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At the tender age of 18, he was recognized as the youngest player in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA).
He literally had the home-court advantage. After all, his father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, was a former NBA superstar who played for the Rockets, 76ers, and Clippers during the course of his professional career.
It Runs in the Family
Joe Bryant’s long-standing career on the basketball court led his family to jump from country to country. From Philadelphia, they moved to San Diego, travelled to Houston, before settling in Italy for seven years.
Joe was known to be fond of teaching his children sports. Kobe, the youngest of the three, came to love basketball and showed promising signs of potential, though his sisters, Shaya and Sharia, proved to be athletic as well.
Bryant is known to adore his father, who loves spending time with his family when he’s not busy traveling with his team. In an interview with The New York Times, Bryant said, “Other kids don’t have a father. I don’t have anything in common with them. My father’s my best friend. Those kids say I lead a Beaver Cleaver life. I don’t care.”
Their family’s struggle living in a foreign country proved to be a blessing. It was a challenge to speak Italian, so they relied on themselves and each other, and learned the language together. “We didn’t have anybody to depend on but our family. We had to stick together,” he mentioned in an interview with Press-Enterprise.
The Start of his Career
In 1991, the Bryant family returned to Philadelphia. It wasn’t easy for Kobe as he was clueless about the teenage culture and trends. In an article published by Los Angeles Times, Bryant said, “It was kind of strange because, being away, I didn’t know a lot of the slang that kids used. Kids would come up to me and say whatever, and I’d just nod.”
He joined Lower Merion High School’s basketball team in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, and became popular for his skills. He carried the team towards state championships for four straight years. He was awarded Player of the Year multiple times, beating Wilt Chamberlain’s record set of 2,883 points.
Gregg Downer, his coach, played an important role in setting his goal towards entering the NBA. Bryant skipped college and was among the 28 carefully handpicked players since the league started in 1946. “When I first met [Bryant], at age thirteen, and I saw him play, after five minutes I said, ‘This kid is going to be a pro.’ Never was there one moment I doubted that.”
“That it would happen so quickly, I may have doubted that. But I knew if he progressed so quickly and continued to make good decisions, he would someday get there,” Downer shared in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
Bryant was the Charlotte Hornets’ 13th pick during the NBA 1996 draft. He was later traded to the Lakers, which kick-started his professional career. He teamed up with Shaquille O’Neal, taking Championship titles for three straight years. They had a rough working relationship, but through the leadership of Phil Jackson, they became a deadly duo with Bryant working as a shooting guard, and O’Neal as a center.
When O’Neal left the Lakers in 2004, Bryant was forced to show independence. In January 2006, he scored a total of 81 points against the Toronto Rappers. It was the second-highest total score in NBA history.
Trials and Injuries
In a game against the Golden State Warriors, Bryant injured his Achilles tendon, forcing him to sit out games for the most part of the year. He returned eight months later, which left his kneecap fractured. He refused to give up basketball and continued playing until he tore his rotator cuff.
Among the stellar lineup of Lakers icons who paid tribute to Kobe Bryant when he retired was Magic Johnson. In an article published by A&E Networks, he said, “We are here to celebrate greatness for 20 years. Excellence for 20 years. Kobe Bryant has never cheated the game, never cheated us as the fans. He has played through injury, he has played hurt. And we have five championship banners to show for it.”
Aside from his accomplishments in the NBA, Bryant was also an Olympic medalist, having been a member of the U.S. men’s basketball team, who won gold at the Beijing and London Olympic games in 2008 and 2012 respectively.
The Black Mamba Legacy
Bryant formed a foundation with his wife Vanessa Laine-Bryant called the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation. He partnered with After-School All-Stars, a non-profit organization that seeks to provide comprehensive programs for out-of-school youth. His career life may have been riddled with struggles and controversies, but he managed to get through them, and give back to help other people.
