth All-Star game. Bryant went on to complete perhaps his finest NBA season yet, leading the Lakers to the NBA Finals, where they were defeated by the Boston Celtics. In May of 2008 he was named the league's Most Valuable Player for the season. He was also named to the NBA All-Defensive Team for the third consecutive year, and sixth time overall. The following month, Bryant was named to the U.S. men's basketball team that would compete in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. The squad, dubbed the "Redeem Team" in reference to the U.S. men's futility in several previous international tournaments, included most of the NBA's biggest stars, including LaBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, and just about every other perennial all-star.

In Beijing, Bryant was the most luminous of the American basketball stars. Chinese fans worshipped him as they did no other player, other than perhaps their compatriot Yao Ming. Off the court, Bryant was at his best, behaving as a gentleman in the press and drawing the praise of NBA officials for his conduct. On the court, Bryant adapted to the needs of the team, taking on the role of defensive stopper, assigned to guard the top scorer on each opposing team. The strategy worked remarkably well. With so many other capable scorers on the U.S. team, Bryant was able to focus on shutting down the opposing offense. Of course, Bryant did not entirely leave his offensive skills at the hotel. In the gold medal final against defending basketball world champions Spain, Bryant scored twenty points and took control of the game in the decisive fourth quarter.

Throughout his career Bryant has been saddled with inevitable comparisons to the great Michael Jordan. Regardless of whether those comparisons have been fair, they are now largely irrelevant. Bryant is without question one of the small handful of greatest players of his era, and perhaps even of all time.

Sources

Periodicals

Associated Press, November 10, 1996; April 29, 1997.

Esquire, June 5, 2008.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, August 21, 2008.

Jet, April 24, 2000; July 10, 2000.

Los Angeles Magazine, June 2001, p. 58.

Los Angeles Times, October 15, 1996, p. C1; August 25, 2008.

New York Times Magazine, January 19, 1997, p. 23; January 1999, p. 66.

Orange County Register, January 5, 1997, p. C10.

Philadelphia Inquirer, November 3, 1996, pp. C1, C6; August 14, 2008.

Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA), October 29, 1996, p. C1; February 8, 1997, p. C1.

San Diego Union Tribune, October 22, 1996, p. D2.

Sports Illustrated, April 24, 2000 p. 38; June 25, 2001, p. 42.

USA Today, August 21, 2008, p. 1A.

Online

"Bryant Asks for Trade, then Backtracks Slightly," ESPN, May 31, 2007, http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=2886927 (accessed November 13, 2008).

Jackson, Phil, "Balancing Act," SI.com, October 12, 2004, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2004/basketball/nba/10/12/jackson/ (accessed November 14, 2008).

"Kobe Bryant Wins Most Valuable Player Award," NBA.com, http://www.nba.com/news/kobe_mvp_080506.html (accessed November 13, 2008).

Other

CBC News, November 3, 2006.

—Mark Kram, Christine Miner Minderovic, and Bob Jacobson

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Bryant, Kobe 1978–

Kobe Bryant 1978

Professional basketball player

At a Glance

High School Standout

Bypassed College for the Pros

Faced Reality Check

Sources

At the age of 18 years 2 months and 11 days, Kobe Bryant became the youngest man ever to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Bryant bypassed college and moved straight from high school to the NBA, a feat accomplished by only 27 other players in the long history of the league. Drafted by the Charlotte Hornets on July 11, 1996, Bryant soon found himself traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he became the youngest player ever to make that West Coast team. He has been a Laker ever since, joining stars such as Shaquille ONeal and Nick Van Exel in the team lineup.

Basketball players who have had some college experience often find the move to the NBA a tough adjustment. How much harder it must be, then, to arrive in the league as an 18-year-old high school graduate. Bryants transition was hardly a smooth one, but he handled the media attention, the new expectations, the travel, and all the challenges with a dignity and determination far beyond his years. Asked about his sudden stardom in the Los Angeles Times, Bryant responded: Its crazy. If you sit back and start thinking about it, maybe you could be overwhelmed by the situation. Youve just got to keep going slowly and keep working hard on your basketball skills. Then, I dont think your head can swell because you wont have time to think about it.

At six-feet seven-inches tall and 210 pounds, Bryant was hardly too small or frail to compete in the NBA. Observers cited his size, agility, and shot-making ability when predicting his future contributions to pro basketball. Another asset was his awareness of both the perks and the pitfalls of life as an NBA staran awareness fostered by watching his own father play professional ball. Basketball is kind of like life, Bryant explained in the Philadelphia Inquirer. It can get rough at times. You can get knocked on your butt a couple of times. But what you have to do is get up and hold your head high and try again.

The youngest of three children born to Joe and Pam Bryant, Kobe Bryant was born in Philadelphia in 1978the year before Magic Johnson joined the Lakers. The Lakers press guide stated his parents named him after a type of steak they saw on a restaurant menu shortly before he was born. Bryants father was in the midst of a 16-year pro basketball career that first took the family through Philadelphia, San Diego, and Houston, and then took them overseas to an Italian league. When not

At a Glance

Born on August 23, 1978, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Joe (a professional basketball player and coach) and Pam Bryant; married Vanessa Laine, 2001. Education: Graduate of Lower Merion High School, Ardmore, PA.

