Kobe Bryant made the controversial decision to jump straight from Lower Merion High School to the NBA in 1996, and the Los Angeles Lakers legend told reporters in Toronto on Saturday that he has never regretted the choice.
When asked to reflect on the best choice he's made during his 20-year tenure in the pros, the Black Mamba pointed to the one that allowed him to transition to the Association at just 18 years old.
"The best decision (I ever made was) coming straight to the NBA and skipping college," Bryant said, according to USA Today's Mike Bohn. "That's it—the best one."
Bryant later elaborated on his response but cautioned that his polarizing route to the NBA wouldn't suit every high-profile prospect, per Bohn:
You have high school players that go to college, stay for four years and come out and they're not ready; you got certain high school players that skip college and they're ready. So I think it depends on the mentors that you have, it depends on the internal motivation or spirit of the kid himself. Ultimately it depends on the teachers that you have and the mentors that you have. You can go to college for four years and get horrible mentorship and be worse off than a kid who came to the league at 17.
Five rings, 18 All-Star selections, a regular-season MVP award and two NBA Finals MVP awards later, it's easy to agree with Bryant's sentiment.
However, it's worth remembering Kobe's career didn't start in spectacular fashion under head coach Del Harris. During his 1996-97 rookie campaign, Bryant averaged just 15.5 minutes per game off the bench for the Lakers. In fact, Kobe didn't make his first start until Jan. 28 of his inaugural season.
"He pushed me back then to try to be as efficient as possible to get some minutes on the floor," Bryant said of Harris in January, according to the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina. "I had to earn everything I got. I’m very appreciative now."
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With his decorated career coming to a close, Bryant will have a chance to capture All-Star glory one final time Sunday evening (8 p.m. ET on TNT) when he starts for the Western Conference alongside Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant.
And while a fifth All-Star Game MVP award may be out of Bryant's reach at 37 years old, it will be thrilling to see how he performs and how the Toronto faithful receive him as the curtains draw to a close on his illustrious career.