By: Jihad Shatara
When sports fans hear the term “Black Mamba” they do not think about one of the most deadly and venomous snakes to live on this planet. Sports fans think about one of the most feared, cold-blooded creatures to ever inhabit the basketball world.
They think about Kobe Bryant.
In 1996, a 17 year old kid by the name of Kobe Bryant was a sought after recruit who could have followed in the great Michael Jordan’s steps and played his college ball at the University of North Carolina. Instead, he decided to make decision that would change the sports world forever.
Coming out of Lower Merion High School as a diehard Los Angeles Lakers fan, Bryant took a bold step and declared for the NBA draft.
All the way up to the 1996 draft, a guard had never been drafted out of high school. That all changed when the Charlotte Hornets took Bryant with the 13th overall pick. In arguably one of the worst trades in basketball history, the Hornets traded the rights of Bryant to the Lakers in exchange for Vlade Divac.
Bryant struggled early in his career. He only averaged 15.5 minutes (according to ESPN Stats & Info) and was just an 18 year old kid trying to adjust to players twice his size. Still, players had trouble guarding the young Bryant. Bryant’s signature moment of his rookie season was becoming the youngest player ever to not only become a starter, but to win a dunk contest. Bryant will most be remembered for his rather bad shooting to end a series against the Utah Jazz. In the final minutes with all-star center Shaquille O’ Neal fouled out of the game, Bryant air balled for shots in the closing minutes to lose the series for the Lakers. After three years with the Lakers, many questioned if Bryant was ready for this style of play. Bryant’s luck would soon change though.
The Lakers hired all-time great coach Phil Jackson in the 1999 season. Jackson, most known for his run of championships with the Chicago Bulls, helped turned things around for Bryant. With Jackson now at the helm, Bryant notched All NBA honors, All Defensive team Honors, and an All Star appearance (ESPN Stats & Info). From 2000 to 2002, the Lakers won three consecutive titles and that put Bryant into elite category. Later in his career he would win two more titles putting him at five for a career.
Bryant’s game would forever revolutionize the game. In 2006, he scored 81 points in one game against the Toronto Raptors. He would finish his career as a five time NBA champion, two time Finals MVP, NBA league MVP, 18 time NBA All Star and even a two time Olympic gold medalist (ESPN Stats & Info). He finished his career with 33,643 points, and passed the great Michael Jordan in total career points this past season (ESPN Stats & Info).
This past season, Bryant released a letter stating that he was going to retire at years end. The basketball world was hit with a wave of emotion. The once most hated player in the NBA suddenly became a hero. No one wanted to see him go. In his final game of his career, against the Memphis Grizzlies, Bryant dropped 60 points in his Lakers finale.
Black Mamba. This is no longer associated with the deadly snake. Black Mamba is a name that refers to the cold-blooded assassin that is known as Kobe Bryant.