Career: Professional basketball player, 1996-. Drafted 13th pick in the first round of the 1996 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft by Charlotte Hornets; traded to Los Angeles Lakers, July 1996; signed with Lakers, July 24, 1996.

Selected awards Named National High School Player of the Year by USA Today, 1996; named Naismith Player of the Year, 1996; named Gatorade Circle of Champions High School Player of the Year, 1996; named to McDonalds All-American team, 1996; played in NBA Rookie All-Star Game, 1997; won Slam Dunk competition during 1997 NBA All-Star Weekend.

Addresses: Home Pacific Palisades, CA. Office Los Angeles Lakers, P.O. Box 10, Inglewood, CA 90306-0010.

traveling with his team, Joe Jellybean Bryant played sports with his children, teaching them his moves. Kobe proved to be a particularly apt student, and he adored his father. Said Bryant in the New York Times: Other kids dont have a father. I dont have anything in common with them. My fathers my best friend. Those kids say I lead a Beaver Cleaver life. I dont care.

Kobe was five years old when his father left the NBA and moved the family to Pistoia, Italy. There the elder Bryant competed eight more years in the Italian Professional Basketball League. Since no one in the Bryant family could speak Italian at first, the bonds between members grew even closer as they struggled with learning another language. We didnt have anybody to depend on but our family. We had to stick together, Bryant remembered in the Riverside, California, Press-Enterprise. Kobe got along well with his sisters Sharia and Shaya, andwhen time allowedhe played hoops with his dad. He also played soccer, a favorite sport in Italy.

High School Standout

When Joe Bryants pro career ended in 1991, the family returned to the United States and settled in a comfortable home on the Main Linethe most prestigious of Philadelphias suburban areas. Thirteen-year-old Kobe surprised his fellow students at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore: they marveled at the young black man who could speak Italian fluently but who was relatively unaware of the hip urban attitudes popular among teens. In a Los Angeles Times profile Bryant recalled that time: It was kind of strange because, being away, I didnt know a lot of the slang that kids used. Kids would come up to me and say whatever, and Id just nod.

Basketball helped bridge the gap between Bryant and his classmates at Lower Merion High. Tall and skilled, Bryant quickly became a starter for the varsity team and just as quickly began to make a name for himself in the greater-Philadelphia region. While Bryant became a national star in the late 1990s, he was a local celebrity for yearsand that level of attention helped to prepare him for the heightened attention he received in the NBA. He refused to make his ambitions to play in the NBA secret even though many people advised him to pursue safer goals. His parents, however, supported his dreams, and his high school coach, Gregg Downer, offered encouragement. When I first met [Kobe], at age 13, and I saw him play, after five minutes I said, This kid is going to be a pro, Downer told the Los Angeles Times. Never was there one moment I doubted that. That it would happen so quickly, I may have doubted that. But I knew if he progressed so quickly and continued to make good decisions, he would someday get there.

Bryant concluded his high school career as the all-time leading scorer in the history of Southeastern Pennsylvania basketball. His 2,883 points far surpassed the 2,359 points of Hall-of-Famer Wilt Chamberlain. As a junior, he was named Pennsylvanias high school player of the year. In Bryants senior year he led the Lower Merion Aces to a season record of 31-3 and the Class-AAAA state championship. He averaged 30.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4 steals, and 3.8 blocked shots per game. Accolades poured in from both local and national sources. USA Today named him National High School Player of the Year, and he also won the Naismith Player of the Year citation. Downer told the Los Angeles Times, I know the high school market very well and Ive watched it for close to 20 years, and to think there could be another player come into my hands and be this good, thats an abstract concept. [Kobes] blessed with a lot of natural ability and great genes, but the work ethic is his and its very strong. Kobe has the skills and the maturity and everything you could want.

Bypassed College for the Pros

Not surprisingly, Bryant was offered scholarships to almost every major college and university in the country. Not only was he a brilliant basketball player, he was also a good student, scoring an above-average 1100 on his Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Bryant and his parents remained coy about his future, however. They realized that they faced a momentous decision: whether to bypass college completely and go straight into the NBA draft. In the meantime, Bryant leaped into national prominence when the media learned that he would be escorting pop star Brandy to his high school prom in downtown Philadelphia.

Just before prom time, Bryant called a news conference to declare his decision to make himself available for the 1996 NBA draft in June. Philadelphia sports fans who had expected Bryant to enroll at one of the local colleges greeted the announcement with jeers. The criticism escalated when Joe Bryant quit his job as an assistant coach at La Salle University in order to manage his sons career. Answering all his detractors in the New York Times, Joe Bryant stated, Would Kobe be more accepted going to the NBA if hed been a dummy? Do you have to be poor, with five kids, living on welfare? He concluded, Kobe should have had the key to the city. Instead they tried to crucify him. No one saw how special he is.

