Kobe Bryant will go down as one of the 5 or 10 greatest players to ever play basketball. In 1996, though, he was just a basketball prodigy coming out of Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia.
Players being eligible for the draft out of High School was reasonably new concept at the time. Kevin Garnett, selected in 1995, was the first player to come out of the High School ranks in over a decade. A total of 12 teams passed on Kobe for this reason and have kicked themselves ever since.
First Selection – Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson, a point guard from Georgetown, was a slam dunk pick for the Philadelphia 76ers with the first choice in the 1996 Draft. He was both a skilled passer and, despite his small frame, was a nearly unstoppable scorer.
The talented player didn’t come without question marks, though. He was arrested while still in High School for a brawl at a Virginia bowling alley. The 76ers overlooked this situation and got a superstar in return.
Allen Iverson Now
Iverson had an incredible career spending 11 years in Philadelphia, moving the Denver Nuggets and then bouncing around a bit at the end. He finished his career with a 26.7 per game scoring average and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.
The point guard is still connected to the NBA and often can be seen sitting courtside at various games. Iverson, who made $154 million in his career, has also encountered money problems thanks to hangers-on and poor investments.
Second Selection – Marcus Camby
A great defense can help teams win championships and defenders that can really affect the game are rare. And while Marcus Camby’s offense lagged a little bit behind, his defense made him an incredible prospect for the NBA.
The Toronto Raptors selected the 7-footer out of UMass with the number 2 overall pick in the 1996 Draft. He immediately became the foundation of the Raptors defense and by his second season with the team, he led the league in blocks.
Marcus Camby Now
Camby’s skillset remained in high demand throughout his playing career. After three years with the Raptors, he was traded to the Knicks and played in the 2000 NBA Finals. He later played for the Nuggets before bouncing around the league.
The 17-year veteran was a feared defender for his entire career. He was the 2007 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, made 1st Team All-Defense twice and 2nd Team All-Defense two times as well. The former Center is active in working with charities like Basketball Without Borders.
Third Selection – Shareef Abdur-Rahim
While he only played for one season at The University of California Berkeley, Shareef Abdur-Rahim was one of the more pro-ready players in the 1996 Draft. The Vancouver Grizzlies drafted him with the 3rd overall pick and he became the team’s first star.
In his rookie year, Abdur-Rahim finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting, an impressive feat considering he was a part of one of the best draft classes of all-time.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim Now
While Abdur-Rahim had a very good NBA career, he did so in very quiet cities and markets. He played in Vancouver for 6 years before being sent to Atlanta in a blockbuster deal that netted the Grizzlies Pau Gasol.
After 3 years with the Hawks, Rahim settled into the back-end of his career as more of a role player. A bright student at Cal, the former power forward has worked as an executive for the Sacramento Kings and the minor league Reno Bighorns.
Fourth Selection – Stephon Marbury
The NBA had been ready for Stephon Marbury for a number of years. Growing up in Coney Island he was the subject of the book, The Last Shot, as a freshman in High School.
A legendary recruit, the point guard chose to play his college basketball at Georgia Tech. He was drafted into the NBA by the Milwaukee Bucks, but he didn’t actually play there. He was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves where he would team up with Kevin Garnett.
Stephon Marbury Now
It’s not that Stephon Marbury didn’t have a good NBA career. He actually had the kind of career that most players could only dream of. It always felt, though, like Marbury left fans wanting more.
The point guard played for a number of different teams. He made 2 All-Star teams, finishing with a career average of 19.3 points and 7.6 assists per game. He had an interesting end to his career, playing for many years in China and becoming sort of a folk hero there.
Fifth Selection – Ray Allen
Coming out of the University of Connecticut, Ray Allen provided two things in bunches, polish and shooting ability. He had played multiple seasons for Coach Jim Calhoun, winning the Big East Player of the Year Award in 1996 and being named 1st Team All American.
In most drafts, a player like Allen would have gone 1st or 2nd. In this draft, however, he was selected 5th and traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. He added acting to his resume early on in his career, starring in Spike Lee’s He Got Game.
Ray Allen Now
Despite his immense ability, Ray Allen had to bounce around a bit before finding the right team for him. He starred for the Bucks and SuperSonics before a trade to Boston helped make him an NBA Champion.
