Kobe Bryant (1978- )

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Professional basketball superstar Kobe Bryant has played for the Los Angeles (California) Lakers since 1996 when he came to the team as an 18-year-old, the youngest player in National Basketball Association (NBA) history. Bryant is a long-time philanthropist, using his well-known name to fundraise for a number of causes. His stellar career was tarnished in 2003 when he was arrested for alleged sexual assault, resulting in a suit that was settled out of court a year later.

Bryant is the youngest of three children born on August 23, 1978 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to former National Basketball Association player and Women’s National Basketball Association head coach Joe “Jellybean” Bryant and Pamela Cox Bryant. His parents named him after the popular Japanese steak of the same name. In 1983, Bryant’s father left the NBA and moved his family to Italy to play professional basketball. Young Kobe quickly adapted to his environment, learning to speak fluent Italian and Spanish. Besides learning to play basketball at an early age, Bryant also became a skilled soccer player. Following his father’s retirement from basketball in 1991, the family returned to Philadelphia.

While in high school Bryant became a top basketball prospect at Lower Merion High School in suburban Philadelphia. In his senior year Bryant led his team in scoring and to a state championship. He finished his high school career as Southeastern Pennsylvania’s all-time leading scorer with 2,883 points. In 1996 he earned the USA Today National High School Player of the Year and Naismith Player of the Year awards among other honors. Despite his academic success in high school leading to many offers of collegiate scholarships, 17-year-old Bryant decided to forgo college and enter the NBA draft in 1996. The Charlotte Hornets drafted him 13th overall, but he was immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.

During his 14-year professional career, Bryant has won five NBA Championships in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010. He also earned the league’s Most Valuable Player award during the 2007-2008 season and the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player in 2009 and 2010. In 2008, Bryant led a young United States basketball team to a gold medal in the Beijing (China) Olympics.

Bryant’s basketball skills have earned him millions in endorsements from numerous companies including Coca Cola, Nike, Adidas, Spalding along with several video games. In 2010, Forbes ranked Bryant as the highest paid NBA player at $48 million. That same year Bryant signed a two-year endorsement with Turkish Airlines.

As a philanthropist, Bryant served since 2007 as the official ambassador for After-School All-Stars (ASAS), an American non-profit organization that provides after-school programs to children in several cities throughout the U.S.  He has also served as a spokesperson for the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the Center for Abused Children, Make-a-Wish Foundation, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and Plaza de la Raza, a Latino cultural center in L.A.  In 2006, Bryant founded the VIVO Foundation, a non-profit designed to improve the quality of life of children through educational and cultural and financial support. In 2001, Bryant married Vanessa Laine. The Bryant’s have two daughters Natalia Diamant and Gianna Maria-Onore.

Bryant’s accomplishments on and off the court were tarnished however during the summer of 2003 when he was arrested by the Eagle County, Colorado sheriff’s department for an alleged sexual assault filed by a 19-year-old hotel employee. Bryant admitted to the sexual encounter but denied raping the young woman. Prosecutors dropped Bryant’s case in 2004 after the accused refused to testify. Following the trial, Bryant settled a civil suit against him out of court for an undisclosed amount.

Kobe Bryant retired from the Los Angeles Lakers at the end of the 2015-2016 season. He was 38. Unusual for NBA players, Bryan had spent his entire 20 years in the NBA with one team, the Lakers.