His parents named him after the famous beef of Kobe , Japan, which they saw on a restaurant menu. Bryant was raised Roman Catholic. High school Bryant's retired No. Bryant earned national recognition during a spectacular high school career at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore , which was located in the Philadelphia suburb of Lower Merion. He played on the varsity basketball team as a freshman. During the run, he averaged Ultimately, however, the year-old Bryant made the decision to go directly into the NBA , only the sixth player in NBA history to do so.
In , he was chosen by the Charlotte Hornets as the 13th overall draft pick. The teams agreed to the trade the day before the draft and the Lakers told the Hornets whom to select five minutes before the pick was made.
Prior to the draft, Bryant had worked out in Los Angeles, where he scrimmaged against former Lakers players Larry Drew and Michael Cooper and, according to then-Laker manager Jerry West , "marched over these people". Defenders struggled to get in front of him, and his performance excited West and Lakers coach Del Harris. By the end of the season, he averaged During the All-Star weekend , Bryant participated in the Rookie Challenge and won the Slam Dunk Contest , becoming the youngest dunk champion ever at the age of Bryant shot four air balls at the end of the game; the Jazz won 98—93 in overtime to eliminate the Lakers 4—1.
He first whiffed a game-winning 2-point jump shot in the fourth quarter, and then misfired three three-point field goals in overtime, including two tying shots in the final minute. As a result, Bryant's point averages more than doubled from 7. With starting guards Van Exel and Jones traded, Bryant started every game for the lockout-shortened game season. Even at an early stage of his career, sportswriters were comparing his skills to those of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.
Jackson utilized the triangle offense that he implemented to win six championships with the Chicago Bulls ; this offense would help both Bryant and O'Neal rise to the elite class of the NBA. Three resulting championships were won consecutively in , , and , further proving such a fact. This included leading the team in assists per game and steals per game. In the Finals against the Indiana Pacers , Bryant injured his ankle in the second quarter of Game 2 after landing on the Pacers' Jalen Rose 's foot.
Rose later admitted he placed his foot under Bryant intentionally. In Game 4, Bryant scored 22 points in the second half and led the team to an OT victory as O'Neal fouled out of the game. Bryant scored the winning shot to put the Lakers ahead — It was also the year when disagreements between Bryant and O'Neal began to surface.
The Lakers, however, only won 56 games, an game drop off from last year. The Lakers would respond by going 15—1 in the playoffs. They would go on to win the next 4 games and bring their second championship to Los Angeles in as many seasons. During the playoffs, Bryant played heavy minutes which brought his stats up to In the playoffs, teammate O'Neal declared Bryant the best player in the league.
In the —02 season , Bryant played 80 games for the first time in his career. He continued his all-round play by averaging He also had a career-high He claimed his first All-Star MVP trophy after a point performance in Philadelphia when he was loudly booed by fans as they had throughout the game, stemming from his earlier comment to a 76ers heckler during the Finals that the Lakers were "going to cut your hearts out".
The Lakers won 58 games that year and finished second place in the Pacific Division behind in-state rival Sacramento Kings. Bryant was suspended one game after he punched Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers after the Lakers' March 1, victory over the Pacers. While the Lakers swept the Blazers and defeated the Spurs 4—1 in the first two rounds of the playoffs , the Lakers did not have home court advantage against the Sacramento Kings.
The series would stretch to 7 games, the first time this happened to the Lakers since the Western Conference Finals. However, the Lakers were able to beat their division rivals and make their third consecutive NBA Finals appearance. Coming up short — Bryant at the free-throw line, He averaged 30 points per game and embarked on a historic run, posting 40 or more points in nine consecutive games while averaging In addition, he averaged 6.
After finishing 50—32 in the regular season, the Lakers floundered in the playoffs and lost in the Western Conference semi-finals in six games to the eventual NBA champions San Antonio Spurs. Bryant made two buzzer beaters to win the game and the Pacific Division title. At the end of the fourth quarter, Bryant made a 3-pointer with 1. A particularly damaging salvo came when Jackson wrote The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul. The book detailed the events of the Lakers' tumultuous —04 season and has a number of criticisms of Bryant.
In the book, Jackson called Bryant "un-coachable". Despite past differences with Bryant, Jackson returned to coach the Lakers. Bryant's individual scoring accomplishments posted resulted in the finest statistical season of his career. On December 20, , Bryant scored 62 points in three quarters against the Dallas Mavericks. Entering the fourth quarter, Bryant outscored the entire Mavericks team 62—61, the only time a player has done this through three quarters since the introduction of the shot clock.
On January 22, , Bryant scored a career-high 81 points in a — victory against the Toronto Raptors. Bryant's first high school number was 24 before he switched to They came within six seconds of eliminating the second-seeded Suns in Game 6, however, they lost that game — in overtime. The basis given for the suspension was that Bryant had performed an "unnatural motion" in swinging his arm backward. This was the second-best scoring performance of his year career.
Smith 's radio program, Bryant expressed anger over a Lakers "insider" who claimed that Bryant was responsible for Shaquille O'Neal 's departure from the team, and publicly stated, "I want to be traded. On December 23, , Bryant became the youngest player 29 years, days to reach 20, points, in a game against the New York Knicks , in Madison Square Garden.
Despite an injury to his shooting hand's small finger, described as "a complete tear of the radial collateral ligament , an avulsion fracture , and a volar plate injury at the MCP joint" that occurred in a game on February 5, , Bryant played all 82 games of the regular season instead of opting for surgery. Regarding his injury, he stated, "I would prefer to delay any surgical procedure until after our Lakers season, and this summer's Olympic Games.
But, this is an injury that myself [ sic ] and the Lakers' medical staff will just have to continue to monitor on a day-to-day basis. I'm very proud to represent this organization, to represent this city. He stated, "Kobe deserved it. He's had just another great season. Doesn't surprise me one bit. In Game 1, Bryant, who said he made himself a decoy through most of the game, scored 18 of his 32 points in the final 8 minutes to keep Los Angeles safely ahead.
He was selected to his eleventh consecutive All-Star Game as a starter,  and was named the Western Conference Player of the Month for December and January in addition to being named Western Conference Player of the week three times. In the playoffs , the Lakers defeated the Utah Jazz in five games and the Houston Rockets in seven games in the opening two rounds.
During the —10 season , Bryant made six game-winning shots including a buzzer-beating , one-legged 3-pointer against the Miami Heat on December 4, Bryant suffered multiple injuries throughout the season and as a result, missed nine games.
The Lakers began the playoffs as the number one seed in the Western Conference against the Oklahoma City Thunder ,  eventually defeating them in six games.