At 41 years old, Kobe Bryant has this physical status:
Before the 1996 NBA draft, Bryant had worked out in Los Angeles, where he scrimmaged against former Lakers players Larry Drew and Michael Cooper and, according to then-Laker general manager Jerry West, "marched over these people".
The Lakers were looking to trade their starting center Vlade Divac for a player's draft rights to free up salary cap space to make an offer to free-agent center Shaquille O'Neal. Bill Branch, the Charlotte Hornets' head scout at the time, said that the Hornets agreed to trade their No. 13 pick to the Lakers the day before the draft. Before the trade agreement, the Hornets never considered drafting Bryant. During the draft, the Lakers told the Hornets whom to select minutes before the pick was made. Bryant was the first guard drafted directly out of high school. After the draft, the trade was put in jeopardy when Divac threatened to retire rather than be traded from Los Angeles. However, on June 30, Divac relented on his threat and the trade was made final on July 9, 1996, when the league's off-season moratorium ended. Since Bryant was still 17 at the time, his parents had to cosign his contract with the Lakers until he was able to sign his own when he turned 18 before the season began. Bryant signed a three-year rookie contract totaling $3.5 million.
Bryant debuted in the Summer Pro League in Long Beach, California, scoring 25 points in front of a standing-room-only crowd. Defenders struggled to get in front of him, and his performance excited West and Lakers coach Del Harris. He scored 36 points in the finale and finished with averages of 24.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in four games. As a rookie in 1996–97, Bryant mostly came off the bench behind guards Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel. At the time, he was the second-youngest player ever to play in an NBA game (18 years, 72 days) and also became the youngest NBA starter (18 years, 158 days). Initially, Bryant played limited minutes, but as the season continued, he began to see some more playing time.
By the end of the season, he averaged 15.5 minutes a game. During the All-Star weekend, Bryant participated in the Rookie Challenge and won the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest, becoming the youngest dunk champion at the age of 18. Bryant's performance throughout the year earned him a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team with fellow bench teammate Travis Knight.
The Lakers advanced to the Western Conference semifinals in the playoffs against the Utah Jazz, when Bryant was pressed into a lead role at the end of Game 5. Byron Scott missed the game with a sprained wrist, Robert Horry was ejected for fighting with Utah's Jeff Hornacek, and Shaquille O'Neal fouled out with 1:46 remaining in the fourth quarter. Bryant shot four air balls at the end of the game; the Jazz won 98–93 in overtime to eliminate the Lakers 4–1. He first missed a game-winning two-point jump shot in the fourth quarter, and then misfired 3 three-point field goals in overtime, including two tying shots in the final minute. O'Neal commented that "[Bryant] was the only guy who had the guts at the time to take shots like that."
In Bryant's second season, he received more playing time and began to show more of his abilities as a talented young guard. As a result, Bryant's point averages more than doubled, from 7.6 to 15.4 points per game. Bryant would see an increase in minutes when the Lakers "played small", which would feature Bryant playing small forward alongside the guards he would usually back up. Bryant was the runner-up for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award, and through fan voting, he also became the youngest NBA All-Star starter in NBA history. He was joined by teammates O'Neal, Van Exel, and Jones, making it the first time since 1983 that four players on the same team were selected to play in the same All-Star Game. Bryant's 15.4 points per game was the highest of any non-starter in the season.
The 1998–99 season marked Bryant's emergence as a premier guard in the league. With starting guards Van Exel and Jones traded, Bryant started every game for the lockout-shortened 50-game season. During the season, Bryant signed a six-year contract extension worth $70 million. This kept him with the Lakers until the end of the 2003–04 season. Even at an early stage of his career, sportswriters were comparing his skills to those of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. The playoff results, however, were no better, as the Lakers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Bryant's fortunes would improve when Phil Jackson took over as coach of the Lakers in 1999. After years of steady improvement, Bryant became one of the premier shooting guards in the league, earning appearances in the league's All-NBA, All-Star, and All-Defensive teams. The Lakers became championship contenders behind the center-guard combination of Bryant and O'Neal. Jackson utilized the triangle offense that he implemented to win six championships with the Chicago Bulls; this offense would help both Bryant and O'Neal rise to the elite class of the NBA. Three championships were won consecutively in 2000, 2001, and 2002, further cementing this view.
