Kobe Bryant is among the greatest players that ever touched a basketball. He has been a truly amazing scorer and a solid defender throughout his career. However, Bryant had an inconsistent career when it came to his public image.
There were years where Kobe was the most respected player in the game, and there were other, more forgettable, seasons where Bryant was the most despised player in the game.
This list takes into consideration Bryant’s statistical performance and his image among fans and analysts across the league.
Bryant’s most forgettable season might be his rookie year. Not only did Bryant average career lows in points, rebounds and assists, but his image was not pretty either. The only bright moment was when Kobe won the dunk contest that year.
In the playoffs of that year, against the Utah Jazz, Bryant shot an air ball in the closing minutes of the game and completely missed the net on three three-pointers in overtime. That moment in his career is probably the moment Mamba would like to forget the most.
Although Bryant had an amazing statistical campaign in 2004-2005, his image as a player hit rock bottom.
Bryant was the most despised player in the league at that time. Many accused him of kicking Shaq out of the Lakers. In addition, his sexual assault case did anything but improve his reputation.
The Black Mamba also failed to lead his team to the playoffs. This was the first time since 1993-1994, and only the fifth time in Lakers history, that the franchise failed to reach the postseason. Bryant took the most blame for the Lakers’ failure that year.
Although the 97-98 season is among his worst statistical season, Kobe Bryant had a decent year for a 19-year-old sophomore. The Black Mamba became one of the best sixth men of the league that year and was slowly establishing himself as a solid defender.
However, the 1998 postseason was anything but spectacular for Bryant. The then 19-year-old posted some of his worst playoff stats. He also had difficulty hitting free throws in that year’s postseason, as he hit a playoff career low 69 percent from the line.
Kobe Bryant appearing in court in 2004
The 03-04 season was not a very pretty one for Kobe. Actually, it was a very ugly one. In the offseason preceding the 2003-2004 campaign, Bryant’s reputation took a huge hit: He was accused of sexually assaulting a woman.
Not only did Bryant’s scoring decrease from 30 PPG to 24 compared to a year before, but Mamba was having very publicized feuds with teammates. For instance, Kobe Bryant was upset at Karl Malone for making inappropriate comments about his wife, Vanessa.
Bryant also took a lot of heat for the poor performance he displayed in the finals of that year. Kobe shot a miserable 35 percent from the field in that series against the Pistons.
Bryant had a solid 1999 campaign, where he averaged 20 points per game. It was his first year in which he was starting games regularly. Kobe not only established himself as the second star of the Lakers that year, but also as one of the finest perimeter defenders. Despite Mamba’s improvement, the Lakers fell short in the playoffs, as they were swept by the Spurs in the second round.
Although Kobe Bryant was a better player statically compared to most players in the league, last season was a disappointing one overall. Even though No. 24 was very consistent throughout the season, there wasn’t a game where he went into a rampage.
Kobe also had a disappointing postseason. His 22.8 PPG in the playoffs was his worst playoff average since 2000. Bryant’s defense was also disappointing when the Lakers faced the Mavericks in the second round.
After his performance last year, many fans are questioning Bryant’s status as a superstar and how long he will be a prominent player in the league.
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal formed one of the deadliest combinations the NBA has ever seen
Bryant had a very good 2000 season. The then 21-year-old was slowly establishing himself as an NBA star, with his impressive 22.5 points per game campaign. Bryant’s development as a star was crucial to the Lakers championship that year. Bryant seemed like a perfect compliment to Shaquille O’Neal.
Kobe had some stellar performances that year. There was one point where he posted four straight 50-point games, including a game in which he scored 65 points against the Portland Trail Blazers. However, Bryant and his Lakers decreased their win totals that year compared to the year before and suffered elimination in the hands of the Phoenix Suns in a short five-game series in the first round.
