Kobe Bryant will always be remembered in many different ways — as a husband and father, a passionate teammate, an inspirational motivator.
For most of the world, the memories that will endure after Bryant’s tragic death in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020 will be the moments he created on the basketball court. An 18-time All-Star, five-time NBA champion, NBA MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP and 11-time All-NBA first teamer, Bryant dazzled on his way to becoming a Hall of Famer and one of the best basketball players ever.
From the high school gyms of Philadelphia to the biggest hoops stages in the world, here’s a look at Bryant’s career highlights.
High school player of the year
Bryant, son of former NBA player Joe Bryant, graduated from Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pa. in 1996, earning multiple national player of the year awards and McDonald’s All-American honors.
1996 NBA Draft
Passing on college scholarship offers from NCAA giants, Bryant entered the NBA Draft out of high school, and on June 26, 1996 was selected No. 13 overall by the Charlotte Hornets. Bryant was then traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for center Vlade Divac.
Bryant made his NBA debut with the Lakers on Nov. 3, 1996 in Los Angeles against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He did not score a point in six minutes and 22 seconds. Two nights later he scored his first career point against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, a free throw. One night later he finally made his first basket against the Hornets.
Slam dunk contest
The rookie Bryant won the 1997 slam dunk contest on Feb. 8 during NBA All-Star weekend in Cleveland. At 18 years old, he became the youngest winner of a slam dunk contest.
First All-Star Game
A year later, the 19-year-old Bryant made his first All-Star Game and became the youngest NBA All-Star ever. Bryant put on a show at Madison Square Garden, putting up 18 points while matching up against Michael Jordan.
First NBA championship
Having formed a dynamic duo with Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant won his first NBA championship on June 19, 2000 when the Lakers defeated the Indiana Pacers in Game 6. Bryant scored 26 points in the series-clinching game. This was the first of three consecutive NBA titles for Bryant and the Lakers.
First All-Star MVP
Bryant won the first of his four NBA All-Star Game MVP awards when he scored 31 points and had five assists in the Western Conference’s 135-120 win. Bryant also won the award in 2007, 2009 and 2011.
In one of the most jaw-dropping individual performances in sports history, Bryant dropped 81 points on Jan. 22, 2006 at home against the Raptors, the second-highest single-game total in NBA history. Bryant’s 81-point masterpiece trails only Wilt Chamberlain’s legendary 100-point game from 1962.
Bryant was named the 2007-08 NBA MVP on May 6, 2008, his lone MVP award. Bryant would go on to lead the Lakers back to the NBA Finals, his first time without Shaq, but the Lakers fell to the Boston Celtics in six games.
Bryant helped lead a star-studded Team USA squad to the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, defeating Spain to win it all. It marked a rebound for the US after missing out on the gold-medal game in 2004.
Mamba took over The Mecca on Feb. 2, 2009, scoring 61 points to set a new record for most points scored by a player at Madison Square Garden. That record stood until Jan. 24, 2014 when Carmelo Anthony put up 62 points.
Back on top
Seven years after their last title, Bryant led the Lakers back to glory, winning the 2008-09 NBA championship, beating the Magic in the Finals in five games. Bryant won the first of his two NBA Finals MVP awards, the second of which he’d capture the following season when the Lakers got revenge on the Celtics for Bryant’s fifth and final championship.
Another gold medal
Bryant and Team USA won gold once again at the 2012 Olympics in London, handing Spain more heartbreak in the gold-medal game.
Bryant eclipsed Jordan for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list on Dec. 14, 2014. Bryant, who finished his career with 33,643 points, is now in fourth place after being passed by LeBron James on Jan. 25, 2020, the night before Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were killed in the helicopter crash.
Bryant scored 60 points in his final NBA game on April 13, 2016, a win over the Jazz.