Remembering Kobe Bryant’s scoreless NBA debut and what followed

Stand today in the headwaters of the Colorado River, high in the Rocky Mountains where its depth is measured in inches, and it’s hard to imagine that – this? – becomes an icon of the West that tens of millions of people know and love, a marvel in all its shattering and rushing flow.

Now, a drill 25 years after the fact: Imagine a lanky, short-haired 18-year-old wearing a loose, sleek uniform and adidas (adidas!) Sneakers, starting the game on the bench as the Lakers host the Timberwolves.

It’s November 3, 1996, a Sunday, and Kobe Bryant finally kicks in. After a DNP in the Los Angeles opener two days earlier, Bryant’s highly anticipated NBA debut is measured in minutes, 6:22 a.m. to be exact, not in points because the rookie does not score any goal, on a single FGA. His first official statistic recorded: a turnover for having traveled only on his second possession.

This – this? – would become Kobe… no last name needed.

Let’s take a moment. Let’s go back to nine months earlier, in February 96, when Sam Smith wrote in The Sporting News: the 6-foot-6 son of former NBA player Joe Bryant, and Jermaine O’Neal 6-11 of Columbia, SC “

TSN Archives: Kobe Bryant’s Decision to Leave University

At first, O’Neal and Bryant, Bryant and O’Neal were tied at the hip in most covers. Would teens turn pro right out of high school? Should they?

After answering in the affirmative, TSN varsity basketball writer Mike DeCourcy noted, “The simplest question to answer when assessing the 1996 basketball talent crop is : who had the best year of recruitment? Without a doubt, it would be the NBA. Kobe Bryant. Jermaine O’Neal. Two of the top five players in high school. No one else has done so well.

One writer (remember that?) Joked on TSN’s Voice of the Fan page: “NBA – Nothing But Adolescents”.

After Kobe’s first scoreless game 25 years ago, which could at least in part have been attributed to early wrist and hip injuries, he fell into relative obscurity by Lakers standards. Newly acquired Shaquille O’Neal caused most of the buzz.

A month after starting his professional career, Bryant had scored twice in double digits. It would take him until January 3, exactly two months after his debut, for him to score over 20.

“Just when you thought Kobe Bryant was banned for good,” Shaun Powell wrote in The Sporting News, “he comes back and scores 21 points in 22 minutes for the Lakers against the Kings, punctuating his performance with a dunk. at 360 degrees. . In practice, teammates say, “Kobe is the real deal. “

Maybe, but two weeks later, under the headline “Growth Stunted,” Trail Blazers’ O’Neal admitted in TSN’s NBA Insider that if he had to start over, he wouldn’t jump straight into the NBA. Bryant? From this NBA insider:

The 6-6 Bryant is averaging 6.1 points and 13 minutes per game and shooting 42 percent. He maintains he doesn’t regret his decision, but he too has spent much of his season on the bench.

One of the reasons, according to an article in the New York Times Magazine last week, is that Bryant is concerned about being flashy.

“Kobe’s showboating frustrates his teammates,” said coach Del Harris. In the story, the coach also said that Bryant was overprotected by his parents and representatives to the point where “he has no chance to develop.”

Lately, Harris has tried Bryant, a natural shooting guard, with mixed results. In his first game there last week, he turned the ball up so slowly it resulted in a 10-second violation. Last weekend against the Pistons, Bryant scored 10 points in 14 minutes in the first half.

Suffice it to say it was going to take a while to reach 25.0 points per game, his 20-year career average, not to mention 33,643 points. But at the end of April, with the end of its first season, things were going in the right direction.

TSN Archives: The book on… Kobe Bryant

TSN’s NBA insider addressed him again with “The Book About… Kobe Bryant,” which began, “It hasn’t exactly been a storytelling season for high school student-turned-rookie Kobe Bryant. The end is happy. “

The scout report noted that despite “crazy swings within minutes, the demands of playing three positions and the spotlight that has come from being the youngest player (18) in league history, Bryant is playing his game. highest level to date “.

In just over a year, Bryant was no longer spotted at a high school tournament in Myrtle Beach – “The day they tell me I have to start recruiting junior high school students, I finished, “Jerry Reynolds of the Kings. told TSN at the time – to show the potential that hinted at what became a Hall of Fame career.

“Kobe can play flat,” teammate Nick Van Exel said in The Sporting News. “Everything he does I’m not surprised because I see him every day.”

Twenty-five years later, looking back and seeing it every day over a two-decade career, we’re not surprised either. It was much less clear this Sunday in November 1996 in Los Angeles.

Who knew how it would end… and then end.

Senior editorial consultant Bob Hille has worked for or with Sporting News for over 25 years.