No one, that is, except the Charlotte Hornets, who chose Bryant as the thirteenth pick in the first round of the 1996 NBA draft. No one but Adidas, who swooped in to sign the young star to a product endorsement contract. No one but Brandy, who praised her prom date as a terrific guy and invited him to guest-star on her television show, Moesha. And no one but the Los Angeles Lakers, who traded veteran center Vlade Divac to obtain the untested rookie. A month shy of his eighteenth birthday, Kobe Bryant signed a three-year, $3.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers and moved into a mansion in Pacific Palisades, California. If anyone could be said to be on top of the world, it was Bryant.

Faced Reality Check

Poised for greatness, Bryant took the Southern California Summer Pro League by storm. He appeared in four gamesdrawing huge overflow crowdsand netted 27 points in one game and 36 in another. Then, just before training camp was due to start in September, he broke his wrist playing pickup ball and could not practice for five weeks. This setback effectively undercut his first chance to learn the NBA style of play. To make matters worse, he took a body shot from an opponent in Philadelphia during an exhibition game in October of 1996 and missed not only the rest of the preseason but also the season opener in November.

The injuries gave Bryant a huge disadvantage during the Lakers regular season. Lakers coach Del Harris explained in the Riverside, California, Press-Enterprise that Youve got to figure that not only did [Kobe] skip college, he also skipped training camp. Given that, the fact that he was able to compete at this level by January [1997] is incredibleespecially with a team thats been in first or second place all year, rather than a team that might say, Well, were not going anywhere anyway, so lets play the young guys.

Harris saw Bryant as a journeyman who needed more training in the pro game and restricted his playing time accordingly. Bryant warmed the bench, averaging 15.5 minutes, 7.6 points, 1.3 assists, and 1.9 rebounds in 71 regular season appearances. Naturally the former high school star who had pretty much carried his previous team on his back felt frustrated by the limited play. One of the hardest things this year was not knowing whether youre going to play or how many minutes youre going to play, Bryant acknowledged in an Associated Press report. But at the same time that kind of helps you, because you just have to be ready every night.

Bryants chance to shine as a rookie came during the All-Star break, when he scored 31 points in the Rookie All-Star Game and aced the slam-dunk title with a dramatic shot that began between his legs. That moment of fame was some compensation for his slow start as a professional, and it served to reinforce his coaches conviction that he would make an impact within a year or two.

In the meantime, the debate still raged over whether Bryant took a wrong turn when he decided to skip college. As Theresa Smith observed in the Orange County Register, Its still too early If he hadnt turned pro, hed be learning strategy and refining skills in frequent practice sessions, and starring for a Top 25 team two days a week. Instead, his practice time is limited by a rigorous game and travel schedule and his game time is limited by Harris, who has the incongruous task of developing young talent and winning at the same time. The New York Times quoted Harris as expressing similar frustrations: I dont want to be remembered [as] the guy who wouldnt let Kobe Bryant play. He also observed, I have to do it. I cant give him special treatment just because hes 18. He elected to come into a mans world and hell have to play by a mans rules.

That mans world presents many challenges for a person of Bryants age. Not yet old enough to order an alcoholic beverage legally and enormously wary of the multitude of other temptations beckoning NBA players, he generally kept to himself both at home and on the road. His parents often traveled with him, and they lived in his Pacific Palisades home. Bryant had no regrets about his busy schedule or his level of responsibility, however. Its fun, he enthused in an Associated Press report. Im in the NBA. No way Im bored. In four years, then Ill probably be like, Oh, God. Weve got another road trip. Right now, its great.

Bryants regrets did not extend to missing college, either. In fact, he said he planned to get a degree some day, either in basketballs off season or after he retires. I know I would have liked college, but if I was there, Id be thinking, Man, I should be in the NBA, he told the New York Times. NBA life is fun.

It was also lucrative. In addition to his multi-million dollar contract, Bryant also had endorsement deals from Adidas and other companies who liked his clean-living persona and his appeal, especially among young people. He has a Screen Actors Guild card and is in demand for guest spots on television shows. Bryant welcomed these opportunities to add to his wealth and fame. I like getting out there for promotional appearances and having a good time and meeting people, he said in the Los Angeles Times. I like to see the end product, and I take pride in it. I want my product to be one of the best things out there, And I love going in front of the cameras and learning something new. At the same time, he added, I understand basketball is what got me here and on top of that, I love to do it so much that it will always be my focal point.

His family loved him, the Lakers loved him, and his fans loved him. He attained celebrity status at lightning speed, Most players have shoe deals and one or two others, but the opportunities Kobe has had are far greater than any other team athlete, aside from Jordan and Kobes, have come quicker,explained Kobes agent, Am Tellerm. By the age of twenty, Bryant lived the American dream: money, good basketball moves, good looks, and a big smile. But, as could be expected, Bryant had some difficulties adjusting to the demands.

Off season, he had a rigorous schedule traveling and promoting consumer goods for several large corporations including Sprite, Spalding, and Adidas. In addition, Kobe had his own Nintendo game! When he was not traveling, he spent his time with his family. According to Newsweek, Bryant says he doesnt have a single close friend on the team or in the city. Bryant was described as a loner.

