Kobe Bean Bryant (August 23, 1978 - January 26, 2020) was a high school phenom who was the Number 1 high school basketball player in the country and the recipient of the 1996 Naismith Prep Player of the Year as he averaged 30.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 4.0 steals in his senior season. Though every major basketball program sought the talented guard, Bryant opted to declare himself eligible for the 1996 NBA Draft after fellow high schooler Kevin Garnett was taken in the first round of the draft in 1995. The Charlotte Hornets (now the New Orleans Pelicans) took Kobe with the 13th overall pick of the 1996 NBA Draft making him the first guard ever taken out of high school. The Hornets traded Kobe to the Los Angeles Lakers in an agreement made during the 1996 NBA Draft. Bryant had an incredible first three years in the league earning a spot on the 1997 NBA All-Rookie Second Team, and was named to his first of 18 All-Star appearances in 1998 while also leading the Lakers to the Western Conference Finals alongside Shaquille O'Neal. Kobe was named to 15 consecutive All-NBA Teams and 12 All-NBA Defensive Teams. Over his 20-year NBA career, entirely spent with the Los Angeles Lakers (1996-2016), Bryant played in eight Western Conference Finals, won five NBA Finals Championships (2000-2002, 2009-2010) and was the 2009 and 2010 NBA Finals MVP. Kobe led the NBA in points four times, field goal attempts six times, games and field goals three times, twice in free throws and once in free throw attempts.
As was the case for many budding stars playing when Hall of Famer Michael Jordan's career waned, Bryant was considered an "Air-Apparent" to the NBA great, dazzling fans with his acrobatic dunks and possessing the ability to take over a game and lead his team to victory. Bryant proved to be one of the most able of the Jordan followers. In 2007-08, Kobe led the NBA in games (82), field goal attempts (1,690) and points (2,323) to earn the coveted NBA Most Valuable Player Award. He played on two United States Olympic Gold Medal teams (2008, 2012) and won the 2007 FIBA Americas Championships. In his career, Kobe Bryant scored 33,643 points, hit 11,719 field goals on 26,200 attempts, has 1,827 three pointers in 5,546 attempts and scored 8,378 free throws in 10,011 attempts. He was a 12-time NBA Defensive First Team selection and collected 7,047 total rebounds, 6,306 assists, 640 blocks and 1,944 steals. As a 34-year old, Bryant became the youngest player in history to reach 30,000 points and he is the all-time leading scorer in Lakers franchise history.
Just a few years into retirement, Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others were tragically killed when the helicopter they were flying in crashed on a Sunday morning in Calabasas, California. The star's untimely passing shook the basketball world like no one before.