August 23, 1978
Kobe Bean Bryant is born! The future legend entered the world in Philadelphia: the son of former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, Kobe not only inherited his father’s nickname, but he also took on his basketball skills. Little did everyone know at the time that Kobe would go on to become one of the greatest basketball players to ever live.
Kobe started playing basketball at just two years of age. A sign of great things to come.
Kobe and his family move to Italy so his father could continue his basketball career. It was here that Kobe fell in love with soccer and his great footwork has been attributed to playing the game as a youngster. Bryant has said that if he never left Italy, he probably would’ve pursued a career as a professional soccer player.
He also fell in love with basketball while in Europe. He didn’t get to watch much NBA action, so his grandparents would send him tapes of Magic Johnson and he’d study them for hours and hours. Then, he’d go to the local courts and practice on his game.
Still in Italy, a European basketball team tried to buy the 11-year-old Bryant and bring him up through their junior squads. His parents didn’t allow the move to happen, though.
Kobe’s father retires from the game of basketball and the Bryant’s moved back to the United States where Kobe would struggle to fit in at first. He knew none of the local slang words and the culture was completely different from Italy.
A 14-year-old Kobe dunked over his mother after she fouled him hard during a game. Kobe says he got his competitive streak from his mother.
Kobe also enrolled at Philadelphia’s Lower Merion High School. The coach brought him in to play against some of the varsity players and after watching him for a short amount of time, he knew he’d be a pro one day.
The years at Lower Merion turned out to be very succesful for Kobe and the team, according to ESPN:
Over Bryant’s last three seasons, the Aces compiled a 77-13 record and routinely won by large margins. Close games were so uncommon that false rumors began to surface that Bryant, who played all five positions, used to sabotage games just so he could shine in clutch situations.
As a senior, Bryant averaged 30.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists, four steals and 3.8 blocks a game and helped lead Lower Merion to a 31-3 record and the Class AAAA championship, the Aces’ first state title in 50 years. He was also named the Naismith and Gatorade high school player of the year and a McDonald’s All-American.
By the end of his career, Bryant was the all-time leading scorer in Southeastern Pennsylvania high school history (2,883 points), surpassing prep legends like Wilt Chamberlain and Lionel Simmons.
A 17-year-old Bryant had to make a decision: go to college or straight to the NBA? While he had offers from across the country – and later stated Duke would’ve been a destination he’d be interested in playing at – he decided to go straight into the league.
Kobe would play pick-up games against current NBA players during the summer and impressed many around the league. He even beat Jerry Stackhouse in a one-on-one. Stackhouse was selected 3rd overall in the draft the year before.
In the 1996 NBA draft, Kobe was selected with the 13th pick by the Charlotte Hornets. On July 1, Jerry West would trade starting center Vlade Divac to the Hornets in exchange for Bryant’s draft rights.
Kobe won the All-Star game dunk contest and became the youngest player to ever do so.
Starting to emerge as a great player, Kobe was the runner-up for the Sixth Man of the Year award in ’98, averaging just over 15 points per game in 26 minutes off the bench.
1999 was the year the rings would begin to roll in. Phil Jackson was brought in to coach the team and led the Lakers to three straight championships.
Also, in 2001, Bryant married Vanessa Laine but fell out with his parents in the process as they did not approve of his non-African American bride. His parents also thought they were too young; they married in their early twenties.
In ’03, Bryant’s first daughter – Natalia Diamante – was born. This also served as a way for Bryant and his parents to begin talking again and solve their problems.
On January 22, Kobe dropped 81 points in a game versus the Toronto Raptors – the second highest total ever by an NBA player. The day he scored 81 was also his late grandfather’s birthday and his grandmother was in attendance to watch him play live for the first and only time.
Bryant also revealed that before the game he ate pepperoni pizza.
On May 1 of 2006, Kobe’s second daughter arrived, Gianna Maria-Onore.
Days before the birth of his second daughter, Bryant had one of the greatest games of his life, hitting two buzzer beaters – one in the fourth quarter and one in overtime – to beat the Suns and gain a 3-1 series lead over them.
With the arrival of Pau Gasol in the February of 2008, the Lakers would once again find themselves at the top of the mountain, but not before losing to the Boston Celtics in the ’08 Finals. Bryant would finally win that long-awaited MVP trophy the same year, but failing to deliver a championship left a bitter taste in his mouth.
Kobe would also compete in his first Olympics in ’08 and win the gold medal with Team USA.
In February 2009, Kobe set a Madison Square Garden scoring record by dropping 61 points and the game ended with the New York crowd chanting “MVP!” for Bryant as he left the floor.
The next two post-seasons would be better than the previous year for Kobe, as the Lakers went back-to-back in 2009 and 2010 with Finals victories over the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics. Bryant would call the Game 7 win against the Celtics the best victory and championship yet as it was such a hard-fought series.
In January of 2012, Bryant went on a crazy scoring streak despite an injured ligament on the wrist of his shooting hand. He put up 40-plus points in four straight games; the sixth time he has done so. The only player to have more is Wilt Chamberlain with 19. He started off the hot streak with a 48 point outing against the Suns.
Then, on February 7, Kobe passed ex-teammate Shaquille O’Neal to move up to 5th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He now only has Chamberlain, Jordan, Malone and Abdul-Jabbar ahead of him.
In the summer, he once again competed in the Olympics – his final Games, according to Kobe – and won yet another gold medal with Team USA.
That’s quite a career for Mr. Bryant so far! What’s next? It’s shaping up to be a fun season and more rings could be on the way.
But, for now, let’s all wish Kobe a happy birthday and spread the word about this post, celebrating 34 years of the Black Mamba.