Kobe Bean Bryant was an American professional basketball player who played shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Bryant started his basketball career by playing for his high school Lower Merion team, where he was recognized as the top high school basketball player in the country. He declared his eligibility for the NBA Draft upon graduation, and was selected with the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets, and subsequently traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.
As a rookie, Bryant earned himself a reputation as a high-flyer and a fan favorite by winning the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest. Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA championships from 2000 to 2002. However, following a heated feud between the duo and a loss in the 2004 NBA Final, O'Neal departed, making Bryant the cornerstone of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. He led the NBA in scoring during the 2005–06 and 2006–07 seasons, setting numerous scoring records in the process. In 2006, Bryant scored a career-high 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, the second most points scored in a single game in NBA history, second only to Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game in 1962. He was awarded the regular season's Most Valuable Player Award (MVP) in 2008. After losing in the 2008 NBA Finals, Bryant led the Lakers to two consecutive championships in 2009 and 2010, earning the NBA Finals MVP Award on both occasions.
Bryant ranks third and fifth on the league's all-time post-season scoring and all-time regular season scoring lists respectively. He is also the all-time leading scorer in Lakers franchise history. He has won the All-Star MVP Award four times (2002, 2007, 2009, and 2011), thus becoming the joint record holder along with Bob Petit for the most All Star MVP Awards in NBA history. He is a 14-time member of the All-NBA team and an 12-time member of the All-Defensive team; he is also the youngest player ever to receive defensive honors. At the 2008 and 2012 summer Olympics, he won gold medals as a member of the USA national team. In 2009, Sporting News and TNT named Bryant the top NBA player of the 2000s (decade).