The decorated hooper was a 10-time NBA All-Star and won titles in 2008 and 2013. Shortly after his career was over, Allen was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Following his career, the sharpshooter was appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
Sixth Selection – Antoine Walker
Antoine Walker played alongside a very famous teammate at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago. That teammate, point guard Donovan McNabb, became much better known for his football playing abilities than his basketball ones, though he played both sports at Syracuse.
Walker went to play for Rick Pitino at Kentucky. After two spectacular years for the Wildcats, he was selected by the Celtics with the sixth pick. He would go on to partner with Kansas’ Paul Pierce for many successful seasons.
Antoine Walker Now
Walker would go on to become a dynamic player for the Celtics. He was one of the team’s top players during his rookie year and was averaging over 22 points a game by the end of his second season.
The forward would go on to make 3 All-Star games during his 13 seasons. Walker ran into issues after his playing career ended with money and gambling. He now works as an analyst with the SEC Network.
Seventh Selection – Lorenzen Wright
Lorenzen Wright had a significant basketball pedigree. His father Herb was a center who played professionally in Finland and later worked as a police officer. Lorenzen played his high school ball in Memphis and stayed local playing at the University of Memphis.
He was selected by the Clippers with the 7th pick in the NBA draft. While he didn’t become a star in the league, he became a very serviceable center and played in the league for 14 seasons.
Lorenzen Wright Now
Lorenzen Wright is unfortunately known better for the tragedy that befell him than for his playing career. In 2010, only a year after his career ended, he was found lifeless in Germantown, Tennessee.
For a number of years, his case went unsolved. At the end of 2017, though, his wife, Sherra Wright-Robinson was arrested on charges of murder. In 2019, she pled guilty to the crime so she could accept an insurance policy.
Eighth Selection – Kerry Kittles
Despite his almost impossibly skinny frame, Kerry Kittles became a star at Villanova. The shooting guard might have only packed 179 pounds onto his 6-5 frame, but his silky touch and outside shooting ability led to plenty of scoring.
He was selected by the New Jersey Nets and quickly fit right into their rotation. Kittles became an effective scorer for the Nets in his second year, where he averaged career highs of 17.2.
Kerry Kittles Now
Kittles spent the vast majority of his career in New Jersey. He played there for 7 years before spending one season with the Los Angeles Clippers. In his post-playing days, he’s become a coach and is currently an assistant at Princeton University.
With the eighth selection, the Nets were hoping to draft high school superstar Kobe Bryant. Through his agent, though, Bryant let other teams know that he only wanted to play for the Lakers, so the Nets pulled the trigger on Kittles.
Ninth Selection – Samaki Walker
Samaki Walker grew up in Columbus, Ohio and played his college basketball for Denny Crum at Louisville. He was a force of nature for the Cardinals, setting a school record against the Kentucky Wildcats with 11 blocks.
He was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks and spent the majority of his career bouncing around from team to team and later played in China. Walker has become passionate about charity in his post-playing career and works with underprivileged children in Los Angeles.
Tenth Selection Erick Dampier
While Erick Dampier was selected in the lottery after his junior year at Mississippi State, it was going to take some time for him to reach his full potential. The Pacers didn’t have this patience and shipped him to the Golden State Warriors after one year.
Dampier became a starter and double-double machine for Golden State. He would go on to play in the NBA for the next 16 seasons. The retired Dampier now enjoys the nearly $100 million he made in his playing career.
Eleventh Selection – Todd Fuller
The first 10 players selected in the 1996 Draft all went onto long and successful careers, even if they were role players like Lorenzen Wright or Samaki Walker. The same can’t be said for North Carolina State’s Todd Fuller.
Drafted by the Golden State Warriors, Fuller never averaged more than 13 minutes a game. By the end of the 2001 season, at the age of 26, Fuller was out of the sport completely. He now works a an Executive for Bank of America.
Twelfth Selection Vitaly Potapenko
In the early 1990s European born players began to come into the NBA in waves. Drafted twelfth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Ukraine’s Vitaly Potapenko was a part of that wave.
He was never a star in the NBA, but Potapenko had a nice career in the NBA. He played 12 seasons for a variety of teams before becoming a coach. He won a ring as an assistant coach for the Cavaliers and now works with the Memphis Grizzlies.
His Dad Moved To Italy To Play Basketball
When Kobe Bryant was six-years-old, his father moved the family to Italy to continue playing professional basketball. Joe Bryant had just retired from the NBA at the time, but still had the itch to play the sport he made his livelihood in.
