Possibly on the verge of a fifth championship, Kobe Bryant began his career at the age of 18, 14 seasons ago. Bryant, now 31, has had a successful career thus far. He has progressed like probably no player ever has. Most of the all-time greats were amazing in their first season, but Kobe had to learn to be great. From his time as a little-played rookie to a major component of a team playing in the finals, we look at Kobe and his teams through his ages: vs. Michael Jordan!
Age 18 -Kobe - After skipping college, Bryant didn't score much in his rookie year, 1996-97. Shaq was in L.A. and some of his teammates were Derek Fisher, Robert Horry, Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel, Byron Scott and Jerome Kersey. Coach Del Harris led the Lakers to a 56-26 record but they lost in the second round vs Utah.
Age 18-Mike - At age 18, in 1981, Jordan had signed to play college ball at N. Carolina.
Age 19-Kobe - Improved a little in the 1997-98 season, but fell back in the playoffs as they lost again to the Jazz 0-4 in the Western Conference Finals. Del Harris was disappointed because they went 61-21 that year.
Age 19-Mike - Hit the game winning shot to win the NCAA championship in 1981-82, as a freshman starting guard.
Age 20-Kobe - He was developing. The Lakers picked up Glen Rice for shooting help, and even had Rodman for a while, but the coach situation was convoluted and the Lakers had three coaches that year; Del Harris, Bill Bertka and Kurt Rambis. They went 31-19 in the strike shortened season of 1999 and lost in the second round 0-4 to S.A.
Age 20-Mike - Was named College Player of the Year and had an amazing season at N. Carolina in 1982-83.
Age 21- Kobe - In 1999-2000 they finally won a title. Phil Jackson had come in as coach and the Lakers picked up John Salley, Brian Shaw and Ron Harper as well. They finished 67-15 and Shaq was Finals MVP.
Age 21-Mike - Was named College Player of the Year for the second straight season in 1983-84, and figured it was obvious he needed to go pro.
Age 22-Kobe - Won a second straight title as second fiddle to Shaq, who was Finals MVP once again. The team went 56-26 and picked up Horace Grant and Isaiah Rider in 2000-01.
Age 22-Mike - Came in and had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time in 1984-85 by leading the NBA in total points on great shooting and taking one of the crappiest rosters ever to the playoffs. He was Rookie of the Year! His team's coach was Kevin Loughery and they lost to Milwaukee in the first round.
Age 23 -Kobe - Won the NBA title again under Phil with new acquisition Mitch Richmond on the team in 2001-02. They went 58-24. Shaq was named MVP for the third time.
Age 23-Mike - Broke his leg and missed 64 games, but made it back to help get his team into the playoffs over the last 15 games. They lost to Boston under new coach Stan Albeck in the first round, but the second year player Jordan set an all-time record by bombarding Boston with 63 points. That is still the most points ever scored in a playoff game.
Age 24-Kobe - Kobe and Shaq weren't exactly sure who was team-leader as if it weren't already obvious with Shaq. Kobe wanted to score more so he did and the Lakers fell to 50-32 in 2002-03. They lost to S.A. in the second round.
Age 24-Mike - Had the most amazing individual scoring season, in 1986-87, ever by joining Wilt in hallowed air, never seen before or after. The Bulls had one of the worst rosters of all-time though and they lost to Boston in the first round. They had a new coach again, this time in Doug Collins.
Age 25-Kobe - Lakers acquired Karl Malone and Gary Payton to help Kobe and Shaq. They finished 52-30 and lost badly in the Finals to Detroit in 2003-04. Kobe scored, but in the Finals was shut down.
Age 25-Mike - Jordan and coach Doug Collins were all the Bulls had in 1987-88. Jordan was named NBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year and led the league in scoring for the second straight season. They lost to Detroit in the second round. They went 50-32.
Age 26-Kobe - Was alone, as Shaq and Phil took off. With only Kobe, the Lakers missed the playoffs and finished 34-48. Rudy Tomjanovich and Frank Hamblen both coached the team in 2004-05.
