Basketball player. Born August 23, 1978 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Named after a Japanese steakhouse, Kobe is the son of former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant. In 1984, after ending his NBA career, the elder Bryant took the family to Italy where he played on the Italian League. Growing up in Italy alongside two athletic older sisters, Shaya and Sharia, Kobe was an avid player of both basketball and soccer. When the family returned to Philadelphia in 1991, Bryant joined the Lower Merion high school basketball team, leading it to the state championships four years in a row. With an eye on the NBA, he also started working out with the 76ers.
Though he boasted good grades and high SAT scores, Bryant decided to go straight to the NBA from high school. In 1996, he was picked by Charlotte in the draft and was subsequently traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. In his second season as guard he was voted a starter for the 1998 All-Star Game, becoming at 19 the youngest All-Star in NBA history. Bryant went on to help the team win three consecutive NBA championships and was voted first-team all-NBA in 2002 and 2003. He also inked multi-year endorsement deals with Adidas, Sprite and other top sponsors.
Bryant married 19-year-old Vanessa Laine in April 2001. In July 2003, he was charged with one count of sexual assault on a 19-year-old female hotel worker in Colorado. Bryant said he was guilty of adultery, but innocent of the rape charge. The case against Bryant was dismissed in 2004, and Laine’s civil lawsuit against the star player was later settled out of court.
After a few lackluster seasons, Bryant helped his team make it to the 2008 NBA Finals. The team was defeated by the Boston Celtics, but they returned the following year. In the 2009 NBA finals, the Lakers beat the Orlando Magic to win the championship title.
Shortly after the NBA Finals, Bryant was part of the memorial service to honor friend and music superstar Michael Jackson. He also announced his decision to stay with the Los Angeles Lakers for several more years around this time.