By age twenty-one, Bryant landed millions of dollars in endorsement deals and had an All Star NBA status. Rather than squander his money on the high life, Bryant became co-owner of an Italian basketball league, Olimpia Milano. He also released a hip-hop album, K.O.B.E. Inevitably, kids grow up. 76ers coach, Larry Brown, told Sports Illustrated, Kobes a model of what a young player should aspire to be. Year by year he has learned and made his game more solid, and now hes not just a highlight-film guy but an accomplished NBA player. But Bryant was not perfect. During a Spring of 2000 game with the New York Knicks, Bryant entered into a half-time scuffle with the Knicks guard, Chris Childs. Both players were ejected from the game, fined, and suspended. Bryant kept his focus throughout the rest of the season, however, and along with the NBAs Most Valuable Player, Shaquille ONeal, Bryant helped the Lakers win their first championship in 12 years. The media paid a lot of attention to both Shaq and Kobe and tended to exaggerate any hint of tension between the two hoop stars. The fact is, Shaq and Kobe are two very different people. According to Los Angeles Magazine, Shaq had never become an adult, while Kobe had never been a child.

Sources

Associated Press, November 10, 1996; April 29, 1997.

Jet, April 24, 2000; July 10, 2000.

Los Angeles Times, October 15, 1996, p. C1.

Los Angeles Magazine, June 2001, p. 58.

New York Times Magazine, January 19, 1997, p. 23; January 1999, p. 66.

Orange County Register, January 5, 1997, p. C10.

Philadelphia Inquirer, November 3, 1996, p. C1, C6.

Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA), October 29, 1996, p. C1; February 8, 1997, p. C1.

San Diego Union Tribune, October 22, 1996, p. D2.

Sports Illustrated, April 24, 2000 p. 38. June 25, 2001, p. 42.

Mark Kram and Christine Miner Minderovic

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Bryant, Kobe 1978–

Kobe Bryant 1978

Professional basketball player

At a Glance

High School Standout

Leap to the Pros

Reality Check

Sources

Image not available for copyright reasons

At the age of 18 years 2 months and 11 days, Kobe Bryant became the youngest man ever to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Bryant bypassed college and moved straight from high school to the NBA, a feat accomplished by only 27 other players in the long history of the league. Drafted by the Charlotte Hornets on July 11, 1996, Bryant soon found himself traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he became the youngest player ever to make that West Coast team. He has been a Laker ever since, joining stars such as Shaquille ONeal and Nick Van Exel in the Lakers lineup.

Basketball players who have had some college experience often find the move to the NBA a tough adjustment. How much harder it must be, then, to arrive in the league as an 18-year-old high school graduate. Bryants transition was hardly a smooth one, but he handled the media attention, the new expectations, the travel, and all the challenges with a dignity and determination far beyond his years. Asked about his sudden stardom in the Los Angeles Times, Bryant responded, Its crazy. If you sit back and start thinking about it, maybe you could be overwhelmed by the situation. Youve just got to keep going slowly and keep working hard on your basketball skills. Then, I dont think your head can swell because you wont have time to think about it.

At six-feet six-inches tall and 200 pounds, Bryant is hardly too small or frail to compete in the NBA. Observers cited his size, agility, and shot-making ability when predicting his future contributions to pro basketball. Another asset in Bryants arsenal is his awareness of both the perks and the pitfalls of life as an NBA star-an awareness fostered by watching his own father play professional ball. Basketball is kind of like life, Bryant explained in the Philadelphia Inquirer. It can get rough at times. You can get knocked on your butt a couple of times. But what you have to do is get up and hold your head high and try again.

The youngest of three children born to Joe and Pam Bryant, Kobe Bryant was born in Philadelphia in 1978. The Lakers press guide says his parents named him after a type of steak they saw on a restaurant menu shortly before he was born. Bryants father was in the midst of a 16-year pro basketball career that first took the family through Philadelphia, San Diego, and Hous

At a Glance

Born August 23, 1978, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Joe (a professional basketball player and coach) and Pam Bryant Education: Graduate of Lower Merion High School, Ardmore, PA.

Professional basketball player, 1996. Drafted 13th pick in the first round of the 1996 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft by Charlotte Hornets; traded to Los Angeles Lakers, July 1996. Signed with Lakers, July 24,1996.

Selected awards: Named Natl. High School Player of the Year by USA Today, 1996; named Naismith Player of the Year, 1996; named Gatorade Circle of Champions High School Player of the Year, 1996; named to McDonalds All-Amer, team, 1996; played in NBA Rookie All-Star Game, 1997; won Slam Dunk competition during 1997 NBA All-Star Weekend.

Addresses: Home-Pacific Palisades, CA. Office-Los Angeles Lakers, POB 10, Inglewood, CA 90306-0010.

ton, and then took them overseas to an Italian league. When not traveling with his team, Joe Jellybean Bryant played sports with his children, teaching them his moves. Kobe proved to be a particularly apt student, and he adored his father. Said Bryant in the New York Times: Other kids dont have a father. I dont have anything in common with them. My fathers my best friend. Those kids say I lead a Beaver Cleaver life. I dont care.

