Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant announced his retirement on Monday.
Now in his 20th year in the league, it's hard to imagine Kobe was ever young. Of course, the Lakers legend actually entered the NBA right out of high school, and was only 17 when the Charlotte Hornets drafted and traded him to the Lakers.
In 1998, Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen profiled a 19-year-old Bryant before a Lakers playoff run, and the story is filled with outstanding anecdotes. We've picked out some of the best ones here, but you should really check out the full story in the redesigned vault.
Karl Malone did not like young Kobe
When you think of Karl Malone and Kobe, undoubtedly you think of the Lakers’ failed 2004 championship run, when Malone and Gary Payton joined Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant for a chance at a title. In 1998, it seems Malone wanted no part of Bryant. The Mailman took issue with the Lakers star for his behavior during the All-Star game, when even then a young Kobe tried doing everything by himself.
Western Conference coach George Karl benched [Bryant] in the fourth quarter of the All-Star Game, and several of the older players--but then they were all older, weren't they?--were apparently fed up with everything Bryant stood for. Karl Malone recalled trying to set a pick for him. "The guy told me he's got it," the 34-year-old Malone said. "Like I told Coach Karl, when younger guys tell me to get out of the way, that's a game I don't need to be in. I was ticked."
One can only imagine how many times Bryant told Malone to get out of the way when they were teammates, and how much Malone must've hated it.
Kobe cried when Magic Johnson retired
A young Kobe idolized Magic Johnson and the Lakers. The story even mentions Kobe owning a Lakers jacket he wore proudly as a baby, before moving up to a leather Lakers jacket when he was older. Kobe also had a giant Magic Johnson poster in his room. When Bryant's father learned before his official announcement Johnson would be retiring due to his HIV-positive status, he broke the news to his son, who was very upset.
Pam and Joe talked it over, and in the morning, without mentioning Johnson's prognosis, they told their 13-year-old son that his idol had been forced into retirement. They were living in Mulhouse, France, at the time. The boy was crying, and it took all the father's strength not to cry along with him as they took their 45-minute trip across the Swiss border to the international school the children attended.
"I was sad because Kobe was sad," Sharia says. "I never imagined feeling that way about somebody I'd never met. It hurt him as if it was a family member. For a week he was missing meals. It was really, really hard for him."
Even at 19, Kobe was criticized for shooting too much
From year three through year 20, people questioned Kobe's style of play.
This debate--should Bryant be more aggressive or more of a team player?--is going to define his career. He is the Lakers' best one-on-one player, and his ability to create his own shot, as well as dish off to his teammates, will be crucial to the team's success in the playoffs. Bryant is under the most intense scrutiny, knowing that he will receive a large part of the blame if the Lakers lose. He will have to trust his instincts if he is to become the great player who leads his teammates to a title.
"I've been fighting the people around me this year, as far as them questioning my shot selection and how I should adjust to them," he says.
Kobe taught himself basketball by watching taped games and practicing the moves
Growing up in Europe, Bryant couldn't turn on the TV and watch basketball every night. Instead, his grandparents sent him videotapes of all the big games. Kobe would watch the games with his dad, then try mimicking the moves on the court.
The videotapes used to arrive in Italy every couple of days, like letters from home. Kobe's grandparents would tape the biggest NBA games, as well as TV shows and movies, and Joe would receive tapes of other games from a couple of NBA scouting services to which he subscribed. In all he and Kobe watched the Lakers about 40 times a year.
Kobe would sit in front of the TV and study what a player did with his shoulders, his feet, his head, as if that were the whole point of watching, to decide how the man was balancing his weight without betraying his intentions.
After watching the tapes over and over, Kobe would go outside, alone, and try to beat the world's best players at their own game, more dependent on his imagination than any kid growing up in America.
Thomsen's profile is filled with many more fascinating nuggets, including which colleges likely would have attended if he didn't go pro, his pre-draft workout for Jerry West, and quotes from Magic Johnson, Robert Horry, Shaq and more. You can read the whole story here.