The late great Kobe Bryant was recently inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan stood by Vanessa Bryant as she delivered a powerful speech about her late husband, one of the greatest basketball players in NBA history.
Since Bryant died in 2020, many of his game-worn jerseys and shoes have been sold in sports auctions. On Sunday, the Los Angeles Lakers icon’s earliest known game-worn rookie jersey was bought by a billionaire for an all-time record for any basketball jersey or Kobe item.
Kobe Bryant was so-so as a rookie
Although he had several highlight plays, Bryant struggled during his rookie season in the NBA. He averaged 7.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.3 assists in 15.5 minutes while shooting 41.7% from the field, 37.5% from beyond the arc, and 81.9% from the free-throw line.
The Lakers won 56 games in 1996-97 behind the dominant play of Shaquille O’Neal. In the 1997 playoffs, they defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round in four games, setting up a second-round clash with Karl Malone, John Stockton, and the Utah Jazz. During that series, Bryant embarrassed himself. He shot four airballs in Game 5 and finished with 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting in the Lakers’ 98-93 loss.
Bryant could have lost the courage to become an all-time great after his dreadful performance against the Jazz. However, he worked tirelessly on his craft in the summer of 1997 and came back a different player the following season.
Kobe Bryant became an All-Star in Year 2 and never looked back
Bryant became an All-Star in his second season. He finished the campaign averaging 15.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 79 games. The Black Mamba wound up making 18 All-Star teams during his decorated career with the Lakers and won four All-Star Game MVPs.
With O’Neal by his side, Bryant went to four NBA Finals, winning three straight in 2000, 2001, and 2002. The Lakers defeated the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, and New Jersey Nets, with O’Neal winning all three Finals MVPs. However, the dynasty ended in 2004 after LA lost to the Detroit Pistons in the Finals, and Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat.
After O’Neal was traded, Bryant put up incredible numbers, but he missed the playoffs in 2005 and was bounced in the first round of the postseason in 2006 and 2007. The Lakers knew they had to get more talent around Bryant, so they acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies at the 2008 trade deadline. That move helped them reach the Finals in 2008, 2009, and 2010.
The Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics in 2008, but they rebounded nicely by winning two straight titles in 2009 and 2010. Bryant won back-to-back Finals MVPs and accomplished his goal of getting one more ring than O’Neal, who won his fourth championship in 2006 with Dwyane Wade.
Bryant is universally recognized as the second-greatest shooting guard in NBA history behind Jordan. Since he’s no longer alive, his game-worn jerseys and shoes are extremely valuable, and billionaire Bob Duggan recently found that out.
Billionaire buys rookie Kobe jersey for $3.7 million
Goldin Auctions, the leading marketplace for collectibles and trading cards, held a sports auction on May 23. One of the most notable items in the auction was Bryant’s earliest known game-worn rookie jersey. It sold for $3,690,000, an all-time record for any basketball jersey.
The winning bidder was Duggan, a Forbes 400 self-made multi-billionaire. The jersey is signed by Bryant, who finished his NBA career with averages of 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists in 1,346 games with the Lakers. He also won two scoring titles and one MVP to go along with his five championships.
Bryant’s impact on the game of basketball will never be forgotten. He may no longer be with us, but his spirit and legacy will always remain intact.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.