Kobe Bryant is one of the most famous players in the history of professional sports and that is why his jersey is still so popular even though he just announced his retirement.
Whether you like to rock the 8 or the 24, when you buy a Kobe Bryant jersey it’s a jersey that will be worn until the end of time.
He was a semi celebrity before he even got into the league, and even though he came in straight out of high school he was a fan favorite early on.
In his first year he was voted 2nd Team All Rookie, but it was his winning of the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest that really made him known around the basketball world.
You could tell early on that this was a kid that had his eyes on the bright lights and wanted to be the center of attention.
He knew he was going to be a star and was ready to step into those shoes at his earliest opportunity.
He became so popular so early on that he was voted into the starting lineup in the All Star game during his second season even though he wasn’t even starting for the Lakers!
That is how much the fans already loved him.
Growing Into A Superstar
He would go on to be a starter in that game for 18 straight years, a record that will probably never be broken.
His career was on an upward trajectory and by his third year he almost cracked the 20 point per game mark, missing it by the slimmest margins at 19.9.
The following year he got over that hump and averaged 22.5, but it was the team success that really mattered.
With Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal the Lakers had two of the top players in the league, and in a sport like basketball star power matters above everything else.
There were some tumultuous times, even in those early years, but you would have had to have been a fool to not see what was on the horizon.
In the 2000 Western Conference Finals the Lakers found themselves in big trouble down double digits vs the Portland Trailblazers in game 7.
The Blazers were a very deep, very experienced, and talented team in their own right. But they didn’t have Kobe and Shaq.
The Lakers went on a huge run that was punctuated when Kobe hit Shaq for an alley oop that may be the signature moment of both of their careers.
That play capped off a 25-4 run and put the Lakers up 6 with 41 seconds to go. What many don’t remember is that Kobe hit two free throws to break the tie at 79, and then hit a jumper to expand the lead after that.
From there the NBA Finals were smooth sailing, all of the power in the league at the time was out West and The Lakers were back on top, and Kobe averaged 21 throughout the playoffs.
Kobe had far to many ‘breakouts’ to ever call anything his breakout moment, but his 2001 season was when he really put it all together as a truly elite player in the league for a full season.
He was awesome in 2000 and showed his clutch capabilities that year, but when you go from 22.5 points a game to 28.5 you clearly have it figured.
That 2001 Lakers team was probably the best team of the decade, and was arguably the best team since the end of the Bulls dynasty. They swept through the two biggest obstacles they had out West beating the Kings and the Spurs 4-0.
They only lost one game throughout the playoffs to the Sixers, but that series was never in doubt, and Kobe had scored 29 during the playoff run. Going back to back is hard enough but now they were trying to get a three peat of their own.
They were the favorites heading into the 2002 playoffs despite being a 3 seed, and they easily handled the Spurs 4-1 in the 2nd round.
Then in the Western Conference Finals they played one of the All Time Great NBA Series vs the Kings. How could anyone forget this from Big Shot Bob:
These were clearly the two best teams in the league and both heavyweights were answering haymaker with haymaker, but the Lakers prevailed.
The Finals were no problem and they got that 3 peat as Kobe Bryant scored 26 a game in the postseason.
The following year the Lakers were still the favorites and Kobe had a great year scoring 30 a game while shooting 47% from the floor and 38% from downtown.
However the Spurs got ’em in another classic series. All basketball fans will remember Duncan hitting a ridiculously hard shot that appeared to be a game winner before Derek Fisher pulled off the ultimate crowd silencer.
It was the Spurs’ year and they went on to win it all. The next year the Lakers made it back to the NBA Finals but lost to the Pistons in what was one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.
The Dynasty Was Over
All good things must come to an end and at this point Shaq and Kobe really didn’t want to play together anymore. The Lakers chose the much younger Kobe and Shaq went on his way to Miami.
For the next few years Kobe didn’t have much talent around him and it was all on his shoulders. In 2006 he did his best to get things back on the winning track and put up 35 a game, but without the horses next to him it was all for not.
He had some great moments during the down years, including the 81 point game that will never be forgotten, but a competitor like Kobe needs to win.
Then the Lakers made some key moves, notably getting Pau Gasol to go along with Lamar Odom and Ron Artest and once again they were a serious power.
They made it to the Finals in 2008 and played a great series vs their long time rival the Boston Celtics. The Celtics got em this time, but this wouldn’t be the last Finals meeting for these two powerhouses.
The next year the Lakers won 65 games and were one of the big favorites heading into the playoffs.
They had some tough rounds to get to the Finals as the Rockets took them to 7 games in the 2nd round and the Nuggets had the Western Conference Finals tied at 2-2 before the Lakers won in 6.
The finals were never in doubt and once again the Lakers and Kobe were champions.
Kobe averaged 30 a game in the playoffs and won the Finals MVP. The following year the Celtics were back at full strength and it just felt like a rematch from 08 was coming.
Once again the Lakers were the 1 seed out West and got a little test from the Thunder in the first round and the Suns in the Western Conference Finals but they seemed like they were going back to the Finals all along, and that they did.
Kobe scored 40 in the 1st game of the WCF and put up 37 in the close out game 6. The series was won at the end of game 5.
The 2010 Finals vs the Celtics were a knock down drag out fight. Both teams were playing great defense and points were at a premium in this one. With the series tied at 2-2 the Celtics won the critical game 5 despite Kobe scoring 38.
The Lakers were able to win game 6 in a blow out to set up a classic game 7. Both teams played stellar defense and the Celtics looked to be in control but then the Lakers took over.
Kobe only scored 23 in the game but in a 83-79 game that is enough to be the high scorer and he won his second straight NBA Finals MVP Award.
He had a huge playoffs all around scoring 29 a game, and his fifth ring tied him with Magic Johnson. Now the 2 of them are often regarded as the two best players in the storied history of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise.
Ending One Career & Starting Another
The following years the Lakers got knocked out by some really good teams, the 2011 Mavericks who won the title, and in 2012 the Thunder who lost in the Finals. Then the Lakers started to get old and started to fall off the map.
Kobe was still able to go strong and even though the team didn’t win much all the fans still wanted to come out to see him. In his last season he was able to put up 17 a game with no talent around him.
Kobe’s final game was the stuff legends truly are made from. He came out knowing he was going to shoot and shoot a lot. Early on it wasn’t looking too impressive. Then he got on fire in the 2nd half and in the 4th quarter alone he scored 23 points. He finished the game with 60 and it was the perfect send off for this legend.
In his career he averaged 25 points a game, almost 5 assists, 5 rebounds, shot 84% from the foul line, and was voted to the All Defensive team 12 times. Not bad for a guy that some think of as only a scorer.
Sure, when you are the third all time leading scorer in league history you are going to be labeled as a scorer. Anyone who really watched Kobe’s career knows he was so much more then that. A competitive guy like Kobe knows that he needs something in his life now that basketball is over. He is following the Magic Johnson route and going to become a business man.
Considering how competitive, smart, and strong willed he is he can probably succeed at anything he puts his mind to. He was able to catch Magic and his five rings, don’t be surprised if he catches him in net worth as well.
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