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Kobe Bryant through the years
Kobe Bryant played 20 seasons, all of them with the Lakers, and scored 33,643 points, which ranks him fourth on the all-time NBA scoring list. Just Saturday night, current Lakers star LeBron James passed Bryant for third on the all-time list with 33,655. As the NBA world mourns and reflects on the life and legacy that Bryant leaves behind, here’s a look back at the highlights of his NBA career.
His debut: On Nov. 3, 1996, Bryant made his NBA debut with the Lakers after the Charlotte Hornets drafted him with the 13th overall selection that year but traded him to Los Angeles. Though he went scoreless on 0-for-1 shooting in six minutes in his first game, Bryant became the youngest to ever appear in an NBA game at 18 years and 72 days old, though the record has since been broken.
The start of a dynasty: Arguably the game that established the start of the Bryant dynasty with the Lakers, alongside center Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles erased a 16-point deficit in the final quarter in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals against the Trail Blazers on June 4, 2000. The iconic play from that comeback was an alley oop in which Bryant found O’Neal.
First Finals: Just a few weeks after that iconic comeback against the Trail Blazers, Bryant won his first of five NBA Finals trophies with the Lakers in a fivegame series against the Pacers in the 2000 NBA Finals.
Youngest to 30,000: On Dec. 7, 2012, Bryant became the youngest player in NBA history to reach the 30,000-point club when he connected on a jump shot during the first half of a game against the New Orleans Hornets.
Kobe drops 81: On Jan. 22, 2006, he scored 81 points on 28 of 46 shooting and 18 of 20 free throw attempts in a 122104 win against the Raptors. That marked the second-highest singlegame scoring performance in NBA history, behind only Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 from 1962.
Olympic fourth quarter: Though he was one of the older players on the 2008 Team USA squad in the Summer Olympics, it was Bryant – not emerging stars like Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and LeBron James – who helped seal the gold medal against Spain. Bryant scored 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter that helped him earn his first Olympic gold medal. He would win another in the 2012 Games.
Free throws with torn Achilles: On April 12, 2013, Bryant showed his toughness when he remained in a close game against the Warriors shortly after he suffered a torn Achilles tendon late in the fourth quarter to sink a pair of free throws before he left the court. The Lakers would wind up winning that game 118-116. Bryant would finish that game with 34 points.
Memorable finale: In the final game of Bryant’s NBA career, on April 13, 2016, against the Jazz, Bryant scored 60 points on 22 of 50 shooting, including 10 of 12 from the line.
Staples Center tribute
Over 1,000 fans in mourning gathered at Staples Center in Los Angeles, breaking out in impromptu chants of “Kobe Bryant” and “MVP.” The fans mixed with those coming to the arena for the Grammy Awards, which paid tribute to Bryant during its broadcast. Items at a makeshift memorial included a signed basketball, red rose petals spelling “Kobe” and “Gia,” signs that say Mamba #8 and #24, hundreds of lit candles and ornate blue and gold flower displays.
Victor Rodriguez, a 27-year-old youth counselor from L.A., weaved through the crowd carrying a bouquet of purple and gold carnations, looking for a place to put them. “I want to pay my respects to my favorite player. He brought me so much joy. My mom was playing the TV and I heard the news. I was so shocked, I just started crying.”
Michael Aparicio, 27, wearing a purple Lakers jacket and a No. 24 T-shirt, pushed his 5-month-old daughter in her stroller through the crowd. “We’re paying tributes to one of the greats,” he said, placing flowers at the impromptu Staples
Center memorial. It’s about showing respect. He gave his life to the Lakers. We wanted to be here.”
YBN Cordae, nominated for best rap album and best rap song, said on the red carpet that everyone is in mourning today. “Everybody’s a fan of Kobe Bryant. You shoot a paper ball in the trash can, we all say (‘Kobe’). The Mamba mentality – keep going, overwork, be your best – is something that everybody should aspire to live by. Rest In Peace.”
Kelan Parker, 21, from Southern California says when he heard the news from a cousin she checked Twitter, thinking his death was a hoax at first. He arrived to pay respects. “He’s been a Laker his whole career so it just hurts SoCal, because it’s all we’ve known growing up for the past 20 years,” said Parker, adding that he thinks the Grammys needed to take time out of the show to pay tribute to Bryant.
Baseball coach dies
A community college baseball coach also died in the fatal helicopter crash that killed Bryant and his daughter.
John Altobelli, the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College, was among those killed in the crash, assistant coach Ron La Ruffa told The Orange County Register. He was 56.
Altobelli’s brother Tony Altobelli told CNN that Altobelli’s wife, Keri, and one of their two daughters, Alyssa, were also aboard the helicopter.
A spokesperson for Orange Coast College did not immediately respond to an email from USA TODAY Sports seeking more information.
Local media reports indicated that players gathered at the team’s baseball field Sunday evening to mourn the death of their coach.
Draft day surprise
While Bryant was a Lakers icon for a generation, things could have gone very differently on his draft day in 1996.
The Hornets selected Bryant with the 13th overall pick but immediately traded him to the Lakers in exchange for center Vlade Divac.
Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash Sunday, would go on to spend his entire 20-year career with the Lakers, winning five NBA championships.
It was a monumental summer in basketball history, as the Lakers would sign free agent O’Neal just a few weeks later.
“Charlotte never wanted me,” Bryant said in 2015. “(Hornets coach Dave) Cowens told me he didn’t want me. It wasn’t a question of me even playing (in Charlotte). It wasn’t a question of me even playing (in Charlotte). They had a couple of guards already, a couple small forwards already. So it wasn’t like I would be off the bench much.”
Just 17 years old coming out of Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, Bryant used the trade as fuel for the rest of his career.
“I knew who Dave Cowens was and (was) pretty excited (to play for him). Then I was like, ‘Oh, all right.’ I quickly transitioned from smiley kid to killer instinct.”
Magic Johnson reacts
Former Michigan State and Lakers basketball star Magic Johnson took to social media following Bryant’s death. “As I try to write this post, my mind is racing,” he said in the first of a series of tweets. “I’m in disbelief and have been crying all morning over this devastating news that Kobe and his young daughter, Gigi have passed away in a helicopter crash. Cookie (his wife) and I are heartbroken.”
“My friend, a legend, husband, father, son, brother, Oscar winner and greatest Laker of all-time is gone,” he said. “It’s hard to accept. Kobe was a leader of our game, a mentor to both male and female players.”