One of the most decorated players in NBA history, Kobe Bryant, AKA the “Black Mamba” wowed Lakers fans for years with his ability to slash and score from almost any angle. Defined by his ability to do it all on the court, Bryant helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers to 5 NBA titles during his 20 year career. All 20 years were spent in a Lakers uniform. During that run, he was named to the All Star team 18 times.
The Rise to Greatness
Through his first 3 years, Bryant’s abilities were clear, yet he was still learning as a young player, just 20 years of age. He was among the first to successfully jump straight from high school to the NBA. During his 4th year in 1999-2000, he set career highs at 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. His on-court relationship with Shaquille O’Neal, who had signed with the Lakers as a free agent the same year Kobe was drafted, also blossomed. The duo was ready to rise, and rise they did. The pairing was so dominant they won the first of 3 straight titles that year, defeating the Indiana Pacers 4 games to 2. Bryant was injured in game 2 of the series when Jalen Rose intentionally stepped underneath an airborne Kobe, not allowing him any landing space. Bryant missed game 3, but returned in game 4 to score 28 points and set the series back on its path. The Lakers defeated the Sixers in 5 games in 2001 and the Nets in a 4 game sweep in 2002. In 2004, the Lakers fell to the Detroit Pistons in 5 games, signaling the end of the era, as Head Coach Phil Jackson temporarily retired and O’Neal was traded in the offseason.
The 2nd Climb
With Shaq gone, the “Kobe” Lakers were nowhere near as dominant. However, the sheer will of Kobe is what defines his legacy. No athlete can claim to be more driven, more intense. After one year away, Jackson had returned to coach the Lakers again and the acquisition of Pau Gasol in 2008 had the team contending again. The Lakers made the finals, but lost to the Boston Celtics. That loss stuck with Kobe and was his admitted driving force in winning titles the next two years, both times being named the Finals MVP. Those wins solidified Bryant as one of the absolute all time greats, proving to his doubters that he could win a championship without the help of O’Neal.
The Trophy Case
Bryant’s accolades don’t stop with the championships, All-Star nods and finals MVP awards. He was league MVP in 2008, a 4 time All Star Game MVP, 9 time all defensive team first teamer, and a dunk champion in 1997. He was also named Naismith prep player of the year in 1996. Also on the list of achievements is what might be Bryant’s most memorable night when he scored 81 points in one game against the Toronto Raptors. On January 22, 2006, Bryant lit up Staples Center, hitting 28 of 46 shots, including 7 three-pointers.
Say My Name
Bryant had many nicknames through the years, including “Bean” which is his middle name, “Ocho” in reference to the number 8, which he wore early in his career, and Mr. 81, referencing the game against Toronto in 2006. But the name that stuck was the one he gave himself. Bryant called the “Black Mamba” moniker more than a nickname. He said it was an alter ego he gave himself to deal with off the court issues he was experiencing in 2003 and 2004, when he was accused of sexual assault in Colorado.
Bryant left his fans in a continuous state of mourning when he died in a helicopter accident on January 26, 2020. The chopper was taking him, his daughter Gigi, and a few family friends and teammates to youth basketball practice on a foggy day. The pilot lost control and crashed into a mountain side in Calabasas, California, killing everyone on board.