In Italy, Joe played in both the Italian A1 and A2 Leagues for four different teams. He played in Italy for seven seasons before finally calling it a career. While growing up in Italy, Kobe Bryant became fluent in the native language and developed a deep passion for European soccer.
Bryant Won Seemingly Every High School Basketball Award
Kobe Bryant moved back to the United States in 1991 and began playing basketball against what should have been equal talent. Of course, Kobe being Kobe, he was far and away the best player on the court and was handed just about every award and honor as a result.
After his senior season, Bryant was named the Naismith National Player of the Year and the Gatorade National Player of the Year. He also led his team to the state championship title and graduated as Southeastern Pennsylvania’s highest-scoring player of all-time.
Kobe Made His “Decision” Before LeBron
Long before LeBron James made his controversial “decision” on ESPN to sign with the Miami Heat, Kobe Bryant did the same thing. Full of high school arrogance and following in the footsteps of fellow NBA icon Kevin Garnett, Bryant held his own publicity stunt.
With cameras surrounding him at the Lower Merion High School gym, Kobe confidently said he was, “taking his talents” to the NBA. Bryant had scholarship offers from Duke and Carolina, but it’s hard to say he made the wrong decision looking back at it today.
He Wasn’t A Top-Ten Draft Pick
After finishing his high school career, Bryant chose to skip college and go straight to the NBA. In 1996, he was shockingly taken with the 13th overall pick by Charlotte. Considering his legacy, it would be easy to assume Bryant was taken higher.
Charlotte then traded Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers in a move the franchise would probably like to take back. The young Kobe then started what wound up being a 20-year NBA career filled with some of the greatest moments in league history.
He Wasn’t An Instant Succes
During Kobe Bryant’s first two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers he only started seven games. Entering the league at such a young age (18-years and 72-days) provided him a challenge unlike any he had ever experienced.
Bryant took advantage of his time on the bench and became one of the NBA’s most dynamic role players. Not only did he win a slam dunk title in his sophomore season, but he was also voted into the All-Star game as a starter and was the runner-up for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
Back-To-Back-To-Back Titles Weren’t Enough
By 2000, Kobe Bryant had established himself as an NBA superstar. Coached by Phil Jackson and paired up with Shaq, the Los Angeles Lakers became an unstoppable force. The team won three straight NBA Championships. Shaq won the MVP award during the NBA Finals twice, though, leaving a bad taste in Kobe’s mouth.
Bryant longed for the spotlight and to prove that he was the reason the Lakers were so good. A feud between him and Shaq grew from the championship run, and a failure to win a fourth straight title led to Shaq getting traded in 1994.
His 81 Point Game Silenced The Doubters
In 2006, two years after Shaq was traded, Kobe Bryant officially silenced any doubters he had left. Playing a game against the Toronto Raptors, Bryant exploded for 81 points. The total was the second-highest single scoring game in NBA history.
The Lakers failed to win the championship that season, although a few more rings for Bryant would come just a few seasons later. For those curious, the highest single scoring game of all-time occurred in 1962, when Wilt Chamberlain, playing for the Warriors, scored 100 points.
The Mamba Mentality
It was during the post-Shaq era that Kobe Bryant donned his now-iconic mamba mentality. He became known as the “Black Mamba,” and became an offensive juggernaut on the court, finishing the 2005-06 season averaging 35.4 points per game.
The next season Bryant averaged 31.4 points per game. If there was anything still evading him, it was his first title without Shaq. To help Kobe continue to ascend, the Lakers added Pau Gasol to the team and brought back Phil Jackson as the team’s head coach.
His Awards Shelf Is Stacked
You already know the awards Kobe Bryant won during his high school career, but are you aware of just how stuffed his awards shelf is? When he retired Bryant was one of the most distinguished NBA players of all time.
Bryant won five NBA Championship, two Olympic gold medals, four All-Star Game MVPs, one NBA MVP, 18 All-Star selections, 11 All-NBA First Team selections, two NBA Finals MVP awards, and you get the idea. If there was an award to win or honor to have during his NBA career, Kobe Bryant won it.
Two More NBA Titles Were Inevitable
Kobe Bryant was never going to settle for winning three NBA Championships. Just a few years after Shaq was traded, Phil Jackson returned to the help bring the Lakers back to glory.
