Remembering Kobe Bryant: A look at the NBA legend’s earlier years

The relationship between Kobe Bryant and Los Angeles ran very deep; however, the late NBA legend also had deep ties extending well beyond the City of Angels.

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Bryant’s introduction to basketball came from his father, Joe, who played the Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers, and Houston Rockets. The elder Bryant eventually moved his family to Italy where he continued to play professionally.

During that time, Kobe developed a love for the game. The younger Bryant learned to speak fluent Italian, even saying that it would be a "dream" to play in Italy one day, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

"To hear him speak and joke in our language and to remember when his father played here and he was a kid drew a lot of people to the NBA," Ettore Messina, an Italian coach who worked as an assistant for the Lakers, told the Associated Press. "He was also always very attentive to help Italian kids arriving in the NBA and to help them enter such a tough and competitive world."

Bryant left Italy to play high school basketball in the United States, becoming a member of the basketball team at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

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The Patriot News said Bryant was a starter on the squad in his freshman year, but "that it took some time for the Aces to gel together," ultimately finishing with a 4-20 record that year.

The outlet reported that the following three seasons would show early signs of Bryant’s skill with the team with a cumulative 77-13 record. On average, Bryant earned 30.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4 steals and 3.8 blocked shots per game, according to Penn Live. Throughout his entire high school career, he earned 2,883 points, a state record.

He entered the NBA draft straight out of high school in 1996. The Lakers acquired the 17-year-old Bryant in a trade shortly after Charlotte drafted him, and he immediately became one of the most exciting and intriguing players in the sport alongside Shaquille O’Neal, who had signed with the Lakers as a free agent. 

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Bryant became the 18-time All-Star, winning five NBA championships and becoming one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career all with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Bryant retired as the third-leading scorer in NBA history with 33,643 points, all scored in Lakers purple and gold. The self-nicknamed Black Mamba was a prolific, gifted shooter with a sublime all-around game and a relentless, hard-edged work ethic that thrilled his fans and almost everyone else, even those who reviled him.

"For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. "He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary ... but he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability."

Bryant also cherished his life off the court. The New York Times reported on Bryant stayed in touch with his sophomore English teacher, Jeanne Mastriano, even after becoming a household name.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.