Kobe Bryant was among the few exceptional athletes drafted to the NBA straight after high school. His personality always emanated confidence, which had even captivated the Orlando Magic star, Penny Hardaway. Young Kobe was a huge fan of the Orlando Magic superstar and had the opportunity to meet him through his father, Joe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant, while he was a junior in high school. Years later, when Hardaway recalled his first meeting with Bryant, the 4x All-Star was awed at Kobe predicting his future in the NBA.
In an interview clip uploaded by gamechaingersinc on Instagram, Hardaway described his conversation with Kobe Bryant, where the then high-school prodigy mentioned how he planned to forgo his senior year of high school to declare eligibility for the NBA draft. When Kobe’s father, Joe Bryant, brought him to a 1994-95 season game of the Orlando Magic, Kobe told Penny Hardaway, “Next year, I’m going to be playing against you”.
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What surprised Hardaway the most was when Kobe further declared, “I even thought about forgoing my senior year,” a feat that has never been done in the NBA. Though Kobe did complete his senior year in high school, Penny Hardaway was impressed when Kobe declared his draft eligibility in a highly publicized press conference as a 17-year-old.
Kobe had a high enough SAT score of 1080 to ensure admission to any college of his choice. However, the Mamba chose to forgo college and become the sixth player in the league’s history to become a prep-to-pro NBA player.
Bryant was eventually drafted as a 13th overall pick by the Charlotte Hornets and was traded immediately to the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite his immense potential, it took Bryant two seasons to adjust well to the league’s competitiveness. However, Bryant truly showed his real potential in the third season of his career.
Kobe Bryant emerged as a premier player in the league by his third season
Kobe Bryant started receiving more minutes on the court and a chance to showcase more of his abilities only by the second season of his career. However, in his third season, Bryant emerged as a premier guard in the NBA.
The Lakers trading their starting guards, Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones, made Bryant start almost every game during the lockout-shortened 50-game season. At that time, the media and fans were truly impressed by the talents of this young emerging, comparing his skills to veteran greats Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.
Kobe seemed to have found his sync with veteran teammate Shaquille O’Neal, an important piece in the Lakers winning the 1999-2001 three-peat titles. At such a young age back then, Kobe’s mentality was quite stalworth.
The sheer conviction of declaring himself as an NBA star during his draft and further cementing himself after struggling for two seasons speaks volumes of his legacy. Kobe Bryant’s story inspires several young stars trying to make it big in the NBA or any sport per se.