Kobe Bryant created a wealth of memories, overcame a host of setbacks and reached a multitude of milestones during his 20-year NBA career. Here are key moments in the career of the five-time champion and 18-time All-Star.
July 1, 1996
Los Angeles Lakers general manager Jerry West boldly trades his starting center, Vlade Divac, to the Charlotte Hornets for Bryant, a 17-year-old prodigy from the Philadelphia suburbs by way of Italy. Nearly two decades later, Bryant became the top scorer in the history of the 16-time NBA champion franchise, which happened to be his favorite team growing up.
May 12, 1997
As a rookie, Bryant badly misses four shots in the final moments of a playoff loss to the Utah Jazz, ending the Lakers’ season. When the team returned to Los Angeles that night, Bryant went to a suburban gym and worked on his shot until dawn. He later said the Airball Game was a turning point in his ability to handle negativity and self-doubt with hard work.
June 19, 2000
Bryant has 26 points and 10 rebounds against the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, teaming with Shaquille O’Neal and coach Phil Jackson to lead the Lakers to their first championship together. They won it all in each of the next two seasons as well, establishing the first dynasty of the 21st century.
June 2, 2002
Bryant scores 30 points in the Lakers’ 112-106 overtime victory over the Sacramento Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, ending one of the greatest playoff series in NBA history. The Lakers swept New Jersey to win their third straight title in the anticlimactic NBA Finals.
July 18, 2003
Bryant is charged with sexual assault by the Eagle County District Attorney’s office in Colorado. Bryant said the sex with a 19-year-old hotel employee was consensual, but his public image and most of his endorsement deals were shattered by his arrest. During the Lakers’ run to the 2004 NBA Finals, Bryant occasionally flew daily between his pretrial hearings and the Lakers’ postseason games. The charges were dismissed in September 2004 after his accuser decided she was unwilling to testify.
January 22, 2006
An ordinary Sunday home game in a mediocre Lakers season turns into magic when Bryant goes off for 81 points, the second-highest total in NBA history. He mostly did it on jumpers in a close game, hitting seven 3-pointers while going 28 for 46 from the field and 18 for 20 from the line. Sure, he only had two assists. Not a soul at Staples Center cared.
February 1, 2008
Los Angeles acquires Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in a heist of a trade that swiftly ended a frustrating four-year stretch for Bryant, who repeatedly flirted with leaving the Lakers — even nearly for the neighboring Clippers. Instead, with the star Spanish 7-footer at his side, Bryant led the Lakers to the next three NBA Finals and won two more championships.
August 24, 2008
Bryant scores 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and wins his first Olympic gold medal as the United States defeats Spain 118-107 in Beijing. After missing the previous two Olympics, Bryant proved to be an excellent international player, and he added another gold medal to his collection four years later in London.
Feb. 1, 2010
Bryant scores 44 points against the Memphis Grizzlies and passes West to become the leading scorer in Lakers history. The franchise has a glossy history of talent from George Mikan and Elgin Baylor to Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal, but nobody played more seasons or scored more points in purple and gold than Bryant.
June 17, 2010
Bryant scores 23 points on 6-for-24 shooting as the Lakers rally to beat the Boston Celtics 83-79 in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, securing the 31-year-old’s fifth championship ring. He still calls it the sweetest title of his career for multiple reasons, including the Lakers-Celtics rivalry and the difficulties faced in repeating after their 2009 championship. He celebrates by jumping on the scorers’ table at Staples Center in a now-iconic pose.
April 12, 2013
The Lakers’ season began with enormous expectations after the acquisition of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, but quickly descended into farce. Bryant was carrying the Lakers toward the playoffs while playing more than 40 minutes per game before he tore his Achilles tendon in this game against Golden State. Incredibly, Bryant still shot his ensuing free throws in front of fans who didn’t realize what had happened. Once seemingly impervious to physical woes, Bryant was never the same. Three straight seasons ended early due to injury.
November 29, 2015
Bryant announces his retirement in a post on a Players' Tribune. The decision was not totally unexpected, given that Bryant had repeatedly said in interviews he was considering making his 20th NBA season his last. After two decades, two Olympic gold medals, five championship rings, 17 All-Star selections, an 81-point game that ranks as the second-best in NBA history and more than 32,000 points, Bryant's career was officially winding down. "My heart can take the pounding. My mind can handle the grind. But my body knows it's time to say goodbye," Bryant wrote in the post. "And that's OK. I'm ready to let you go. I want you to know now. So we both can savor every moment we have left together. The good and the bad. We have given each other all that we have."
This story was published by the Associated Press shortly before Bryant's retirement in 2016.