In celebration of Mamba Week, Stadium Goods is taking a look back at the career of the legendary Kobe Bryant.
Spanning three decades, Bryant’s remarkable journey through the NBA can be broken down into three categories: his rookie season, peak of his powers prime, and twilight years. Naturally, we’ll lead off with Kobe’s embryonic years in the NBA in the mid-to-late ‘90s, and transition through his triumphs as part of the “Three Peat” Lakers, and culminate with his final days with the Lakers as an elder statesman. Lace up your adidas Crazy 8s and “Grinch” Kobe 6s, and join us as we hop in the Delorean to travel back in time to Kobe Bryant’s rookie season in 1996 and 1997.
At just 18 years-old in the fall of ‘96, Kobe Bryant appeared in his first NBA game as a boy amongst men, so to say. That Summer, the Los Angeles Lakers had traded veteran Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets to obtain the draft rights to Kobe, who was breaking into the NBA following his senior year at Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, PA. Along with newly signed free agent Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant was positioned as a cornerstone of a Lakers franchise in need of star power following Magic Johnson’s retirement. Ultimately, it would take another two years before Kobe became “the man” in La La Land, though the signs were ominous that the Lakers had a young star on their hands during Bryant’s rookie season. These are some of the highlights.
NBA Debut - November 3, 1996 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Kobe Bryant tore it up during the NBA’s Summer Pro League in ‘96 to the tune of a 24.5 per game average over the camp’s four-game stretch. His highly anticipated NBA regular season debut didn’t go nearly as well. Appearing in the Lakers’ November 3, 1996 home game versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, Bryant was held scoreless on 0 of 1 shooting. He finished with one rebound and one steal in six minutes of play. He did however break a record that night. At just 18 years and 72 days old, Bryant became the youngest player to play in an official NBA game. Because we’re Stadium Goods, we should mention that his sneaker of choice that night was the adidas EQT Top Ten 2010.
1997 NBA All-Star Weekend - February 7, 1997 in Cleveland Ohio
Despite a slow start to his NBA career, Bryant became more acclimated to the pace of the professional game as the season progressed. He was officially off the schneid when he scored his first points in the NBA—on a free throw—versus the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden. By February, Bryant had shown enough poise to become a regular in head coach Del Harris’ rotation. What’s more, Kobe was chosen as a participant in the ‘97 NBA All-Star Weekend’s Rookie Challenge as well as that year’s Slam Dunk Contest. We all know what happened next, right? Still rocking a baldie and suited in his purple Lakers warm-up jacket, Bryant dazzled with reverse dunks and other high-flying antics to win the ‘97 NBA Slam Dunk contest. He became the youngest player to do so at just 18 years of age. Bryant wore a player exclusive purple colorway of the adidas EQT Elevation for the occasion.
1997 NBA Playoffs
Life starts to accelerate rather quickly following your high school graduation. For Kobe, roughly a year after taking singer and actress Brandy to his senior prom, he was logging serious minutes for a Lakers team with NBA Championship aspirations. In the Western Conference Semifinals versus the veteran Utah Jazz, Bryant was pressed into action following an injury to Byron Scott and an ejection to Robert Horry. Going to a rookie, an 18-year old at that, as your main scoring option with your season hinging on his performance is a tough ask, but that’s what the Lakers did. Kobe famously shot four airballs during the game’s final moments. The Jazz would go on to defeat the Lakers 98-91 in Game 5. Despite coming up short, Bryant’s resilient efforts didn’t go unnoticed. Shaq told reporters after the game that Kobe “was the only guy with guts to take shots like that.” It would be a sign of things to come in the years ahead. He closed out the season wearing the adidas EQT Elevation.