Bryant was sidelined for six weeks prior to the start of the 1999–2000 season due to a hand injury that he had incurred during a preseason game against the Washington Wizards. When Bryant was back and playing over 38 minutes a game, he had an increase in all statistical categories during the 1999–2000 season. This included leading the team in assists per game and steals per game. The duo of O'Neal and Bryant backed with a strong bench led to the Lakers winning 67 games, tied for fifth-most in NBA history. This followed with O'Neal winning the MVP and Bryant being named to the All-NBA Second Team and All-NBA Defensive Team for the first time in his career (the youngest player to receive All-Defensive honors). While playing second fiddle to O'Neal in the playoffs, Bryant had some clutch performances, including a 25-point, 11-rebound, 7-assist, 4-block game in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers. He also threw an alley-oop pass to O'Neal to clinch the game and the series. In the 2000 Finals, against the Indiana Pacers, Bryant injured his ankle in the second quarter of Game 2 after landing on the Pacers' Jalen Rose's foot. Rose later admitted he placed his foot under Bryant intentionally. Bryant did not return to the game, and he also missed Game 3 due to the injury. In Game 4, Bryant scored 22 points in the second half and led the team to an OT victory as O'Neal fouled out of the game. Bryant scored the winning shot to put the Lakers ahead 120–118. With a 116–111 victory in Game 6, the Lakers won their first championship since 1988.
Statistically, the 2000–01 season saw Bryant perform similarly to the previous year, but he averaged six more points per game (28.5). It was also the year when disagreements between Bryant and O'Neal began to surface. Once again, Bryant led the team in assists, with five per game. The Lakers, however, only won 56 games, an 11-game dropoff from the previous year. The Lakers would respond by going 15–1 in the playoffs. They easily swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. In the semifinals round, the Lakers swept the Sacramento Kings. In Game 4 against the Kings, Bryant recorded 48 points, 16 rebounds and 3 assists in a 119–113 series-clinching win. They swept the San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Finals to advance to the Finals, before losing their first game against the Philadelphia 76ers in overtime. They would go on to win the next four games and bring their second championship to Los Angeles in as many seasons. During the playoffs, Bryant played heavy minutes which brought his stats up to 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game. In the playoffs, teammate O'Neal declared Bryant the best player in the league. Bryant ended up making the All-NBA Second Team and All-NBA Defensive Team for the second year in a row. In addition, he was also voted to start in the NBA All-Star Game for the third year in a row (no game in 1999).
In the 2001–02 season, Bryant played 80 games for the first time in his career. On January 14, 2002, Bryant recorded a then career-high 56 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists in a 120–81 win over the visiting Memphis Grizzlies. He continued his all-round play by averaging 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. Bryant also had a career-high 46.9% shooting and once again led his team in assists. He claimed his first All-Star MVP trophy after a 31-point performance in Philadelphia when he was loudly booed by fans as they had throughout the game, stemming from his earlier comment to a 76ers heckler during the Finals that the Lakers were "going to cut your hearts out". While making the All-NBA Defensive Team again, Bryant was also named to the All-NBA First Team for the first time in his career. The Lakers won 58 games that year and finished second in the Pacific Division behind in-state rival Sacramento Kings. Bryant was suspended one game after he punched Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers after the Lakers' March 1, 2002 victory over the Pacers.
The road to the Finals would prove a lot tougher than the record run the Lakers had enjoyed the previous year. While the Lakers swept the Blazers and defeated the Spurs 4–1 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Lakers did not have home-court advantage against the Sacramento Kings. The series would stretch to seven games, the first time this had happened to the Lakers since the 2000 Western Conference Finals. However, the Lakers were able to beat their division rivals and make their third consecutive NBA Finals appearance. In the 2002 Finals, against the New Jersey Nets, Bryant averaged 26.8 points, 51.4% shooting, 5.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists per game, which included scoring a quarter of the team's points. At age 23, Bryant became the youngest player to win three championships. Bryant's play was notable and praised for his performance in the fourth quarter of games, specifically the last two rounds of the playoffs. This cemented Bryant's reputation as a "clutch player".
