Kobe triumphs through pain and controversy
Bryant ranks third on the NBA all-time scoring list, trailing only leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone, and won NBA crowns with the Lakers in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010.
When the 37-year-old guard, a member of the US Olympic gold medal teams in 2008 and 2012, announced in November he would retire at the end of the season, it was the end to a saga that had become painful to watch.
Slowed by age and numerous injuries, Bryant was struggling with a weak supporting cast on a Laker team he twice led to the glory of multiple NBA crowns, only to see it fade.
Through 2003 rape accusations and insulting remarks that led to fines and apologies, Bryant shrugged off controversy to become one of the world’s most popular NBA stars.
– Like father, like son –
Kobe Bean Bryant, the son of former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, was born in Philadelphia in 1978 while his father played for the 76ers, the child named for the Japanese beef seen on a menu and his father’s nickname as a player.
The elder Bryant played from 1984 to 1991 in Italy, giving young Kobe a global worldview as he grew up dreaming of following his dad into the NBA.
When his father retired as a player, the family moved back to the Philadelphia area and Kobe began his star turn at Lower Merion High School, where his jersey number 33 was retired. He decided at age 17 to jump directly from the prep ranks to the NBA, only the sixth player and first guard to make such a leap.
Bryant was selected 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 NBA Draft but they were picking for the Lakers in a deal made before the draft, center Vlade Divac going to Charlotte in exchange for Bryant.
At 18, Bryant became at the time the youngest player or starter in an NBA game and the youngest winner of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. In 1998, he became the youngest NBA All-Star starter. In a 1999 campaign shortened by a labor dispute, Bryant started every game for the Lakers and signed a six-year deal worth $70 million.
As the Michael Jordan era ended in Chicago, Bulls coach Phil Jackson wound up joining the Lakers and with sharpshooter Bryant joining dominating inside force Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers captured three NBA crowns in a row from 2000-2002, returning the team to glory days unseen since 1988.
In 2003, the Lakers returned to the finals but lost to Detroit. O’Neal was traded, Jackson departed and Bryant signed a long-term contract, the core of a team that would rebuild around him.
– Accused of rape –
Bryant, who married wife Vanessa in 2001, faced his darkest hour in 2003 when he was arrested in Colorado over a sexual assault complaint filed by a 19-year-old hotel employee where Bryant was staying ahead of knee surgery. Bryant was accused of rape. He admitted to adultery but said he did not commit rape, but that was enough to ruin his endorsement image.
In 2004, the case was dropped after the accuser refused to testify in a trial and Bryant issued an apology saying he could understand how she might feel there was not consent. A separate civil suit was settled under terms kept private.
After Bryant had controversial statements about Jackson and O’Neal in a book, he eventually made up with both and his fortunes also turned for the better on the court.
In 2006, Bryant scored 81 points in a game against Toronto, the second-highest one-game total in NBA history, second only to the record 100 points scored by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962. Bryant won the NBA scoring crown with 35.4 points a game average.
In 2007, Bryant scored 65 points against Portland, 50 against Minnesota, 60 at Memphis and 50 against New Orleans in consecutive games, a 50-plus game run bettered only by Chamberlain in NBA history.
In the 2007-08 season, Bryant backed off trade demand talk and fought through a finger injury to earn NBA Most Valuable Player honors. The Lakers signed Spanish big man Pau Gasol and reached the NBA Finals, losing to Boston but setting the stage for championship runs in 2009 and 2010. In the process, he passed Jerry West to become the all-time Laker scoring leader.
In 2011, Bryant made an apology for using a gay slur to describe a referee and paid a $100,000 fine imposed by the NBA. Knee and ankle injuries became bad enough for Bryant to seek treatment in Europe.
As the years went on, the injuries became more serious and the absences caused by them grew longer. He missed most of the 2013-14 season with a left knee injury and much of last season with a torn right rotator cuff.
After a dismal start to the 2015-2016 season, Bryant decided enough was enough.
“My body knows it’s time to say goodbye,” he said.
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