Here are great quotes from Kobe Bryant worth remembering:
Kobe Bryant Quotes
“Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.” – Kobe Bryant
“The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do.” – Kobe Bryant
“I have nights when I show up at the arena and I’m like, ‘My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don’t have it. I just want to chill.’” – Kobe Bryant
“We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it.” – Kobe Bryant
“I can’t relate to lazy people. We don’t speak the same language.” – Kobe Bryant
“I’m reflective only in the sense that I learn to move forward.” – Kobe Bryant
“The important thing is that your teammates have to know you’re pulling for them and you really want them to be successful.” – Kobe Bryant
“I reflect with a purpose.” – Kobe Bryant
“I’ve played with IVs before, during and after games. I’ve played with a broken hand, a sprained ankle, a torn shoulder, a fractured tooth, a severed lip, and a knee the size of a softball.” – Kobe Bryant
“I don’t miss 15 games because of a toe injury that everybody knows wasn’t that serious in the first place.” – Kobe Bryant
“A lot of leaders fail because they don’t have the bravery to touch that nerve or strike that chord. Throughout my years, I haven’t had that fear.” – Kobe Bryant
“I’m chasing perfection.” – Kobe Bryant
“If you’re afraid to fail, then you’re probably going to fail.” – Kobe Bryant
“I’m extremely willful to win, and I respond to challenges.” – Kobe Bryant
“Scoring titles and stuff like that…it sounds, well, I don’t care how it sounds – to me, scoring comes easy.” – Kobe Bryant
“It’s not a challenge to me to win the scoring title, because I know I can.” – Kobe Bryant
“Winning takes precedence over all. There’s no gray area. No almosts.” – Kobe Bryant
“People just don’t understand how obsessed I am with winning.” – Kobe Bryant
“Everyone looks at your watch and it represents who you are, your values and your personal style.” – Kobe Bryant
“I like playing for the purple and gold. This is where I want to finish up.” – Kobe Bryant
“I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.” – Kobe Bryant
“No matter what the injury – unless it’s completely debilitating – I’m going to be the same player I’ve always been.” – Kobe Bryant
“I’ll figure it out. I’ll make some tweaks, some changes, but I’m still coming.” – Kobe Bryant
“I don’t talk trash often, but when I do, I go for the jugular.” – Kobe Bryant
“I don’t think a coach becomes the right coach until he wins a championship.” – Kobe Bryant
“It’s different from being 21 and you think there’s endless amount of opportunities. At 33, the ending is much, much closer.” – Kobe Bryant
“We all know what flopping is when we see it. The stuff that you see is where guys aren’t really getting hit at all and are just flailing around like a fish out of water.” – Kobe Bryant
“What people see on court is another side of me; it’s not me.” – Kobe Bryant
“Christmas morning, I’m going to open presents with my kids. I’m going to take pictures of them opening the presents. Then I’m going to come to the Staples Center and get ready to work.” – Kobe Bryant
“Magic has five championships. I have five championships. I’m pretty sure we both know what we’re doing.” – Kobe Bryant
“Can I jump over two or three guys like I used to? No. Am I as fast as I used to be? No, but I still have the fundamentals and smarts. That’s what enables me to still be a dominant player.” – Kobe Bryant
“As a kid growing up, I never skipped steps. I always worked on fundamentals because I know athleticism is fleeting.” – Kobe Bryant
“One thing you gotta know about me is I have absolutely no filter.” – Kobe Bryant
“I have no problem saying what the hell I think of someone.” – Kobe Bryant
“I focus on one thing and one thing only – that’s trying to win as many championships as I can.” – Kobe Bryant
“My parents are my backbone. Still are. They’re the only group that will support you if you score zero or you score 40.” – Kobe Bryant
“I’m not the most patient of people.” – Kobe Bryant
“The only thing I’m afraid of is bees. I don’t like bees. I’m allergic to them.” – Kobe Bryant
“I draw from the crowd a lot.” – Kobe Bryant
“It’s hard for me to grasp the concept of somebody being nervous when I’m talking to them.” – Kobe Bryant
“People sit there – and Google themselves? That’s kind of weird.” – Kobe Bryant
“If I panic, everyone else panics.” – Kobe Bryant
“If there were camera phones back in the day, the biggest athletes in the world would have had a lot of explaining to do.” – Kobe Bryant
“There’s been a lot of talk of me being a one-man show but that’s simply not the case. We win games when I score 40 points and we’ve won when I score 10.” – Kobe Bryant
“It’s just a matter of the pieces that you have around you and what you can do to elevate everybody else.” – Kobe Bryant