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8 Stages That Defined Kobe Bryant’s Career

Kobe Bryant’s lucrative 20-year career in the NBA has placed him among the greats, his legend likely to live as long as people shoots balls into baskets.

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Kobe became one of the most recognisable superstars the NBA had to offer and in the prime of his career, he was a global sensation. From his 81 points game to his multiple championships, these eight seperate stages showed his journey from High School starlet, to one of the greatest to ever play the game.

Stage 1: Rough Rookie Starts

Bryant was drafted to the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th pick in 1996 draft, but was later traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Vlade Divac on draft night. A massive regret for the Hornets, and something that gave Bryant extra motivation. 

However, Kobe didn’t come into the league as the dominant force he was during his high school career. Playing behind a veteran rotation, it took time for him to find his place. Playing only 15 minutes whilst averaging 7.6 points per game, this wasn’t what Kobe used to.  In addition, superstar centre  Shaquille O’Neal signed with the team that season which added more competition for top dog.

Despite Kobe’s subpar rookie outing, the team had a successful season and strong playoff run to reach the western conference semi-finals. During game 5 however, starting shooting guard Byron Scott suffered an ankle injury against the Utah Jazz and Kobe’s number was called up, the stage was set.

With less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Kobe came in confident and ready to prove himself. 

This didn’t go according to plan for Kobe, missing crucial shots at the end of regulation and overtime. The Lakers lost the game and were knocked out of the playoffs that night. Yet the mamba mentality never changed and this only became more motivation for Bryant.

Stage 2. The Teenage All-Star

The following year, Kobe saw more playing time and was given more responsibility.This saw a large increase in scoring, doubling the previous season average to 15.4 points per game.

He became a fan favourite and earned an NBA All-Star appearance in his second year in the league and became the youngest All-Star to ever start in the game at the age of 19.

This was a unique experience, firstly having a bench player be a starter in an All-Star Game is very rare, but someone so young too is extraordinary. The game itself was entertaining but the match up against his predecessor Michael Jordan was the talking point of the night. It was a glimpse of change in power.

Stage 3. A Three-Peat

Between 1999-2002 the NBA would be painted in purple and gold. The Lakers would make some hallmark trades, putting Kobe in a position to be the shooting guard of the future. Along with this, the Lakers just hired former Chicago Bulls Head Coach Phil Jackson to command the ship.

The triangle offence that Jackson would implement into the Lakers schemes allowed a balance of both Bryant and O’Neal’s presence on the court. Their one-two punch was too much for any defence to handle and Kobe would go on to average a ridiculous 28.5 points per game in the 2001-02 season. A strong supporting cast would help the Lakers win three straight NBA championships. This would go down as one of the strongest teams ever in NBA history and solidify both Kobe and Shaq’s early careers in greatness.

Stage 4. Scoring Machine

The constant winning and growing egos became tiring for the organisation to manage, ending the reign of dominance. The band broke up in 2004 when O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat.

The media were outspoken, reports of Bryant being uncoachable and the sexual assault scandal that followed Kobe around for the 2004-05 season. He was out to prove himself, again.

The next two years for Kobe’s career were amazing to say the least. His individual performance could not be matched by his peers. There were games that he would outscore the opposing team for several quarters, have a 50 point game after 50 point game. But one regular-season game stands alone as the greatest Kobe performances of his career.

January 22nd, 2006. Kobe would go out and drop 81 points in front of his home crowd, this became the 2nd most points scored in a single game behind the infamous 100 point game by Wilt Chamberlain back in the 1960s. This performance displayed to the world the extraordinary talent Kobe possessed.

Despite his own ability, the Lakers would not find team success in the season being knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns.

Stage 5. An Identity Change

For professional athletes, jersey numbers are a big deal and it’s something that becomes attached to their identity, this was no different for Kobe. Bryant started his career wearing the number 8 jersey, before changing to number 24 prior to the beginning of the 2007 season. In an interview with ESPNs Baxter Holmes Kobe explained the difference of mentality between the two numbers.

“”When I first came in at 8, is really trying to ‘plant your flag’ sort of thing,” Bryant said. “I got to prove that I belong here in this league. I’ve got to prove that I’m one of the best in this league. You’re going after them. It’s nonstop energy and aggressiveness and stuff.”

This is what he carried with him throughout his basketball career but he realised he needed to be smarter about his approach.

“Then 24 is a growth from that,” he explained. “Physical attributes aren’t there the way they used to be, but the maturity level is greater. Marriage, kids. Start having a broader perspective being one of the older guys on the team now, as opposed to being the youngest. Things evolve.“- Bleacher Report


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Photo by Olivier Collet from Unsplash

Stage 6. More Success

A newfound perspective and approach, the Lakers were ready to win some more rings. In the 2008-09 season the Lakers looked strong and in a great position to make a push for the title.

They cruised through the regular season, even with Kobe’s nagging injuries he played through, the Lakers finished with a 65-17 win/loss record and went into the playoffs with that same confidence. They went on to beat the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals led by Kobe and ended up with the NBA Finals MVP award.

The following year Kobe was hurt again but decided to play through most of the season with injuries. This didn’t halt any team success as they would reach the NBA Finals once more, a rematch of arguably the greatest rivalry in sport; Boston Celtics vs Los Angles Lakers. This series was another level of intensity and went all the way to Game 7. The fifth and final ring of his career could potentially be the most satisfying for Kobe; getting his revenge and winning on his terms.

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Stage 7. Mind Over Body

Kobe would continue to strive for rings, yet for one reason or another, he would never be able to reach that level again. Kobe would struggle to play out a full season, his body slowly began to break down even if his mind didn’t.

He played when his body allowed, but one big injury almost ended it all prematurely.

April 12th, 2013, in a game against the Golden State Warriors, Kobe had 34 points with the final buzzer nearing. He had the ball at the top of the key and made a strong dribble drive to the left he has made a thousand times.

Yet this time Kobe collapsed to the ground in pain.

The refs called a foul and he had two shots at the free-throw line, but Kobe seemed devastated and knew it was something big

Kobe, however, would never sit unless his body physically didn’t let him, he hobbled over to the free throw line and drained both his shots. The Lakers called a time out and subbed Kobe out. It was later found out that Kobe had torn his Achilles tendon and his career would be changed from this injury forever.

Stage 8. 60 point Send-Off

After injury-plagued years and not much winning basketball, Kobe decided to announce his retirement and begin his last year in 2016. Every game felt like the last with mementoes and tribute videos from rival organsations yet the story had to end properly.

April 13th, 2016, the final game of the season. The Staple centre was buzzing. Kobe was pretty beat up by the time the last game rolled around and how long could he keep playing without falling flat, everyone was about to be amazed.

Kobe put on a show, the greatest last game anyone will ever play. At the end of the game, Kobe outscored the Jazz team 23-21 in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 60. Kobe played the only way Kobe knew how.

Thank You, Kobe,

Bryant won five NBA titles, established two distinct dynasties and scored over 30,000 points before retiring.

These moments were made behind the scenes, when no one was looking at the sweat and tears that were put in to be put in a position to be great, this is something that Kobe left for us to aspire to and follow.

Bryant tragically passed away this year in a helicopter crash, leaving behind a legacy which will carry his memory forward forever.

“So in the words of Kobe Bryant, Mamba out. But in the words of us, not forgotten. Live on brother.”- Lebron James


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