Kobe Bryant, the son of former NBA player Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, jumped directly from high school to the pros in 1996 and enjoyed an impressive rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers. He also won the Nestle Crunch Slam Dunk and was the leading scorer in the Schick Rookie Game during the NBA All-Star Weekend. Then, in his second season, he was voted a starter for the 1998 All-Star Game, becoming at 19 the youngest All-Star in NBA history. To top it off, he led the West team in scoring with 18 points. Bryant was the all-time leading scorer in Southeastern Pennsylvania history with 2,883 points, breaking the marks of NBA legend and Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain (2,359 points) and former St. Joseph's player Carlin Warley (2,441 points). Bryant led his high school team to a 77-13 record in last three seasons and was a four-year starter. His father, Joe, played eight NBA seasons for the Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers and Houston Rockets, and is a former assistant coach at La Salle. As a senior at Lower Merion High School, Bryant was selected by USA Today and Parade Magazine as the National High School Player of the Year. He was also named Naismith Player of the Year, Gatorade Circle of Champions High School Player of the Year and to the McDonald's All-America Team. Bryant averaged 30.8 ppg, 12 rpg, 6.5 apg, four spg and 3.8 bpg. He led Lower Merion to Class AAAA state title with a 31-3 record. Bryant scored a career-high 50 points vs. Marple Newtow and scored 34 points to go along with 15 rebounds, six assists and nine blocks to lead Lower Merion to District I Class AAA title over Chester. He scored 117 points and was named Most Outstanding Player in Prestigious Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The Lakers wanted Bryant but were drafting late, so they swung a deal with the Charlotte Hornets whereby Charlotte selected him with the 13th overall pick in the first round of the 1996 NBA Draft, then dealt him to Los Angeles in exchange for center Vlade Divac. Despite his youth and lack of college experience, Bryant was a signficant contributor as the Lakers won 56 games in 1996-97. He scored in double figures 25 times, including a streak of seven within 10 games late in the season. He also grabbed the spotlight at the All-Star Weekend by winning the Nestle Crunch Slam Dunk and leading all players with an event-record 31 points in the Schick Rookie Classic. Bryant blossomed as the Lakers' sixth man in his second pro season, averaging 15.4 ppg, scoring in double figures in 65 of his 79 games and being voted by the fans as a starter in the 1998 All-Star Game, where he led the Western Conference with 18 points. At 19 years, 5 months, he became the youngest All-Star in history, replacing Magic Johnson, who was 20 years, 5 months old when he played in the 1980 game.
Bryant continued to establish himself as one of the most exciting and popular young stars in the NBA in his second pro season. At 19, he became the youngest All-Star in history when he was voted to a starting spot in the Western Conference lineup. Despite tremendous media attention focusing on himself as the leader of the younger generation and making comparisons to the reigning king, Michael Jordan, Bryant responded with a strong performance in the game at New York, scoring a team-high 18 points including the game's most spectacular play, a behind the back dribble to set himself up for a breakaway dunk. Bryant appeared in 79 games, all but one off the bench, and was extremely effective as the Lakers' sixth man, especially during the first half of the season. He scored in double figures in 65 of the 79 games he played, including 20 in a row from December 3 through January 9. He scored 25 points or more eight times, netting a career-high 33 points in 29 minutes against the Chicago Bulls on December 17. Truly one of the game's most explosive scorers, he erupted for 27 points in a span of just 12:47 against Houston on December 12. Bryant finished with an average of 15.4 points per game, more than doubling his rookie mark of 7.6 ppg. It was the second-highest increase by any player in the league, behind Lamond Murray's 8.0. He handed out a career-high seven assists twice, against Minnesota on January 30 and against Denver on February 19. He led the Laker regulars in free throw percentage at .794, ranked fourth on the team in three-pointers with 75 and third in three-point shooting percentage at .341. Bryant played in 11 playoff games, averaging 8.7 points in just 20 minutes per game.
Playing at shooting guard, point guard and small forward, Bryant appeared in 71 games as a rookie, including six starts, and averaged 7.6 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 15.5 minutes. He averaged 11.3 ppg in the last 13 games of the seaon and 12.4 ppg in the 26 games in which he played 20+ minutes. He was chosen to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Bryant scored a career-high 24 points, shooting 9-for-11 from the field, in a 109-85 win at Golden State on April 8. The 24 points were the most by a Laker reserve all season. He scored in double figures 25 times and four times had 20+ points. He ranked third on the team in free throw percentage at .819, fourth in three-pointers with 51 and fifth in three-point percentage at .375. He became the youngest player to ever start an NBA game on January 28 at Dallas, when he was 18 years, five months, five days. He's the second-youngest player in NBA history, behind Portland's Jermaine O'Neal. Bryant was one of the stars of the All-Star Weekend. He led all scorers in the Schick Rookie Game with an event-record 31 points, then came back to become the first Laker ever to win the Nestle Crunch Slam Dunk later that night, posting a score of 49 out of a possible 50 in the final round. Bryant appeared in all nine of the Lakers' playoff games in a reserve role, ranking fifth on the club in scoring at 8.2 ppg. He scored 22 points in Game 3 of the First Round against Portland and 19 in Game 3 of the Conference Semifinals against Utah.