Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant’s abilities often draw comparisons with a young Michael Jordan. Bryant, the son of a professional basketball player, became the youngest player in National Basketball Association (NBA) history when he went straight from high school to the pros in 1996 at age 18.
Kobe Bryant, born in 1978, American basketball player who became the youngest National Basketball Association (NBA) player in history in 1996. He entered the NBA straight from high school at the age of 18. The 6-ft 7-in (201-cm) shooting guard soon became a star and helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers to league titles in 2000, 2001, and 2002.
Kobe Bryant was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of former NBA player Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant. His parents took the name Kobe from a local steakhouse. When Kobe was six years old his family moved to Italy. For the next eight years Kobe learned to speak fluent Italian and played basketball, often competing against his father and other players in the Italian pro leagues. During this period the younger Bryant watched videotapes of NBA games, especially of Los Angeles Lakers guard Magic Johnson, his favorite player.
The Bryant family moved back to the United States in 1991 and Kobe attended Lower Merion High School in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania. He became a basketball star, averaging 30.8 points and 12 rebounds per game in his senior year and leading the school to the 1996 state title. Recruited by every top college program in the country, Bryant decided to enter the NBA draft instead, where he was selected 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets. The Lakers badly wanted Bryant, however, and quickly traded center Vlade Divac to the Hornets for the young guard.
When the 18-year-old Bryant debuted for Los Angeles in November 1996 he became the youngest player in NBA history. Though showing flashes of brilliance, he was primarily a reserve during his rookie season, averaging 7.6 points and 1.9 rebounds per game. In his second year, the 1998-1999 season, he averaged 15.4 points per game and became the youngest NBA All-Star ever. Bryant upped his averages to 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game during the 1999-2000 campaign, and along with center Shaquille O’Neal led the Lakers to the NBA title.
Bryant continued his sterling play the following year, finishing fourth in the league in scoring at 28.5 points per game as the Lakers again won the league championship. In 2002 Bryant scored 31 points to earn most valuable player (MVP) honors at the NBA All-Star Game in his hometown of Philadelphia. Later that year Bryant and the Lakers won their third consecutive NBA title.
In July 2003 Bryant was charged with sexual assault stemming from an incident the previous month in his hotel room at a Colorado spa and resort. The assault charges were made by a woman who worked at the resort, where Bryant had gone to have knee surgery. Bryant denied the charges and continued to play for the Lakers during the pretrial hearings.
Despite the courtroom distractions—which required him to fly to Colorado a number of times during the 2003-04 season—Bryant averaged 24.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game for the year and the Lakers made it to the 2004 NBA Finals. In September 2004 the assault case against Bryant was dismissed before going to trial.
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