Age 26-Mike - Led the league in scoring again and Pippen was young and developing as the Bulls went 47-35 under Collins. They lost to Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1988-89.
Age 27-Kobe - Lakers picked up Jim Jackson to help Kobe, who led the league in scoring for the first time of two times in 2005-06. This was Kobe's big individual year but the Lakers got Phil Jackson back and finished 45-37 and losing to Phoenix in the first round.
Age 27-Mike - The Bulls went 50-32 in 1989-90 under Phil and they lost again to Detroit 4-3 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan led the league in scoring for the fourth straight year.
Age 28-Kobe - Under Phil Jackson in 2006-07, the Lakers finished 42-40 and lost again to Phoenix in the first round. Bynum came to the Lakers. Kobe led the league in scoring for the second, and last time.
Age 28-Mike - Led the league in scoring in 1990-91 and was named NBA MVP and Finals MVP as the Bulls beat Detroit and then the Lakers in the Finals 4-1. Pippen came alive.
Age 29-Kobe - Bryant finally had a center again in Gasol. He made it back to the Finals, 2007-08, only to lose the series to Boston 4-2. Kobe was named NBA MVP.
Age 29-Mike - The Bulls went 67-15 in 1991-92 and Jordan was once again NBA MVP and Finals MVP. He led the league in scoring for the sixth straight time. They beat Portland in the Finals 4-2.
Age 30-Kobe - Lakers beat Orlando in five games to win the title in 2008-09 . They finished 65-17 under Phil. Kobe was named Finals MVP for the first time.
Age 30-Mike - Led the Bulls to a third straight title in a 57-25 season that saw Jordan lead the league in scoring again and named Finals MVP again. The Bulls, under Phil, beat Phoenix 4-2 in 1992-93 Finals.
Age 31-Kobe - Older and wiser, is in the Finals again in 2009-10. Gasol looks like a Finals MVP but Kobe helps with scoring.
Age 31-Mike - was retired and the Bulls lost in the second round, vs. N.Y. Jordan played with the minor league baseball team the Birmingham Barons and led that league in stolen bases as a 31-year-old rookie and had 3 home runs.
Age 32-Mike - Was still retired at the beginning of the season but then returned with 17 games left. The Bulls were on the verge of missing the playoffs (34-31), but finished 13-4 with him in the lineup. They made the playoffs, barely, but lost in the second round vs. Orlando and Shaq.
Age 33-Mike - Completed an amazing comeback in 1995-96 by leading the Bulls to an all-time record 72-10, 25 wins more than the previous season. He also led the league in scoring for a record eighth time and was named NBA MVP. They won in the Finals over Seattle 4-2.
Age 34-Mike - Led the league in scoring for the ninth time and beat NBA MVP Karl Malone in the Finals 4-2 under Phil, and was named Finals MVP for the 5th time in 1996-97. They went an amazing 69-13. Kobe averaged 7.6 points in this season as a rookie.
Age 35-Mike - Became a 10 time scoring champion, five-time MVP, and six time Finals MVP in 1997-98. He was the oldest ever player to do any of that. The Bulls went 62-20 under Phil and beat the Jazz again 4-2. Jordan was 6-0 in the Finals!
Age 36-Mike - Retired again after second three-peat. Year was 1999.
Age 37 - retired
Age 38 - retired
Age 39 -Jordan - Came out of retirement again and amazingly led Washington in scoring at age 39. The year before, the Wizards were 19-63 and in 2001-02 they finished 37-45, an 18-game improvement. Jordan was the only new guy on the team.
Age 40-Jordan - He became the oldest player ever to score 40 points in a game and average over 20 points per game. An amazing feat for a guy who was the only player on the Wizards that year to play in all 82 games, and he was 40! They went 37-45 again, but the next year with Jordan gone they were back at 25-57. Wow, even at 40, MJ was a bad man, schooling little kids half his age.
Can Kobe finish off like Mike? No. He didn't start off like him either. Kobe should be compared more closely to Clyde Drexler or Jerry West, but he cant hang with MJ.