Kobe was five years old when his father left the NBA and moved the family to Pistoia, Italy. There the elder Bryant competed eight more years in the Italian Professional Basketball League. Since no one in the Bryant family could speak Italian at first, the bonds between members grew even closer as they struggled with learning another language. We didnt have anybody to depend on but our family. We had to stick together, Bryant remembered in the Riverside, California, Press-Enterprise. Kobe got along well with his sisters Sharia and Shaya, and-when time allowedhe played hoops with his dad. He also played soccer, a favorite sport in Italy.

High School Standout

When Joe Bryants pro career ended in 1991, the family returned to the United States and settled in a comfortable home on the Main Line-the most prestigious of Philadelphias suburban areas. Thirteen-year-old Kobe surprised his fellow students at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore: they marveled at the young black man who could speak fluent Italian but who was relatively unaware of the hip urban attitudes popular among teens. In a Los Angeles Times profile Bryant recalled that time: It was kind of strange because, being away, I didnt know a lot of the slang that kids used. Kids would come up to me and say whatever, and Id just nod.

Basketball helped bridge the gap between Bryant and his classmates at Lower Merion High. Tall and skilled, he quickly became a starter for the varsity team and just as quickly began to make a name for himself in the greater-Philadelphia region. While Bryant has become a national star only recently, he was a local celebrity for years--and that level of attention helped to prepare him for the heightened attention he would receive in the NBA. He refused to make his ambitions to play in the NBA secret even though many people advised him to pursue safer goals. His parents, however, supported his dreams, and his high school coach, Gregg Downer, offered encouragement. When I first met [Kobe], at age 13, and I saw him play, after five minutes I said, This kid is going to be a pro, Downer told the Los Angeles Times. Never was there one moment I doubted that. That it would happen so quickly, I may have doubted that. But I knew if he progressed so quickly and continued to make good decisions, he would someday get there.

Bryant concluded his high school career as the all-time leading scorer in the history of Southeastern Pennsylvania basketball. His 2,883 points far surpassed the 2,359 points of Hall-of-Famer Wilt Chamberlain. As a junior, he was named Pennsylvanias high school player of the year. In Bryants senior year he led the Lower Merion Aces to a season record of 31-3 and the Class-AAAA state championship. He averaged 30.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4 steals, and 3.8 blocked shots per game. Accolades began pouring down upon him from both local and national sources. USA Today named him National High School Player of the Year, and he also won the Naismith Player of the Year citation. Downer told the Los Angeles Times, I know the high school market very well and Ive watched it for close to 20 years, and to think there could be another player come into my hands and be this good, thats an abstract concept. [Kobes] blessed with a lot of natural ability and great genes, but the work ethic is his and its very strong. Kobe has the skills and the maturity and everything you could want.

Leap to the Pros

Not surprisingly, Bryant was offered scholarships to almost every major college and university in the country. Not only was he a brilliant basketball player, he was also a good student, scoring an above-average 1100 on his Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Bryant and his parents remained coy about his future, however. They realized that they faced a momentous decision: whether or not to bypass college completely and go straight into the NBA draft. In the meantime, Bryant leaped into national prominence when the media learned that he would be escorting pop star Brandy to his high school prom in downtown Philadelphia.

Just before prom time, Bryant called a news conference to declare his decision to make himself available for the 1996 NBA draft in June. Philadelphia sports fans who had expected Bryant to enroll at one of the local colleges greeted the announcement with jeers. The criticism escalated when Joe Bryant quit his job as an assistant coach at La Salle University in order to manage his sons career. Answering all his detractors in the New York Times, Joe Bryant stated, Would Kobe be more accepted going to the NBA if hed been a dummy? Do you have to be poor, with five kids, living on welfare? He concluded: Kobe should have had the key to the city. Instead they tried to crucify him. No one saw how special he is.

No one, that is, except the Charlotte Hornets, who chose Bryant as the thirteenth pick in the first round of the 1996 NBA draft. No one but Adidas, who swooped to sign the young star to a product endorsement contract. No one but Brandy, who praised her prom date as a terrific guy and invited him to guest-star on her television show, Moesha. And no one but the Los Angeles Lakers, who traded veteran center Vlade Divac to obtain the untested rookie. A month shy of his eighteenth birthday, Kobe Bryant signed a three-year, $3.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers and moved into a mansion in Pacific Palisades, California. If anyone could be said to be on top of the world, it was Bryant.

Reality Check

Seeming poised for greatness, Bryant took the Southern California Summer Pro League by storm. He appeared in four games-drawing huge overflow crowdsand netted 27 points in one game and 36 in another. Then, just before training camp was due to start in September, he broke his wrist playing pickup ball and could not practice for five weeks. This effectively undercut his first chance to learn the NBA style of play. To make matters worse, he took a body shot from an opponent in Philadelphia during an exhibition game in October of 1996 and missed not only the rest of the preseason but also the season opener in November.

The injuries gave Bryant a huge disadvantage during the Lakers regular season. Lakers coach Del Harris explained in the Riverside, California Press-Enterprise that, Youve got to figure that not only did [Kobe] skip college, he also skipped training camp. Given that, the fact that he was able to compete at this level by January [1997] is incredible-especially with a team thats been in first or second place all year, rather than a team that might say, Well, were not going anywhere anyway, so lets play the young guys.

