It is now 2013 and Kobe Bryant has lived a legacy that will go down as one of the greatest of all time. From 1996 to 2012, he has broken numerous records and earned many achievements and awards. His will, determination, heart, and all around basketball skill have led to him being compared to greats like Michael Jordan, while being recognized as arguably the greatest Los Angeles Laker of all time. After 16 years of NBA basketball, Kobe Bryant has already done what only very few players in this history of the game were able to accomplish. Even with his legacy already cemented, he continues to play at an extremely high level and shows no signs of slowing down in 2013. In the spirit of the new year and many more new things to come, here is a yearly breakdown of Kobe’s historic career from 1996 to 2012.
Kobe Bryant became the first guard to ever be taken out of high school. The Charlotte Hornets chose Kobe as the 13th overall draft pick. The hornets traded this pick to the Lakers before the draft and it is rumored that Charlotte was told by Los Angeles to pick Bryant 5 minutes before the pick had to be made. His rights were then traded to the Lakers for Vlade Divac and because he was only 17 at the time, his parents had to cosign his Laker contract.
Bryant spent most of his rookie season coming off of the bench for Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel. He shined bright during the All-Star weekend as he became the youngest player ever to win the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. The season ended on a bad note for Kobe as he shot 4 air balls in clutch moments against the Utah Jazz in the second round of the playoffs. It was a learning experience for Kobe as veteran teammates like Shaq praised him for even having the confidence to take those kind of shots.
Kobe’s minutes begin to increase and so did his stats. His average points per game doubled from 7.6 to 15.4. He ended the season scoring more than any other bench player in the NBA. He ended up being the runner-up for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award and also became the youngest NBA All-Star starter in the history of the NBA, where guys like him and Kevin Garnett would show the NBA that a new generation of superstars were rising.
The NBA season was shortened to 50 games because of a lockout. Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones were both traded, so Kobe’s playing time dramatically increased. He continued to impress Laker fans and the organization, which earned him a 6-year contract extension for $70 million. After being swept by the San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers hired Phil Jackson as the new head coach going into the 1999-2000 season.
Phil Jackson made this Laker team perfectly execute his triangle offensive system, which led to 6 championships in Chicago. Under this new offense, Kobe and Shaq became a terrorizing duel and helped the Lakers become serious championship contenders. Kobe would go on to lead the team in assists and steals per game as the Lakers won a total of 67 games. The success continued in the playoffs as Kobe showed the world that he was a force to be reckoned with.
He had a huge game 7 performance against the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals as he scored 25 points, gained 11 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 7 assists including a memorable game clinching alley oop to Shaq. In Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Kobe scored 22 points in the second half and led the team to a huge victory after Shaq fouled out of the game. He scored 8 points in overtime which remains the most ever in an overtime of a finals game.
Kobe started to show everyone his amazing scoring ability as his points per game reached 28.5 while playing second fiddle to Shaq. Rumors of a bad relationship between Kobe and Shaq began to surface, but this did not stop the Lakers from remaining dominant. During the playoffs, Kobe averaged 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game as the Lakers went 15-1 and won their second straight championship.
For the first time in his NBA Career, Kobe was able to play 80 games. He averaged 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists with a 46.9% shooting percentage. The Lakers would make it to the Finals for the third straight time after a classic 7 game series with the Sacramento Kings. In the 2002 Finals against the New Jersey Nets, Kobe averaged 26.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists with a 51.4% shooting percentage.
Kobe would become the youngest player to win three championships. He was only 23 years old and the sky was the limit. He began to draw many comparisons to Michael Jordan and fans started to recognize his amazing performances in clutch situations.
Kobe would continue his amazing scoring as his points per game increased to 30. He also scored at least 40 points in nine consecutive games, which led to him average 40.6 points for the entire month of February. He also increased his rebounding average to 6.9 and his assists average to 5.9, which were both career highs. He ended up becoming third in the MVP voting as the Lakers went 50-32. In the Playoffs, the Spurs would have the Lakers number this time around as they won the series in 6 games.
In the summer of this year, things began to go south for Kobe Bryant. He was arrested for sexual assault allegations and received major criticism from the media and NBA fans. Many people began to question him as a person and the off court drama started to outweigh his on court performances.