In the first game of the 2002–03 season, Bryant recorded 27 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals in an 87–82 loss to the visiting Spurs. On November 1, Bryant recorded a triple-double of 33 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists in a 108–93 win over the LA Clippers. He also set an NBA record for three-pointers in a game on January 7, 2003, when he made 12 against the Seattle SuperSonics. Bryant averaged 30 points per game and embarked on a historic run, posting 40 or more points in nine consecutive games while averaging 40.6 in the entire month of February. In addition, he averaged 6.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.2 steals per game, all career-highs to that point. Bryant was once again voted to both the All-NBA and All-Defensive First Teams, and came in third place in voting for the MVP award. After finishing 50–32 in the regular season, the Lakers floundered in the playoffs and lost in the Western Conference semi-finals in six games to the eventual NBA champions San Antonio Spurs.
In the following season, the Lakers were able to acquire NBA All-Stars Karl Malone and Gary Payton to make another push at the NBA championship. Bryant was arrested for sexual assault before the season began. This caused Bryant to miss some games due to court appearances or attend court earlier in the day and travel to play games later on the same day. In the final game of the regular season, the Lakers played the Portland Trail Blazers. Bryant made two buzzer-beaters to win the game and the Pacific Division title. At the end of the fourth quarter, Bryant made a three-pointer with 1.1 seconds left to send it into overtime. The game eventually went to a second overtime, in which Bryant made another three-pointer as time expired to lift the Lakers past the Blazers, 105–104.
With a starting lineup of O'Neal, Malone, Payton, and Bryant, the Lakers were able to reach the NBA Finals. However, they were upset in five games by the Detroit Pistons, who won their first championship since 1990. In that series, Bryant averaged 22.6 points per game and 4.4 assists while shooting 35.1% from the field. Jackson's contract as coach was not renewed, and Rudy Tomjanovich took over. O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, and Brian Grant. The following day, Bryant declined a six-year, $100 million offer to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers and re-signed with the Lakers on a seven-year, $136.4 million contract.
Bryant was closely scrutinized and criticized during the 2004–05 season with his reputation badly damaged from all that had happened over the previous year. A particularly damaging salvo came when Jackson wrote The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul. The book detailed the events of the Lakers' tumultuous 2003–04 season and has several criticisms of Bryant. In the book, Jackson called Bryant "un-coachable". Midway through the season, Tomjanovich suddenly resigned as Lakers coach, citing the recurrence of health problems and exhaustion. Without Tomjanovich, stewardship of the remainder of the Lakers' season fell to career assistant coach Frank Hamblen. Bryant was the league's second-leading scorer at 27.6 points per game, but he was surrounded by a subpar supporting cast, and the Lakers went 34–48 and missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. The year signified a drop in Bryant's overall status in the NBA, as he did not make the NBA All-Defensive Team and was also demoted to the All-NBA Third Team. During the season, Bryant also engaged in public feuds with Malone and Ray Allen.
The 2005–06 season marked a crossroads in Bryant's basketball career. Despite past differences with Bryant, Jackson returned to coach the Lakers. Bryant endorsed the move, and by all appearances, the two men worked together well the second time around, leading the Lakers back into the playoffs. Bryant's individual scoring accomplishments posted resulted in the finest statistical season of his career. On December 20, 2005, Bryant scored 62 points in three quarters against the Dallas Mavericks. Entering the fourth quarter, Bryant outscored the entire Mavericks team 62–61, the only time a player has done this through three quarters since the introduction of the shot clock. When the Lakers faced the Miami Heat on January 16, 2006, Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal made headlines by engaging in handshakes and hugs before the game, signifying a change in the feud that had festered between them. A month later, at the 2006 NBA All-Star Game, the two were seen laughing together.
On January 22, 2006, Bryant scored a career-high 81 points in a 122–104 victory against the Toronto Raptors. In addition to breaking the previous franchise record of 71 set by Elgin Baylor, Bryant's 81-point game was the second-highest point total in NBA history, surpassed only by Chamberlain's 100-point game in 1962. Whereas Chamberlain was fed repeatedly by teammates for inside shots in a blowout win, Bryant created his own shot—mostly from the outside—in a game which the Lakers trailed at halftime by 14 and did not pull away until the fourth quarter. Chamberlain, playing in an era when the games were paced faster and scoring opportunities were more plentiful, accounted for 59 percent of his team's points in Philadelphia's 169–147 win, compared to Bryant scoring 66 percent of the Lakers' 122 points. In that same month, Bryant also became the first player since 1964 to score 45 points or more in four consecutive games, joining Chamberlain and Baylor as the only players to do so. For the month of January, Bryant averaged 43.4 points per game, the eighth highest single month scoring average in NBA history and highest for any player other than Chamberlain. By the end of the 2005–06 season, Bryant set Lakers single-season franchise records for most 40-point games (27) and most points scored (2,832). He won the league's scoring title for the first time by averaging 35.4 points per game, becoming just the fifth player in league history to average at least 35 in a season. Bryant finished in fourth place in the voting for the 2006 NBA Most Valuable Player Award but received 22 first place votes—second only to winner Steve Nash.
