So, yeah, he had big plans and a broad reach. “As basketball players, we’re really supposed to shut up and dribble,” he’d said accepting his Oscar, making reference to the words detractors use whenever athletes dare form an opinion on anything outside of their shooting form. “I’m glad we can do a little bit more than that.”
Though he was awfully good at the dribbling.
The son of former NBA player Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant, the sports prodigy was blasted into the spotlight even before he left the halls of Pennsylvania’s Lower Merion High School, leading his team to a 1996 state championship, its first in more than 50 years, and then taking Brandy—one of the decade’s biggest pop stars—to prom. Chosen 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets, he was the first guard to be picked in the first round of the NBA draft straight out of high school, a move that required equal parts skill and confidence, both of which he had in abundance.
Thanks to an immediate trade deal, he landed in L.A. with the Lakers, where he’d be joined by Shaquille O’Neal and remain for his entire career.
Chosen for the All-Star Game in 18 of his 20 seasons, he was named All-NBA 15 times, the NBA Finals MVP twice and the league’s most valuable player in 2008, two years after he scored an astonishing 81 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors. (That total remains only second to basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain‘s 100-point game.)
A decade into his professional career, he changed his number from 8 to 24, the one he’d worn in high school, to acknowledge his growth as a player and a man. Both were retired by the Lakers in 2017.