Harris saw Bryant as a journeyman who needed more training in the pro game, and restricted his playing time accordingly. Bryant warmed the bench, averaging 15.5 minutes, 7.6 points, 1.3 assists, and 1.9 rebounds in 71 regular season appearances. Naturally the former high school star who had pretty much carried his previous team on his back felt frustrated by the limited play. One of the hardest things this year was not knowing whether youre going to play or how many minutes youre going to play, Bryant acknowledged in an Associated Press report. But at the same time that kind of helps you, because you just have to be ready every night.

Bryants chance to shine as a rookie came during the All-Star break, when he scored 31 points in the Rookie All-Star Game and aced the slam-dunk title with a dramatic shot that began between his legs. That moment of fame was some compensation for his slow start as a profes-sional--and it served to reinforce his coaches conviction that he would make an impact within a year or two.

In the meantime, the debate still raged over whether Bryant took a wrong turn when he decided to skip college. As Theresa Smith observed in the Orange County Register, Its still too early .... If he hadnt turned pro, hed be learning strategy and refining skills in frequent practice sessions, and starring for a Top 25 team two days a week. Instead, his practice time is limited by a rigorous game and travel schedule and his game time is limited by Harris, who has the incongruous task of developing young talent and winning at the same time. The New York Times quoted Harris as expressing similar frustrations: I dont want to be remembered .. . [as] the guy who wouldnt let Kobe Bryant play. He also observed that, I have to do it. I cant give him special treatment just because hes 18. He elected to come into a mans world and hell have to play by a mans rules.

That mans world presents many challenges for a person of Bryants age. Not yet old enough to order an alcoholic beverage legally and enormously wary of the multitude of other temptations beckoning NBA players, he generally kept to himself both at home and on the road. His parents often traveled with him, and they lived in his Pacific Palisades home. Bryant had no regrets about his busy schedule or his level of responsibility, however. Its fun, he enthused in an Associated Press report. Im in the NBA. No way Im bored. In four years, then Ill probably be like, Oh, God. Weve got another road trip. Right now, its great.

Bryants regrets do not extend to missing college, either. In fact, he said he planned to get a degree some day, either in basketballs off season or after he retires. I know I would have liked college, but if I was there, Id be thinking, Man, I should be in the NBA, he told the New York Times. NBA life is fun.

Its also lucrative. Bryant not only has his multi-million dollar contract, he also has endorsement deals from Adidas and other companies who like his his clean-living persona and his appeal among young people especially. He has a Screen Actors Guild card and is in demand for guest spots on television shows. Bryant welcomed these opportunities to add to his wealth and fame. I like getting out there for promotional appearances and having a good time and meeting people, he said in the Los Angeles Times. I like to see the end product, and I take pride in it. I want my product to be one of the best things out there. And I love going in front of the cameras and learning something new. At the same time, he added, I understand basketball is what got me here and on top of that, I love to do it so much that it will always be my focal point.

Sources

Associated Press wire stories, November 10, 1996; April 29, 1997.

Los Angeles Times, October 15, 1996, p. C1.

New York Times Magazine, January 19, 1997, p. 23.

Orange County Register, January 5, 1997, p. C10.

Philadelphia Inquirer, November 3, 1996, pp. C1, C6.

Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA), October 29, 1996, pp. C1; February 8, 1997, p. C1.

San Diego Union-Tribune, October 22, 1996, p. D2.

Mark Kram

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Bryant, Kobe

Kobe Bryant

1978-

American basketball player

One of basketball's biggest talents, Kobe Bryant rose to fame as a guard for the Los Angeles Lakers in the

late 1990s and early 2000s. Together with his superstar teammate, the center Shaquille O'Neal , Bryant led the Lakers to their consecutive 2000, 2001, and 2002 National Basketball Association (NBA) Championship titles. One of the NBA's youngest players, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Bryant caused a stir by skipping college and turning pro just out of high school at age eighteen. By 1998 he made history as basketball's youngest All-Star player, and by the early 2000s sports critics and fans were comparing him to two legendary guards: Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson . A rap singer as well as a basketball star, Bryant released a single, K.O.B.E. (Sony Records), in 2000.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on August 23, 1978, Kobe Bryant was the son of basketball star Joe "Jellybean" Bryant and his wife, Pamela. His parents named their son after a type of steak they had seen on a menu before his birth. When he was five years old, Bryant moved with his family to Italy, where his father played professional basketball after retiring from the NBA. Bryant and his two older sisters, Sharia and Shaya, attended parochial schools in Italy and learned to speak Italian.

From as early as he could remember, Bryant wanted to become a basketball player. With a toy hoop in his living room, he played with his father, an eight-year veteran of the NBA with the 76ers, the Clippers, and the Rockets. Every summer his parents took the family back to Philadelphia, where Bryant played basketball on American playgrounds.

At age fourteen, upon his father's retirement from the European leagues, Bryant moved with his family back to the United States. When he started the eighth grade at a Philadelphia school, he could not understand his peers' slang. "The way I was able to make friends is that we played basketball during lunch and after school, and basketball's a universal language," Bryant told Charlie Rose of CBS-TV's 60 Minutes II.