With Kobe Bryant as the team’s questioned leader, Los Angeles reached the Finals in 2008 and lost. Undeterred, the Lakers reached the Finals again in 2009 and won it all. Putting a cherry on top of the dynasty, and Bryant’s legacy, the team won it all again in 2010, giving the superstar a full hand of hardware.
From 33 To 8 To 24
In high school, Kobe Bryant’s first jersey number was 24, but by the time he graduated, he was wearing 33. When he got to the NBA, he couldn’t wear the number 33 because the league had retired it in honor of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, so he chose the number 8.
For the first half of Kobe’s career, he proudly wore this jersey number. Then, during the 2006-07 offseason, he switched his number to 24. When he retired, the Los Angeles Lakers also retired both of the numbers on his back.
A Failed Music Career
Throughout his life, Kobe Bryant was more than just an athlete. He was also an artist who, early on his life, attempted a music career. In the mid-’90s, Bryant’s group was signed to Sony Records.
In 2000, Bryant planned to release his first solo album with Sony, changing his sound from underground to something more radio-friendly. The album’s first single “K.O.B.E” was a critical and commercial flop. Sony responded by burying the album, leading Bryant to form his own record label.
A Poetic Goodbye
Kobe Bryant retired from the NBA in 2015. To give his final goodbye, he published Dear Basketball to the athlete run website The Players’ Tribune. In the poem he graciously wrote:
“From the moment I started rolling my dad’s tube socks. And shooting imaginary game-winning shots. In the Great Western Forum I knew one thing was real: I fell in love with you.” The poem was turned into a short film that was produced by Bryant in 2017.
An Unlikely Oscar
Turning his attention more artistic endeavors after retiring, Kobe Bryant took his ode to basketball and turned it into an animated short film. Glen Keane directed the animated featured while John Williams provided the score.
When Oscar nominations were announced in early 2018, Bryant’s film received a surprise nomination for Best Animated Feature. When Dear Basketball was announced as the winning film in the category, Bryant proved just how multi-talented he was
Bryant’s Winning Statement
Winning an Academy Award was much more than just another feather in the cap of Kobe Bryant. When he stepped onto the stage to accept the award, he used it as vindication against anyone who had ever told athletes to “shut up and dribble.”
Bryant acknowledged how hard it can be for athletes to have to start over after retiring. Perhaps most surprisingly, Bryant said winning the Oscar was, “better than winning a championship … it’s crazy.”
Bryant’s Final Game Was A Career Statement
Kobe Bryant played his final NBA game on April 13, 2016. The Lakers played the Utah Jazz, and Bryant’s teammates made sure the ball was in his hands whenever they were on the offensive.
In total, Bryant took 50 shots in the victory, the most by any player in over three decades. He finished the night with 60 points, turning in what many consider to be the greatest final game in the history the of the NBA.
A Family Man
Throughout his career, Kobe Bryant accomplished many things, including being the proud father of four girls. After the final buzzer went off on April 13th, Bryant made sure to mention his girls in his farewell speech.
The future Hall of Famer said, “The coolest thing is that my kids got to see me play the way I used to play. I told them, ‘I used to play like that quite often. So, YouTube it.'”
An Incredible Career Average
When Kobe Bryant stepped on the court before his final NBA game, it looked he would retire averaging less than 25 points per game. While his career average would have been nothing to scoff it, pushing it to the quarter century mark would just be another impossible outcome Bryant ignored.
After scoring 60 points, Bryant made the impossible possible. For many fans, there will never be another player like Kobe. He was passionate, driven, gracious, and humble. He was also explosive, dangerous, agile, and effortlessly elite.
He Was Named After Expensive Beef
Any foodie will tell you when they hear the word “Kobe” it refers to the finest beef available from Japan. Believe it or not, Kobe Bryant was named after this famous marbled meat. His parents saw the word on a menu at a restaurant and that was that.
His father also blessed Bryant with the middle name Bean, referring to his own NBA nickname of “Jellybean.” The NBA superstar was born in Philadelphia, but like his name, he grew up in unlikely circumstances in Italy.
An End Too Soon
On January 26, 2020, it was announced that Kobe Bryant had passed away in a helicopter crash in Southern California. The news shocked the sports world. The NBA made the tough decision to not cancel any games, leading many teams to hold moments of silence for their fallen friend.
Just 41-years-old, the loss of Kobe left the world without an artist who still had plenty to give. He may be gone, but his spirit and his memories will live on forever in the minds of family, friends, players, and fans worldwide.