Later in the season, it was reported that Bryant would change his jersey number from 8 to 24 at the start of the 2006–07 season. Bryant's first high-school number was 24 before he switched to 33. After the Lakers' season ended, Bryant said on TNT that he wanted 24 as a rookie, but it was unavailable as it was worn by George McCloud, as was 33, retired with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bryant wore 143 at the Adidas ABCD camp and chose 8 by adding those numbers. In the first round of the playoffs, the Lakers played well enough to reach a 3–1 series lead over the Phoenix Suns, culminating with Bryant's overtime-forcing and game-winning shots in Game 4. They came within six seconds of eliminating the second-seeded Suns in Game 6, however, they lost that game 126–118 in overtime. Despite Bryant's 27.9 points per game in the series, the Lakers broke down and ultimately fell to the Suns in seven games. After scoring 50 points on 20 of 35 shooting in the Game 6 loss, Bryant was criticized for only taking three shots in the second half of the 121–90 Game 7 loss to Phoenix.
During the 2006–07 season, Bryant was selected to his ninth All-Star Game appearance, and on February 18, he logged 31 points, 6 assists, and 6 steals, earning his second career All-Star Game MVP trophy. Over the course of the season, Bryant became involved in a number of on-court incidents. On January 28 while attempting to draw contact on a potential game-winning jump shot, he flailed his arm, striking San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginóbili in the face with his elbow. Following a league review, Bryant was suspended for the subsequent game at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks. The basis given for the suspension was that Bryant had performed an "unnatural motion" in swinging his arm backward. Later, on March 6, he seemed to repeat the motion, this time striking Minnesota Timberwolves guard Marko Jarić. On March 7, the NBA handed Bryant his second one-game suspension. In his first game back on March 9, he elbowed Kyle Korver in the face which was retroactively re-classified as a Type 1 flagrant foul.
On March 16, Bryant scored a season-high 65 points in a home game against the Portland Trail Blazers, which helped end the Lakers 7-game losing streak. This was the second-best scoring performance of his 11-year career. The following game, Bryant recorded 50 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves, after which he scored 60 points in a road win against the Memphis Grizzlies—becoming the second Laker to score three straight 50-plus point games, a feat not seen since Jordan last did it in 1987. The only other Laker to do so was Baylor, who also scored 50+ in three consecutive contests in December 1962. In the following day, in a game against the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, Bryant scored 50 points, making him the second player in NBA history to have four straight 50-point games behind Chamberlain, who achieved it twice with streaks of five and seven. Bryant finished the year with a total of ten 50-plus point games, surpassed only by Chamberlain. Bryant also won his second straight scoring title that season. Throughout the 2006–07 season, his jersey became the top selling NBA jersey in the United States and China. A number of journalists have attributed the improved sales to Bryant's new number, as well as his continuing All-Star performance on the court. In the 2007 NBA playoffs, the Lakers were once again eliminated in the first round by the Phoenix Suns, 4–1.
On May 27, 2007, ESPN reported that Bryant stated that he wanted to be traded if Jerry West did not return to the team with full authority. Bryant later confirmed his desire for West's return to the franchise but denied stating that he would want to be traded if that did not take place. However, three days later, on Stephen A. Smith's radio program, Bryant expressed anger over a Lakers "insider" who claimed that Bryant was responsible for Shaquille O'Neal's departure from the team, and publicly stated, "I want to be traded." Three hours after making that statement, Bryant stated in another interview that after having a conversation with head coach Jackson, he had reconsidered his decision and backed off his trade request. Bryant was later shown in an infamous amateur video saying that center Andrew Bynum should have been traded for All-Star Jason Kidd.
