Bryant, Kobe

▪ 2003

      In 2002, for the third year in a row, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant helped to lead his team to the National Basketball Association (NBA) championship. Bryant staged impressive fourth-quarter performances in each of the last two games of the series, lifting his team to victories after 30-year-old centre Shaquille O'Neal, the Lakers' leading scorer, had been worn down and contained by the swarming inside defense of the New Jersey Nets. At 23 Bryant had already played a major role in winning three championships.

      Bryant was born on Aug. 23, 1978, in Philadelphia. His father, Joe (“Jelly Bean”) Bryant, was a basketball player who logged eight seasons in the NBA and eight more as a professional in Italy, where Kobe went to school and learned to speak fluent Italian. While attending Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pa., Bryant scored 2,883 points, breaking the southeastern Pennsylvania record set by Wilt Chamberlain, and he led his team to a Class AAAA title in his senior year. He received several national Player of the Year awards. Bryant's next move was part of what many considered an alarming trend in basketball: high-school players' skipping college and declaring themselves eligible for the NBA draft. Although Bryant's decision was criticized even by NBA officials—who believed that playing in college would better prepare young players for the rigours of the pro game—the Charlotte Hornets chose him on the 13th pick in the 1996 draft; he was traded to the Lakers shortly thereafter. At 18 years 2 months of age, Bryant (2.01 m; 97.5 kg [6 ft 7 in; 215 lb]) became the second youngest NBA player in history when the 1996–97 season opened, and before he had played a single game as a pro, he had signed an endorsement contract with the footwear maker Adidas.

      Bryant did not wait long to prove skeptics wrong. He played well enough to be selected for the NBA All-Star game in his second season, making him the youngest all-star ever. He steadily improved his play, increasing his scoring average from 7.6 points per game in his first year to 28.5 in his fifth, the year the Lakers won their second of three titles with Bryant.

      One of Bryant's biggest concerns as a pro was his uneasy relationship with O'Neal. The star in Bryant seemed reluctant to share the limelight with his popular, talented teammate, yet the more he could accept the number two position, the better he—and the Lakers—became. O'Neal won the Most Valuable Player award in the finals, but Bryant's statistics in the series rivaled those of previous MVPs. His shooting percentage of 63% in the series fourth quarters stood as ample proof that, even with O'Neal, the Lakers depended on Bryant to finish big games.

Anthony G. Craine

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▪ American athlete
in full  Kobe Bean Bryant 
born Aug. 23, 1978, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.
 
 American professional basketball player, who helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA) to three consecutive championships (2000–02).

      Bryant's father, Joe (“Jelly Bean”) Bryant, was a professional basketball player who spent eight seasons in the NBA and eight more playing in Italy, where Bryant went to school. When his family returned to the United States, Bryant played basketball at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pa., where he received several national Player of the Year awards and broke the southeastern Pennsylvania scoring record set by Wilt Chamberlain (Chamberlain, Wilt) with 2,883 points. Bryant opted to forgo college and declared himself eligible for the NBA draft when he graduated from high school. The Charlotte Hornets chose him with the 13th pick of the 1996 draft. He was traded to the Lakers shortly thereafter and became the second youngest NBA player in history when the 1996–97 season opened. He quickly proved his merit with the Lakers and was selected for the NBA All-Star Game in just his second season, becoming the youngest all-star.

      Bryant was forced to share the role of the Lakers' star player with his popular and talented teammate Shaquille O'Neal (O'Neal, Shaquille). The two had an uneasy relationship, but they found success under the leadership of Phil Jackson, who became coach of the Lakers in 1999. Bryant, a shooting guard, and O'Neal, a centre, meshed into a remarkably effective combination, and, by the time Bryant was 23, the Lakers had won three consecutive NBA championships.

 After winning their third title in 2002, Bryant and the Lakers encountered difficulties. In the 2003 play-offs the Lakers were defeated in the second round. Several months later Bryant was accused of raping a young woman in Colorado. He maintained his innocence, and all charges were eventually dropped. The incident, however, greatly tarnished his image. Led by Bryant, the Lakers returned to the finals in 2004, but they were upset by the Detroit Pistons. O'Neal subsequently was traded, and Bryant emerged as the team's sole leader. He led the league in scoring during the 2005–06 and 2006–07 seasons, and in 2007 he won his second All-Star Game's Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. In 2008 Bryant was named the league's MVP for the first time in his career. He was a member of the gold-medal-winning U.S. men's basketball team at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
 

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Universalium. 2010.

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