Kobe Bryant is an American basketball superstar who plays the shooting guard position for the Los Angeles Lakers. He was born on August 23, 1978 in Philadelphia to Joe and Pamela Bryant. Joe Bryant was also a basketball player who played with the Philadelphia 76ers, the San Diego Clippers, and the Houston Rockets before moving to Italy to play for Italian leagues. Kobe spent his boyhood in Italy but he kept up his passion for American basketball.
The family moved back to the U.S. in 1991 where Bryant studied at Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia. He joined his high school basketball team, where he had an outstanding record, and led his team to their first state championship victory in 53 years. He received several honors during his high school career, including Naismith High School Player of the Year, Gatorade Men’s National Basketball Player of the Year, McDonald’s All-American Team, and USA Today All-USA First Team player. He went to the prom with the R&B singer Brandy, but the two were not ever romantically involved.
Despite good grades, SAT scores and offers from several colleges, Bryant chose to play for the NBA straight out of high school, rather than going to college. He was originally drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996, but traded to the LA Lakers shortly. He signed his contract at the age of 17, as a result of which his parents had to co-sign as his guardians until he came of age. At the time, he was the youngest player ever to play in an NBA game, and also the youngest NBA starter. He was named the winner of the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest, the youngest player to have won this honor at 18 years of age. At the age of 19, he was voted as a starter for the 1998 All-Star game, which made him the youngest All-Star in NBA history.
Phil Jackson became the Los Angeles Lakers’ coach in 1999, and under his guidance, Bryant became one of the leading NBA shooting guards, forming an invincible duo with his teammate Shaquille O’Neal, with whom he later had a falling out. His team won three back to back NBA championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002. In the next few years, however, Bryant’s career suffered due to several controversies, fights with teammates and disagreements with his coach. Phil Jackson criticized him for his high handed behavior and Bryant also had a long standing feud with his once partner Shaquille O’Neal, due to personal differences on and off the court. He was also involved in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a 19 year old hotel employee. The charges were later dropped and the case was settled out of court.
Bryant helped the Lakers reach the 2008 NBA Finals, which they lost but returned the next year to win the championship title. He was awarded the All-Star Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award jointly with his former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, who had transferred to Miami Heat after leaving the LA Lakers. He was also awarded his first NBA Finals MVP trophy that year. During the 2009-10 season, Bryant became the youngest player to reach 25,000 career points, and also became the all time highest scoring player in the Lakers’ franchise history.
Bryant has won two Olympic Gold Medals with Team U.S.A in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. His contract with the Lakers has been renewed several times. He signed a $70 million, 6 year contract extension in the 1998-99 season, which he renewed for 7 more years, refusing an offer from the Los Angeles Clippers. Another renewal for 3 years came in 2010 for $87 million. The latest was a 2 year renewal in November 2013, for $48.5 million. This makes him the first NBA player to play with the same franchise for 20 years.
Bryant is married to a dancer named Vanessa Laine, whom he met when he was 21 and she was 17 years old, and still a high school student. They were married less than 2 years after they met and this caused a rift between Bryant and his family for marrying too young. The couple has two children and have now reunited with Bryant’s family. They announced their intention of getting a divorce in 2011 but have since reunited and called it off. Kobe Bryant has had a number of endorsements throughout his career including Adidas, Sprite, McDonald’s, Nutella, Nintendo and Nike. Some brands called off their endorsements when he became involved in a sexual harassment scandal, but many of his contracts were later renewed. Bryant is currently 36 years old and has an estimated net worth of at least $200 million.