On December 23, 2007, Bryant became the youngest player (29 years, 122 days) to reach 20,000 points, in a game against the New York Knicks, in Madison Square Garden, after scoring 39 points to go along with 11 rebounds and 8 assists. This record has since been broken by LeBron James. On March 28, Bryant scored a season-high 53 points to go with 10 rebounds in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Despite an injury to his shooting hand's small finger, described as "a complete tear of the radial collateral ligament, an avulsion fracture, and a volar plate injury at the MCP joint" that occurred in a game on February 5, 2008, Bryant played all 82 games of the regular season instead of opting for surgery. Regarding his injury, he stated, "I would prefer to delay any surgical procedure until after our Lakers season, and this summer's Olympic Games. But, this is an injury that myself [sic] and the Lakers' medical staff will just have to continue to monitor on a day-to-day basis."
Aided by the trade for All-Star Pau Gasol, Bryant led his team to a West-leading 57–25 record. The Lakers swept the Nuggets in the first round and on May 6, 2008, and Bryant was officially announced as the league MVP. He said, "It's been a long ride. I'm very proud to represent this organization, to represent this city." West, who was responsible for bringing Bryant to the Lakers, was on hand at the press conference to observe Bryant receive his MVP trophy from NBA commissioner David Stern. Stern stated, "Kobe deserved it. He's had just another great season. Doesn't surprise me one bit." In addition to winning his MVP award, Bryant was the only unanimous selection to the All-NBA team on May 8, 2008, for the third straight season and sixth time in his career. He would then headline the NBA All-Defensive First Team with Kevin Garnett, receiving 52 points overall including 24 first-place nods, earning his eighth selection.
The Lakers concluded the 2007–08 regular season with a 57–25 record, finishing first in the Western Conference and setting up themselves for a first-round contest against the Nuggets. In Game 1, Bryant, who said he made himself a decoy through most of the game, scored 18 of his 32 points in the final eight minutes to keep Los Angeles safely ahead. That made Denver the first 50-win team to be swept out of the first round of the playoffs since the Memphis Grizzlies fell in four games to the San Antonio Spurs in 2004. In the first game of the next round, against the Jazz, Bryant scored 38 points as the Lakers beat the Jazz in Game 1. The Lakers won the next game as well, but dropped Games 3 and 4, even with Bryant putting up 33.5 points per game. The Lakers then won the next two games to win the semifinals. This set up a Western Conference Finals berth against the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers defeated the Spurs in five games, sending themselves to the NBA Finals, against the Boston Celtics. This marked the fifth time in Bryant's career, and the first time without O'Neal, that he made the NBA Finals. The Lakers then lost to the Boston Celtics in six games.
In early September 2008, Bryant decided not to have surgery to repair his right pinkie. In the 2008–09 season, the Lakers opened the campaign by winning their first seven games. Bryant led the team to tie the franchise record for most wins to start the season going 17–2, and by the middle of December they compiled a 21–3 record. He was selected to his 11th consecutive All-Star Game as a starter, and was named the Western Conference Player of the Month for December and January in addition to being named Western Conference Player of the week three times. In a game against the Knicks on February 2, 2009, Bryant scored 61 points, setting a record for the most points scored at Madison Square Garden. During the 2009 NBA All-Star Game, Bryant tallied 27 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, and 4 steals and was awarded All-Star Game co-MVP with former teammate O'Neal. The Lakers finished the regular season with the best record in the West (65–17). Bryant was runner-up in the MVP voting behind James, and was selected to the All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team for the seventh time in his career.
In the playoffs, the Lakers defeated the Utah Jazz in five games and the Houston Rockets in seven games in the opening two rounds. By finishing off the Denver Nuggets in the Conference Finals in six games, the Lakers earned their second straight trip to the NBA Finals. The Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic in five games. Bryant was awarded his first NBA Finals MVP trophy upon winning his fourth championship, achieving series averages of 32.4 points, 7.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks. He became the first player since West in the 1969 NBA Finals to average at least 32.4 points and 7.4 assists for a Finals series and the first since Jordan to average 30 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists for a title-winning team in the Finals. Bryant was the league's leading scorer throughout the 2000s decade, accumulating 21,065 points in regular season play between the 1999-00 and 2008–09 seasons.