While attending court and playing NBA games in the same day, Kobe would continue to make a case that he was the best player in the league. Joined by Karl Malone and Gary Payton, the Lakers would make it to the Finals for the fourth time in 5 years. However, the team played poorly and lost to the Detroit Pistons in 5 games.
Drama continued to surround Kobe as the relationship between him and Shaq continued to go down the drain. Rumors spread that Kobe did not want Shaq on the team any longer and the Lakers ended up sending Shaq to the Miami Heat following their Finals loss. Phil Jackson’s contract was also not renewed. Kobe declined an offer from the Clippers and signed a 7 year contract with the Lakers after the departures of both Shaq and Phil Jackson. This left Kobe all alone in Laker Land.
Kobe Bryant now had a very bad reputation and was believed to be the cause for the Laker fall out. He was infamously called “uncoachable” by Phil Jackson and was now on a team that couldn’t compete in the Western Conference. This year would end up being one of the worst of Kobe’s career as the Lakers missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. He would still go on to have high scoring games as he averaged 27.6 points for the season, but it was not in a winning effort. His stardom and NBA status took a huge his as he lost endorsements and many NBA fans begin to turn their backs on him.
After the 2004-2005 season, things began to get back on track for Kobe. He and Phil Jackson settled their differences as Phil returned to coach the Lakers. On December 20, Kobe scored 62 points in three quarters against the Dallas Mavericks. At the end of the third quarter, Kobe had 62 and the Mavericks as a team had 61.
On January 22, Kobe scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors. This was the second-highest total in NBA history. In the same month, Kobe would go on to score at least 45 points in four consecutive games. He ended up averaging 43.4 points per game for the month of January. By the end of the season, Kobe had a total of twenty-seven 40 point games and scored a total of 2,832 points. He was the NBA’s scoring leader with 35.4 points per game. Even after these historic scoring performances, Kobe would lose the MVP race to Steve Nash, which many people believed to be questionable.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Lakers blew a 3-1 series lead vs. the Phoenix Suns. Despite averaging 27.9 points per game in the series, Kobe received criticism for only taking 3 shots in the second half of game 7. Many believed that he quit and did it in order to prove that the Lakers needed him in order to win. During this same year, Kobe decided to change his jersey number from 8 to 24.
Kobe would continue to make the case that he was the best player in the NBA. During the All-Star game, Kobe scored 31 points, 6 assists, and 6 steals as he earned his second All-Star MVP award. On March 16, he scored 65 points against the Portland Trail Blazers. In the very next game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, he scored 50 points. He then scored 60 points against the Memphis Grizzlies. On the very next day, he scored 50 points against the New Orleans Hornets, which made him the second player in NBA history to have 4 straight games with at least 50 points. At the end of the season, Kobe had a total of 10 games with at least 50 points.
Despite his amazing scoring efforts, Kobe would lose the MVP race to Steve Nash again. The Lakers would also be eliminated in the first round by the Phoenix Suns, but this was turning point in Kobe’s career after the departure of Shaq. His jersey became the top selling NBA Jersey as he started to regain his superstar status that he lost after the rape allegations.
In this year, Kobe would show the world how truly great he was. Despite an injury to his shooting hand, Kobe decided to play through the pain. The Lakers would return to their winning ways after landing Pau Gasol in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. With the new and improved roster, Kobe would lead the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference and earn his very first MVP award.
Kobe proved his dominance in the very first game of the playoffs as he scored 18 points in the final 8 minutes vs. the Denver Nuggets. He would go onto average 30.1 points per game in the entire playoffs as he led the Lakers to their first Finals appearance since Shaq. The Lakers would end up losing to the Boston Celtics in 6 games, but Kobe Bryant was finally back on top.
To start the 2008-2009 season, the Lakers went 21-3. It was clear that they were a serious championship contender and things were completely turned around for Kobe Bryant.
On February 2nd, Kobe Bryant scored 61 points against the Knicks, which remains to be the most points ever scored in Madison Square Garden. In the All-Star game, Kobe scored 27 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, and 4 steals which earned him his third All-Star MVP award. The Lakers finished the season 65-17 and Kobe ended up as the runner-up in the MVP race to Lebron James.
