There are two types of people in this world: people who swear by Kobe and Kobe-haters. His championships, extraordinary highlights, and mind-blowing statistics turned multitudes of people into fans. However, Bryant’s life off-court, arrogant attitude, and his once flawed relationship with former teammate Shaquille O’Neal has made him a villain in the eyes of many.
Despite the way people and fellow athletes view Bryant, he carried the outstanding legacy of the Los Angeles Lakers during his 20 years with the franchise.
Born in Philadelphia, raised in Italy, a 17-year-old Bryant forwent college to go to the NBA Draft. Bryant, also known as the Black Mamba, would end up playing for his favorite team after being traded to the Lakers on draft night.
Bryant struggled getting minutes, only averaging 15.5 minutes and 7.6 points per game in his first season. After two years of playing for the Lakers, Bryant only started in 7 of the 150 games that he played in, according to ESPN.
After four years of NBA gameplay, Bryant would go on his first championship run along with O’Neal, Derrick Fisher, and Robert Horry. Bryant started in all 22 playoff games, averaging 29 points per game. That season, the Lakers had moved to a new venue, the Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles. By June of 2000, Bryant helped redecorate the arena with a championship banner.
The Lakers squad returned the next season to make a 56-26 record. Los Angeles only lost one game during the playoffs; Bryant scored 29.4 points per game in the postseason.
Kobe’s third consecutive championship run, the Lakers had a 58-24 record. The Western Conference finals was the only series that reached game 7. Bryant played an average of 43.8 minutes per game, shooting three-pointers at 38 percent and 43 percent in field goals during the postseason.
Through his early years, Bryant and O’Neal did not get along, they almost got into a fist fight in 1999. In 2004, O’Neal left the Lakers. The year prior to O’Neal leaving, Bryant was charged with sexual assault. The felony charge had a penalty of four years to life in prison. These factors tarnished Bryant’s name and career, although the Lakers would be Western Conference Champions.
Rumors of Bryant being an adulterer, a rapist and hard to work with would swirl around him beyond the court case and eventual case dismissal.
A reviving moment in his career was on Jan. 22 2006, when the Lakers faced the Toronto Raptors in the Staples Center. Bryant scored 81 points, the second highest individual score in a game in NBA History. It came second to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-game in 1962.
After a grueling first-round series against the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers season ended. Bryant changed his jersey number from No. 8 to No. 24 after that season.
In February 2008, the Lakers received 7’0” center Pau Gasol in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Lakers then excelled once again in the Playoffs, reaching the NBA Finals for the first time in four years.
The 4-2 loss to the Boston Celtics in 2008 left a chip on Bryant’s shoulder. The Lakers came back in the 2008-2009 season to win 65 games. Los Angeles would take another rigorous trip to the NBA Finals to face Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. After five games Bryant proved he could win a championship without O’Neal. Briefly after winning the championships, the Lakers traded Trevor Ariza, a vital member of the championship squad, for Metta World Peace.
The purple and gold went on another run deep into the Playoffs during the 2009-2010 season, once again facing the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. The series went to game 7 and the Lakers were down six points going into halftime. Any hope for Bryant winning his fifth title would come when six minutes was left in regulation. Bryant was unable to score a single 3-pointer in the game, although scoring 23 points. Players like Gasol and World Peace aided him to his fifth championship ring.
The bond between Bryant and Gasol was far different from that of his and O’Neal. Bryant wrote one of three forewords for Gasol’s book “Life-Vida.” The Spanish center dedicated a chapter to him, writing a single phrase “He’s like a brother to me” on one page.
As the championship lineup deteriorated, Bryant would be the leading scorer of the team until April 2013 when Bryant suffered from an Achilles tear that would have him on the sidelines until December. After playing five games that next season, Bryant suffered from a fractured lateral tibial plateau in his left knee.
Bryant returned in the 2014-2015 season and played 35 games. A torn rotator cuff would end his gameplay for the season. However, fans still voted for Bryant to play in the 2015 All Star game, earning the second highest points (694,665 votes) out of the Western Conference guards.
Bryant’s past is not without blemishes. He has shown visible frustration to and disrespected teammates as well as committed immoral acts. However, Bryant ushered in a historical two-decade era, earning more championship titles than most NBA franchises.