Although Michael Jordan is most people’s choice for the title of Greatest NBA Player, he may not be the most talked-about player of all time. For reasons which have occasionally drawn him into off-court controversy and for his startling achievements on the court, Kobe Bryant has to be considered one of the biggest names in the sport, and is certainly one of the most storied active NBA players. Like many others, he was marked for greatness from the beginning, entering the NBA Draft in 1996 at the age of 17 and therefore skipping college.
Drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, Bryant was immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers and although he saw limited playing time, he was soon trusted with more time on the court. This did not always end the way he would have hoped, with one game against the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs seeing Bryant miss three makeable shots that would have extended the series for the Lakers. Yet as Shaquille O’Neal remarked, it was telling that a player so young would even try such high-pressure shots.
With the arrival of the guru coach Phil Jackson at the Lakers in 1999, Bryant’s career really took off. Jackson’s tactical brain had been the key to the Chicago Bulls’ history-making decade of domination in the 1990s, and as the new century began the Lakers managed a three-peat of their own, with Bryant and O’Neal taking a starring role as the team won NBA Championships back-to-back-to-back in 2000, 2001 and 2002.