The Charlotte Hornets drafted Kobe Bryant with the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft on June 26, 1996. Bryant was the best high school player in the country and went straight to the NBA from Lower Merion in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.
As basketball fans know, Bryant never played a single game for the Hornets. On July 11, 1996, the LA Lakers traded Vlade Divac to Charlotte for Bryant. The Lakers were Bryant’s favorite team growing up, so the high-flying shooting guard was excited to play for LA.
When players get drafted, they usually have a draft party with their friends and family to celebrate the joyous occasion. However, Kobe Bryant was built differently.
Kobe Bryant struggled during his rookie season
The Lakers went 56-26 during the 1996-97 season and made the playoffs. However, Kobe Bryant struggled as a rookie and embarrassed himself in the second round of the postseason against the Utah Jazz.
Bryant appeared in 71 games during his rookie season. He averaged 7.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.3 assists while shooting 41.7% from the field, 37.5% from beyond the arc, and 81.9% from the free-throw line. Bryant’s best game came on April 8, 1997, against the Golden State Warriors. He put up a season-high 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting.
The Lakers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the 1997 playoffs. The Jazz, though, eliminated LA in the Western Conference Semifinals in five games. In Game 5, Bryant had the worst game of his NBA career. He not only finished the contest with 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting in 29 minutes, but Bryant shot four airballs and was the laughingstock of the NBA.
Most players would be down on themselves and never muster up the courage to be great after shooting four airballs in a playoff game. However, Kobe Bryant wasn’t like most players, which was evident before he stepped foot on an NBA floor.
Kobe Bryant worked out instead of having a draft party in 1996
Tim Grover, who trained Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, told GQ that Bryant went to the gym and worked out in 1996 after getting drafted instead of having a draft party. Bryant was 17 when he got selected by the Hornets and already had the Mamba mentality.
“At age 17, he gets drafted, and people know that when you get drafted in whatever sport, somebody usually throws this big draft party for you,” Grover said. “Kobe gets drafted, no draft party, no celebration. He goes and works out. He goes to the gym and works out after he got drafted.”
Kobe Bryant may have struggled as a rookie in the NBA, but he had the work ethic and mindset to be an all-time great right away. His rookie season was the only campaign he averaged single digits.
The Black Mamba turned into an NBA legend
Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in NBA history. His four airballs against the Jazz fueled him never to come up short in the clutch ever again.
An 18-time All-Star and five-time champion, Bryant averaged 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists in 1,346 games with the Lakers. He’s the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history and recognized as the second-best shooting guard ever behind Michael Jordan.
Kobe Bryant was named a Hall of Famer in 2020. It will be very emotional during his induction ceremony since Bryant is no longer with us and is dearly missed.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.