During the 2009–10 season, Bryant made six game-winning shots including a buzzer-beating, one-legged 3-pointer against the Miami Heat on December 4, 2009. Bryant considered the shot "one of the luckiest he has made". A week later, Bryant suffered an avulsion fracture in his right index finger in a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Despite the injury, Bryant elected to continue playing, rather than take any time off to rest the injury. Five days after his finger injury, he made another game-winning shot, after missing on an opportunity in regulation, this time against the Milwaukee Bucks in an overtime game. Bryant also became the youngest player (31 years, 151 days) to reach 25,000 points in his career during the season, surpassing Chamberlain. He continued his dominant clutch plays making yet another game-winning three-pointer against the Sacramento Kings, and what would be the game-winning field goal against the Boston Celtics. The following day, he surpassed West to become the all-time leading scorer in Lakers franchise history. After being sidelined for five games by an ankle injury, Bryant made his return and made another clutch three-pointer to give the Lakers a one-point lead with four seconds remaining against the Memphis Grizzlies. Two weeks later, he made his sixth game-winning shot of the season, against the Toronto Raptors.
On April 2, 2010, Bryant signed a three-year contract extension worth $87 million. Bryant finished the regular season missing four of the final five games, due to injuries to his knee and finger. Bryant suffered multiple injuries throughout the season and as a result, missed nine games. The Lakers began the playoffs as the number one seed in the Western Conference against the Oklahoma City Thunder, eventually defeating them in six games. The Lakers swept the Utah Jazz in the second round and advanced to the Western Conference Finals, where they faced the Phoenix Suns. In Game 2, Bryant finished the game with 13 assists, setting a new playoff career-high; it was the most assists by a Laker in the playoffs since Magic Johnson had 13 in 1996. The Lakers went on to win the series in six games capturing the Western Conference Championship and advancing to the NBA Finals for a third straight season. In a rematch against the 2008 Champion Boston Celtics, Bryant, despite shooting 6 for 24 from the field, led the Lakers back from a 13-point third-quarter deficit in Game 7 to win the championship; he scored 10 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 15 rebounds. Bryant won his fifth championship and earned his second consecutive NBA Finals MVP award. This marked the first time the Lakers won a Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. Bryant said that this was the most satisfying of all of his five championships.
Bryant wanted a sixth championship to match Jordan's total. The Lakers started the 2010–11 season by winning their first eight games. In his ninth game of the season, playing against the Denver Nuggets, Bryant became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 26,000 career points. Bryant also recorded his first triple-double since January 21, 2009. On January 30 against the Celtics, he became the youngest player to score 27,000 points. On February 1, 2011, Bryant became one of seven players with at least 25,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, and 5,000 assists. In Boston on February 10, Bryant scored 20 of his 23 points in the second half as the Lakers rallied from an early 15-point deficit for a 92–86 win over the Celtics. It was the Lakers' first victory of the season against one of the league's top four teams, as they entered the game 0–5 in previous matchups and had been outscored by an average of 11 points. Bryant, selected to his 13th straight All-Star game after becoming the leading vote-getter, had 37 points, 14 rebounds, and three steals in the 2011 All-Star Game and won his fourth All-Star MVP, tying Hall of Famer Bob Pettit for the most All-Star MVP awards. During the season, Bryant moved from 12th to 6th place on the NBA all-time career scoring list, passing John Havlicek, Dominique Wilkins, Oscar Robertson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes, and Moses Malone. Bryant finished the season averaging less than 20 shots a game, his fewest since the 2003–04 season.
On April 13, 2011, the NBA fined Bryant $100,000 for directing a gay slur at referee Bennie Adams in frustration in the previous day's game. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation praised the NBA's decision to fine Bryant, and the Human Rights Campaign said that Bryant's language was a "disgrace" and "distasteful". Bryant stated that he was open to discussing the matter with gay rights groups and wanted to appeal his fine. He later apologized for the use of the word. Bryant and other Lakers appeared in a Lakers public service announcement denouncing his behavior. The team's quest for another three-peat was ended when they were swept by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the playoffs.