Went Pro after High School

At Lower Merion High School, Bryant became a basketball star, breaking records and collecting trophies and honors. As a senior he was voted National High School Player of the Year by USA Today and Parade magazine. He had helped his team win a Class AAAA state title, and had ended his high school career with a total of 2,883 pointsmore than any other player in the history of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which had produced such NBA greats as Wilt Chamberlain and Carlin Warley. Bryant also boasted a record-breaking average of 30.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4.0 steals, and 3.8 blocked shots per game.

In an unusual move, Bryant skipped college and went directly into a career as a professional basketball player. Picked 13th overall in the 1996 NBA draft, Bryant was originally selected by the Charlotte Hornets. Yet before the season began he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for the center Vlade Divac. At eighteen years, two months, and eleven days old, he became the youngest player ever to make an NBA debut. Donning a number 8 on his uniform, he appeared in his first game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on November 3, 1996.

Bryant made his first career start on January 28, 1997, scoring twelve points in a game against the Dallas Mavericks. In 1997's Schick Rookie Game, Bryant set a new record with a top score of thirty-one points and eight rebounds. Participating in that year's NBA All-Star Weekend in Cleveland, he won the Nestle Crunch Slam Dunk Competition. Averaging 7.6 points per game and 15.5 minutes per game in seventy-one games during his debut season, Bryant was named to the 1996-97 NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Already sports critics were focusing in on the young player.

Bryant doubled his points-per-game in his sophomore season, ending with an average of 15.4 in seventy-nine games. He started only one game with the Lakers that season, scoring seventeen points and four rebounds against the Portland Trail Blazers in February. Voted a starter in the 1998 All-Star Game, Bryant made history as the youngest NBA All-Star player. In that year's All-Star Game in New York, he led his team with eighteen points and six rebounds.

Chronology

1978 Born on August 23 in Philadelphia, PA
1984 Moves with family to Rieti, Italy
1991 Moves back to United States; attends high school in Lower Merion, PA
1996 Leads Lower Merion High School to Class AAAA state championships
1996 Selected by Charlotte Hornets in NBA draft; traded to Los Angeles Lakers
1996 Becomes youngest player to debut in an NBA game
1998 Becomes youngest player to appear in an NBA All-Star game
1999 Signs six-year contract extension with Lakers, valued at about $71 million
2000 Helps Lakers to NBA Championship title
2000 Releases rap single K.O.B.E. (Sony Records)
2001 Helps Lakers to second consecutive NBA Championship title
2001 Marries Vanessa Laine
2002 Helps Lakers to third consecutive NBA Championship title

Awards and Accomplishments

1996 National High School Player of the Year (USA Today and Parade magazine)
1996 Naismith Player of the Year
1996 Gatorade Circle of Champions High School Player of the Year
1996 McDonald's All-America Team member
1996 Youngest player (age 18) to debut in NBA league
1997 Nestle Crunch Slam Dunk competition winner at NBA All-Star Weekend
1997 Set new record with 31 points and 8 rebounds in Schick Rookie Game
1998 Youngest player to appear in an NBA All-Star game
1998-99 Only Lakers' player to start all 50 games
1998-99 All-NBA Third Team
1999-2000 All-NBA Second Team; NBA All-Defensive First Team; NBA All-Interview Second Team
2001-02 All-NBA First Team; All-Defensive Second Team
2002 MVP of 2002 All-Star Game

Related Biography: Basketball Player Joe "Jellybean" Bryant

Born c. 1955, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant excelled in basketball as a high school student in his native Philadelphia. He went on to play college basketball at La Salle University, making First Team honors in the 1974-75 season. In his junior year, Bryant left La Salle to join the NBA, where he played for eight seasons. As a journeyman forward, he averaged 8.7 points per game in 606 career NBA games with the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Clippers, and Houston Rockets. In 1984, retiring from the NBA, Bryant moved to Rieti, Italy, where he would play professional basketball in the Italian league. He later played in Switzerland and France as well, taking his family with him. Bryant returned to the United States after eight years in Europe, and later took a job as an assistant coach at La Salle. He remains very close to his son, Kobe. "He's always been there for me," Kobe told Dick Weiss of the New York Daily News in 1996. "We can talk about anything. I love him to death."

By the 1998-99 season, Bryant was regarded as one of the sport's most promising rising stars. He was the only Lakers player to start all fifty games, and was the team's second-highest scorer with 19.9 points per game. Leading the Lakers in steals (1.44 per game), Bryant was chosen for the 1998-99 All-NBA Third Team. In January of 1999, he signed a six-year contract extension with the Lakers, believed to be worth about $71 million.

The next season, in a game against the Sacramento Kings on March 3, 2000, Bryant netted a career-high of forty points, with ten rebounds and four assists. That year would be a turning point for the Los Angeles team, which, with the help of Bryant and his powerhouse teammate Shaquille O'Neal, would take the NBA Championship title.

