Became A Team Player
While praise abounded for the young player, Bryant did receive his share of criticism on one account: he was regarded by many as a "selfish" player. Perceived as a loner, Bryant rarely socialized with his party-going teammates, preferring to work out and study game tapes. Some sports writers pointed to his tendency to strive for individual distinctions rather than for team victories. And many journalists criticized Bryant in particular for often wresting control of the game from the Lakers' biggest star, O'Neal, the 7-foot-1, 330-pound center known affectionately as "Shaq." In these instances, the Lakers nearly always lost.
The end of the 1999-2000 season heralded a change in Bryant's attitude. When he jumped into Shaq's arms upon the Lakers' championship victory over the Indiana Pacers, the media took notice, pointing to a new camaraderie between the star players. Bryant's new emphasis on teamwork helped the Lakers to dominate the game throughout the early 2000s. Once considered Shaq's inferior, Bryant was beginning to rise to the superstar's level.
Another change arrived simultaneously: In 2000 the 21-year-old player became engaged. He had met 18-year-old Vanessa Laine a year earlier at a music-video shoot where she was working as a background dancer. Laine was still in high school when she and Bryant became engaged, and the media scoffed the pair for being too young to marry. "You just try to forget [the criticism] and enjoy the moment," Bryant told Karen Crouse of the Palm Beach Post. "I'm very fortunate to have found my life mate at such an early age." The couple married in 2001, just before the playoffs began.
Meanwhile the Lakers continued to lead the NBA. In the 2000-01 season, Bryant averaged 28.5 points per game. In the 2001 finals against the Philadelphia 76ers, he averaged 24.6 points and 5.8 assists per game in five playoff matches, helping to lift the Lakers to another championship victory. The sports media focused in on Bryant and Shaq as the NBA's most powerful duo.
The pair helped the Lakers to their third consecutive championship in 2001-02, when the team defended its title against the New Jersey Nets. In January of 2002, Bryant scored a career high of fifty-six points against the Memphis Grizzlies. He ended the season with averages of 25.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game, and was selected to the 2001-02 All-NBA First Team and the All-Defensive Second Team. In the 2002 All-Star Game, Bryant received Most Valuable Player distinction, netting thirty-one points, five rebounds, and five assists.
By age twenty-four, Bryant had surpassed the talents of many basketball players in the peaks of their careers. While it is likely that he has many more years ahead of him in the NBA, sports writers cannot predict when Bryant's own peak will come and go. But most agree that the Philadelphia native is destined to become one of basketball's great legends.
- Kobe Bryant - Career Statistics
- Kobe Bryant - Related Biography: Basketball Player Joe "jellybean" Bryant
- Other Free Encyclopedias