Mar 27, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) during the first quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Lakers won 120-117. Mandatory Credit: Greg Smith-USA TODAY Sports

LA Lakers Top Ten: #2 Kobe Bryant

March 25, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) prepares to shoot a free throw during the second quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Lakers 109-103. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

No one in history has donned the iconic purple and gold Lakers jersey more than the Black Mamba, who is rolling into his 18th season with the Lake Show. He’s been the face of sports in Los Angeles for over a decade and is closing in on some of the all-time NBA leaders in career points. Unlike everyone else on this list, with the exception of Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant is still adding to his numbers, which seems ridiculous when considering that he’s among the all-time Lakers leaders in every single statistical category. Let’s take a look at where Bryant stands in many of the all-time Laker ranks:

  • Games played: 1239 (1st all-time)
  • Minutes played: 45390 (1st all-time)
  • Points: 31617 (1st all-time)
  • Rebounds: 6575 (3rd all-time)
  • Assists: 5887 (3rd all-time)
  • Steals: 1828 (2nd all-time)
  • All-Star appearances: 15 (1st all-time)
  • Championships: 5 (tied for 1st all-time)

Bryant’s illustrious NBA career began in northern New Jersey on a summer night when the Charlotte Hornets drafted the Lower Merion High School guard with the 13th selection in the draft. Jerry West, the general manager of the Lakers at the time, soon after made the bold decision to trade the Lakers starting center, Vlade Divac, for the little known Bryant, a move that was questioned by many. Seventeen years later, that trade stands as one of the greatest transactions in basketball history.

Unlike many superstars the league has seen, Kobe wasn’t thrown upon the scene immediately. While Michael Jordan and Lebron James had rookie seasons where they averaged 38 and 39 minutes, respectively, Kobe Bryant averaged just 15 minutes a game. Heck the only time in his rookie year that Kobe was put on the national scene was when he won the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest. At that point, he was still seen as nothing but a young athletic guard with a bundle of potential.

The 1999-00 NBA season marked a year that goes in Lakers lore as the greatest season in franchise history. Phil Jackson, the mind behind the madness that followed Jordan’s six championships, was brought into the Lakers organization to be the head coach and the team installed the triangle offense. Shaquille O’Neal had a season for the ages, winning the MVP award, while Kobe kept plugging away, improving by the month. At this point he’d been a starter on the club for a couple of seasons already and was averaging 22.5 points per game. But the most impressive part of Bryant’s game, to this point was his defense.

That season, Kobe became the youngest player ever named to the All-NBA defensive 1st team, the first of twelve career All-NBA defensive awards, nine of which were first team. He was a constant pest on that end. He had quick hands and the lateral quickness and focus necessary to be elite on that end.

The middle parts of Kobe’s career were absolutely tumultuous. He won two more titles with Phil Jackson and Shaquille O’Neal as a sidekick in one of the most lethal tandems in league history, but then came trouble. Two seasons later, in the NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons, Kobe played terribly, averaging just 22.6 points per game and shooting a measly 35 percent from the field. Phil Jackson left the Lakers, later calling Bryant “uncoachable.” Shaquille O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat to join with young star Dwyane Wade. Bryant was stranded on his own with the Lakers with a bunch of scrubs.

The next few years saw few wins. The Lakers didn’t come close to returning to the NBA Finals, but these middle years of Kobe’s career could be appreciated from a different perspective. Kobe scored 35.4 points per game in the 2005-06 season. In one night in December, Kobe scored 62 points against the Dallas Mavericks without even stepping on the court in the fourth quarter, incredibly outscoring the entire Mavs team after three quarters 62-61. One month later, Kobe had a game even more memorable.

For the 81-point night against the Toronto Raptors, the NBA record for a non-Wilt player, I’ll present a few quotes by NBA personnel on the game and let them do the talking for me:

“Kobe’s range is unreal, and he does it his way. It was a real treat. His ability to shoot from long range and also attack the hoop, split the defense and get in close for opportunities near the basket is unique. He’s made a niche for himself, and he deserves it.” – Kareem Abdul Jabber

 

“With Kobe, he takes shots that look bad, but they’re not bad shots for him. He was on fire. On fire.” – Joe Johnson

 

“What was lost in all of that was that he got it going when they were down by 18 points. The other amazing part was that he didn’t get tired at the end.” – Doc Rivers

 

Bryant won his lone MVP award in the 2007-08 season, a season that saw the acquisition of Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies. The Lakers were back on top of the western conference. That season, however, the Lakers suffered a heartbreaking defeat to the Celtics in the NBA Finals.

Mamba and Co. came back with a vengeance the next year and got the ring they wanted so much. Bryant’s fourth championship, and his first as undoubtedly the team’s best player came against the Orlando Magic. The next season, they repeated as champions with a 7-game series win against the Boston Celtics.

Since then, it’s fair to say that the team has collapsed a bit. In 2011, the Lakers were swept by the Mavericks in the Western Conference Semifinals, a sad close to the legendary coaching career of Phil Jackson. The next season saw the Lakers lose to the young Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs, and this past season saw the Lakers fail to reach raised expectations following big free agent signings and lose to the Spurs in the first round.

Success or failure, Kobe’s state of mind has never changed. That’s the strongest part of his game. His mental toughness. So, so tough. He kept fighting no matter the situation he was faced with. He’s battled with countless injuries, and played through them many times. If the doctors said he would likely miss two weeks, it wasn’t out of the question that he’d be putting up 40 points the next night. You can speak of any of Kobe’s accomplishments, whether it be any of the things mentioned in this article, one of his incredible scoring games, or big time shots at the end of a match. The moment for me that best wrapped up who I think of when I think of Kobe Bryant was four months ago, against the Golden State Warriors. Having just torn his Achilles, an injury that no-one should be forced to walk with, Bryant refused a replacement free throw shooter, gingerly made his way to the free throw line, and drained two free throws. Currently? He’s rehabilitating the injury, likely to return months ahead of the initial timeline. Of course.

He’s a fighter. He’s a winner. He’s a legend. My favorite player ever: Kobe Bryant.

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