Became a Team Player

While praise abounded for the young player, Bryant did receive his share of criticism on one account: he was regarded by many as a "selfish" player. Perceived as a loner, Bryant rarely socialized with his party-going teammates, preferring to work out and study game tapes. Some sports writers pointed to his tendency to strive for individual distinctions rather than for team victories. And many journalists criticized Bryant in particular for often wresting control of the game from the Lakers' biggest star, O'Neal, the 7-foot-1, 330-pound center known affectionately as "Shaq." In these instances, the Lakers nearly always lost.

The end of the 1999-2000 season heralded a change in Bryant's attitude. When he jumped into Shaq's arms upon the Lakers' championship victory over the Indiana Pacers, the media took notice, pointing to a new camaraderie between the star players. Bryant's new emphasis on teamwork helped the Lakers to dominate the game throughout the early 2000s. Once considered Shaq's inferior, Bryant was beginning to rise to the superstar's level.

Another change arrived simultaneously: In 2000 the 21-year-old player became engaged. He had met 18-year-old Vanessa Laine a year earlier at a music-video shoot where she was working as a background dancer. Laine was still in high school when she and Bryant became engaged, and the media scoffed the pair for being too young to marry. "You just try to forget [the criticism] and enjoy the moment," Bryant told Karen Crouse of the Palm Beach Post. "I'm very fortunate to have found my life mate at such an early age." The couple married in 2001, just before the playoffs began.

Meanwhile the Lakers continued to lead the NBA. In the 2000-01 season, Bryant averaged 28.5 points per game. In the 2001 finals against the Philadelphia 76ers, he averaged 24.6 points and 5.8 assists per game in five playoff matches, helping to lift the Lakers to another championship victory. The sports media focused in on Bryant and Shaq as the NBA's most powerful duo.

The pair helped the Lakers to their third consecutive championship in 2001-02, when the team defended its title against the New Jersey Nets. In January of 2002, Bryant scored a career high of fifty-six points against the Memphis Grizzlies. He ended the season with averages of 25.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game, and was selected to the 2001-02 All-NBA First Team and the All-Defensive Second Team. In the 2002 All-Star Game, Bryant received Most Valuable Player distinction, netting thirty-one points, five rebounds, and five assists.

Career Statistics

Yr Team GP PPG FG% 3P% FT% RPG APG SPG BPG TO PF
LAL: Los Angeles Lakers.
1997 LAL 71 7.6 .417 .375 .819 1.9 1.3 .69 .32 1.58 1.4
1998 LAL 79 15.4 .428 .341 .794 3.1 2.5 .94 .51 1.99 2.3
1999 LAL 50 19.9 .465 .267 .839 5.3 3.8 1.44 1.0 3.14 3.1
2000 LAL 66 22.5 .468 .319 .821 6.3 4.9 1.61 .94 2.76 3.3
2001 LAL 68 28.5 .464 .305 .853 5.9 5.0 1.68 .63 3.24 2.9
2002 LAL 80 25.2 .469 .250 .829 5.5 5.5 1.48 .44 2.79 2.7
TOTAL 414 19.85 .452 .309 .826 4.7 3.8 1.31 .64 2.58 2.6

By age twenty-four, Bryant had surpassed the talents of many basketball players in the peaks of their careers. While it is likely that he has many more years ahead of him in the NBA, sports writers cannot predict when Bryant's own peak will come and go. But most agree that the Philadelphia native is destined to become one of basketball's great legends.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Periodicals

Crouse, Karen. "Bryant: 'We've Come a Long Way' on and off Court." Palm Beach Post (April 7, 2002): 1B.

Moore, David Leon. "Bryant Comes of Age." USA Today (June 6, 2001): 1A.

Weiss, Dick. "Pride of the Family." Daily News (New York; May 5, 1996): E1.

Other

60 Minutes II, CBS News Transcripts, May 29, 2001.

"Kobe Bryant." AskMen.com. http://www.askmen.com/men/sports/33c_kobe_bryant.html (December 2, 2002).

"Kobe Bryant." CNN/Sports Illustrated Online. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/basketball/nba/features/2000/kobe_bryant/kobe_timeline (December 3, 2002).

"Kobe Bryant." NBA.com. http://www.nba.com/playerfile/kobe_bryant/printable_player_files.html (December 2, 2002).

Sketch by Wendy Kagan

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Bryant, Kobe

Kobe Bryant (kō´bē brī´ənt), 1978–, American basketball player, b. Philadelphia. The son of former professional basketball player Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, he was a high school star, turned pro at 17, and debuted with the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association in 1996. A Lakers superstar in the 2000s, the agile and aggressive 6-ft 6-in. (198-cm) guard has been a consistent high scorer from the court and free-throw line. In a game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006 Bryant scored 81 points, second only to Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game. In 2009 and 2010, having already played on three Lakers championship teams (2000–2002), he led the team to two more NBA championships and was named finals MVP both years. Bryant also was a member of the 2008 and 2012 gold-medal U.S. Olympic men's basketball teams. His career has been marred by a 2003 sexual assault charge (which, though dropped, led to an out-of-court settlement) and public squabbles at times with former teammate Shaquille O'Neal and Coach Phil Jackson.

See biography by R. Lazenby (2001).

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