The Lakers continued their dominant play in the playoffs as they earned a trip to their second straight NBA Finals appearance. In this series against Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic, Kobe averaged an amazing 32.4 points, 7.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks. This led to Kobe winning his fourth championship and his very first one without Shaq. The “Kobe can’t win without Shaq” criticism quickly began to vanish.
At the beginning of the 2009 season, Kobe would nail a game a winning three pointer over Dwyane Wade and Miami Heat. This would be the first of many performances that would cement Kobe’s legacy as one of the greatest clutch performers of all time.
Kobe would continue to show that he had a certain drive and determination that separates him from all other superstars. While playing through multiple injuries, Kobe made a total of 6 game winning shots by the end of the season, including many other clutch performances. During this season, he surpassed Jerry West to become the all-time leading scorer in Laker franchise history.
Officially recognized as the king of Los Angeles, Kobe signed a three-year contract extension worth $87 million. In the playoffs, Kobe continued his dominant play, averaging 29.2 points per game for the entire playoffs. Great performances against OKC Thunder, Utah Jazz, and Phoenix Suns would earn him the chance to gain revenge against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. In a classic game 7, Kobe shot a horrible 6 for 24 from the field but this would not stop him from leading the Lakers to back to back championships. The Lakers were down by 13 points in the fourth quarter, but Kobe scored a grueling 10 points and finished the game with 15 rebounds. Kobe won his second consecutive NBA Finals MVP award and solidified his legacy as one of the greatest players of all time.
People started to question whether or not Kobe could still get the job done because of his old legs and the new youth that entered the NBA. People wondered if he could keep up and still compete at a high level, but he continued to show that he still belonged at the top of the list of the NBA’s best players. On February 1, Kobe became one of only 7 players with at least 25,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, and 5,000 assists. In the All-Star game, he had 37 points, 14 rebounds, three steals, and became the All-Star MVP for the fourth time in his career.
In this same season, Kobe moved from 12th to 6th place on the NBA all-time scoring list. The Lakers would fall short in the playoffs as the Dallas Mavericks swept them and went on to win the NBA Championship. Phil Jackson decided to retire and it was time for Kobe to figure out how to win without arguably the greatest NBA coach of all time.
Critics would continue to state that Kobe just wasn’t the same player anymore because of all of the battles his body had gone through in his long historic career. ESPN ranked him as the seventh-best player in the league, which Kobe thought was laughable. In January, Kobe scored 48 points against the Suns, which was the most ever by a player in his 16th season. He went on to score at least 40 points in his next three games, which led to his sixth time scoring 40 or more points in four straight games. At the All-Star game, Kobe scored 27 points and passed Michael Jordan as the career scoring leader in the All-Star game. At the end of the season, Kobe was one decimal point away from leading the NBA in scoring in his 16th season, but opted to rest for the playoffs. The Lakers would fall short to Kevin Durant and the OKC thunder in the second round of the playoffs and it became clear that this team was no longer built to compete with the new powerhouses of the NBA.
Before the 2012-2013 season, the Lakers acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Things have started out slowly in the beginning of the season, but this hasn’t stopped Kobe from breaking numerous records and showing that he is still one of the best in the NBA even in his 17th season. On November 2, Bryant passed Magic Johnson as the Lakers career leader in steals with 1,724. On November 9, he became the youngest player in NBA history to score 30,000 points. The only other players to have reached this milestone are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, and Wilt Chamberlain. He has also scored at least 30 points in 10 straight games, which is the longest streak ever by anyone older than the age of 34.
Playing many minutes because of injuries to the team this season, Kobe has not showed any signs of slowing down. He is currently leading the league in points per game and averaged 37.2 points for the month of December. He leads the NBA in 30 point games this season with 18. He is also shooting a very efficient 48% from the field, which is one of the best shooting percentages of his entire career.
Kobe is 34 years old and has been through a long and grueling 17 season career. Even after all of the wars, injuries, minutes played, trials and tribulations, Kobe remains one of the best players in an NBA filled with a new generation of very young and athletic talent. His skill and determination has enabled him to make up for the lack of athleticism he once possessed and he has found other ways to remain dominant in today’s NBA. It’s been a truly amazing ride and it currently appears to be far from over. After his amazing start to the 2012 season, it is extremely exciting to see what he has in store for us in 2013