The 2003 season was possibly Kobe Bryant’s best all-around season. Bryant averaged career highs in rebounds, three-point percentage, steals, minutes per game and finished third in MVP voting. His 5.9 assists per game was also a career high at that point of his career. That year also marked a new era for the Lakers: The era in which Kobe Bryant was the top-dog of the team. Bryant also had a stretch in which he scored 40 or more points in nine consecutive games.
Despite Bryant’s tremendous season, the Lakeshow fell short in the playoffs to eventual champions Spurs.
2008 was the year when Bryant finally got an MVP. Kobe was a good reason why the Lakers reached the NBA finals for the first time in four years. However, Bryant’s image was not the prettiest.
In the offseason, before the start of the 07-08 season, Kobe Bryant called out teammate Andrew Bynum. In addition, Bryant also requested to be traded from the Lakers.
Before the 07-08 season began, many questioned whether or not Kobe Bryant would ever win a championship again, let alone carry his team to the second round. Bryant, silenced many of his critics by carrying his team to the finals.
Unfortunately for the Black Mamba, his image took another hit when the Lakers were destroyed by the Boston Celtics by 39 points in the last game of the playoffs. Shaq also made an infamous rap song in which he claimed that Bryant can’t do anything without the big man.
The 07-08 season was a roller coaster when it came to Kobe Bryant’s reputation.
Kobe Bryant had a stellar 2001-2002 campaign. It was Kobe Bryant’s most efficient year from the field, shooting nearly 47 percent from the floor. Bryant was a key contributor to the Lakers’ three-peat that year.
The 2009 campaign was a special one for Bryant. Before the Lakers grabbed their 15th title, many of Kobe’s critics claimed that he would never win another championship. No. 24 proved his critics wrong. This championship, and the finals MVP, not only added to Kobe’s amazing resume, but also attracted many new fans of the great Lakers guard.
Although it was not Bryant’s best statistical season, he did show a lot of maturity in his game that year. The shot selection he displayed that year was some of the best in his entire career.
The 00-01 Lakers were one of the scariest teams in NBA history. They had two players averaging nearly 30 points per game. Kobe Bryant improved his status from a star player to an NBA superstar. Bryant averaged a spectacular 28.5 PPG, while sharing the offensive load with the dominant Shaquille O’Neal.
Bryant and Shaq were the catalysts of probably the best playoff team the league has ever seen. The two superstars led their team to a 15-1 record in the playoffs.
The big Aristotle had some very kinds words to say about Bryant following their championship victory. O’Neal claimed that Kobe was not only his idol, but also the best player in the league.
Kobe Bryant was the most feared player for many reasons that year. One of them was due to the fact that he hit the shot when it mattered the most. The Black Mamba nailed six game-winners in the 2010 campaign.
Bryant also played magnificently in the playoffs, leading the Lakers to a second consecutive championship. Although Kobe had an ugly Game 7 from the field, in which he shot 6-24, No. 24 grabbed 15 rebounds in the decisive game. It just shows how Kobe still excels at other things when he struggles from the field.
The championship win by the Lakers, led by Bryant, was also a significant one as they defeated their arch-rival Celtics and are now only trailing by one to Boston in the Championship count.
There is no doubt that the 2006 NBA season was Bryant’s best season. Bryant had his best points per game average that year, and one of the best point per game averages in NBA history. In that year, Bryant slaughtered the Toronto Raptors with an 81-point performance, destroyed the Mavs in three quarters with a 62-point performance and set a franchise record for the most 40-point games ever by a Laker.
Bryant’s poor reputation had a huge boost that year. The Black Mamba reconciled with rival Shaquille O’Neal, and brought the Lakers back in the playoffs with a terrible cast (young Andrew Bynum, Luke Walton, Brian Cook, Kwame Brown, Chris Mihm, Smush Parker).
Forget the first round exit in the playoffs, this was Kobe’s biggest year in his career. He converted critics into fans, improved his image in a lot of ways and drew some new fans to the NBA when those people heard that some guy scored 81 points in a game.