Bryant received experimental platelet-rich plasma therapy called Orthokine in Germany to treat the pain on his left knee and ankle, and Mike Brown replaced the retired Jackson as coach of the Lakers in the off-season. Bryant began the season playing with an injured wrist. On January 10, 2012, Bryant scored 48 points against the Suns. "Not bad for the seventh-best player in the league", said Bryant, referring to a preseason ESPN ranking of the NBA's top players. He went on to score 40, 42, and 42 in his next three games. It was the sixth time in his career he scored 40 or more points in four straight games, a feat exceeded only by Chamberlain (19 times). At the 2012 NBA All-Star Game, Bryant scored 27 points to pass Jordan as the career scoring leader in the All-Star Game. He also suffered a broken nose and a concussion in the third quarter of the All-Star Game after a hard foul from Dwyane Wade. In April, Bryant missed seven games with a bruised left shin. He returned three games before the end of the regular season. He sat out season finale against Sacramento, foregoing the chase for a possible third NBA scoring title, having needed 38 points to surpass Kevin Durant. The Lakers were knocked out of the playoffs by Durant and Oklahoma City in the second round of the playoffs, losing in five games in what would be Bryant's final playoff appearance.
The Lakers in 2012–13 acquired center Dwight Howard and point guard Steve Nash. On November 2, 2012, Bryant scored 40 points with two steals, and he passed Magic Johnson (1,724) as the Lakers career leader in steals. However, the Lakers lost the game to the Clippers and started the season 0–3 for the first time in 34 years and just the fourth time in franchise history. After starting the season 1–4, coach Brown was fired. He was replaced by Mike D'Antoni, who Bryant knew as a child when Bryant's father was playing in Italy and D'Antoni was also a star player there. Bryant had grown close with D'Antoni during their time with Team USA. On December 5 against New Orleans, Bryant became the youngest player (34 years and 104 days) in league history to score 30,000 points, joining Hall of Famers Chamberlain, Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Karl Malone as one of five players to reach that milestone. On December 18, in a 101–100 win over the Charlotte Bobcats, Bryant scored 30+ points in his seventh consecutive game, the longest streak by an NBA player after turning 34 years old; it was the fourth-longest such streak in his career. His streak would be snapped at 10 on December 28 in a 104–87 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, when he scored 27 points, sitting out the whole fourth quarter. In a move to improve the team's defense, D'Antoni began having Bryant guard the opponent's best perimeter player; Bryant was the primary defender on the Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving, who was held to 15 points. Bryant acknowledged he was a more focused defender when he had a challenging defensive assignment as opposed to when he played off the ball against weaker players. His defense disrupted opponents and freed Nash from unfavorable matchups.
Bryant was leading the league in scoring through much of the first 42 games. With a disappointing 17–25 start to the season, D'Antoni had Bryant became the primary facilitator on offense and Nash was moved off the ball and became more of a spot-up shooter. In the next three games, Bryant had at least 10 assists in three wins with a three-game total of 39 assists, the most in his career. He missed a triple-double in each game with nine rebounds twice and eight in the other. In two crucial wins in March, he scored at least 40 points and had at least 10 assists in back-to-back games, becoming the first Laker to accomplish the feat since West in 1970.
With the Lakers fighting to secure the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference, coupled with injuries on the team, Bryant began playing almost all 48 minutes each game. On April 10, 2013, Bryant became the first player in NBA history to get 47 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks, and three steals in an NBA game. On April 12, Bryant suffered a torn Achilles tendon against the Golden State Warriors, ending his season. His injury came while he was playing seven consecutive quarters and at least 40 minutes for seven consecutive games. The 34-year-old Bryant was averaging his most minutes (38.6) in six years, and only Portland rookie Damian Lillard was averaging more minutes. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak had spoken to Bryant about his extensive playing time 10 days earlier, but Bryant insisted the minutes needed to continue given the Lakers' playoff push. Bryant had surgery on April 13 to repair the tear, and it was estimated he would miss six to nine months. He ended the season with his customary numbers scoring an average of 27.3 points, 46.3 percent shooting, 5.6 rebounds, and 6 assists. However, The New York Times called his leading of the Lakers back into playoff contention "perhaps some of the finest work of his career." Eight times he reached 40 points during the season, and eleven times he had 10 or more assists in his role as distributor, dubbed "Magic Mamba" after the passing skills of Magic Johnson. Bryant's assists were the second-highest of his career and his field goal percentage was its highest since 2008–09. The Lakers finished the season at 45–37, good for seventh in the West. Playing without Bryant, the Lakers were swept in four games by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.
Bryant resumed practicing in November 2013, after the 2013–14 season had already begun. On November 25, he signed a two-year contract extension with the Lakers at an estimated value of $48.5 million. He remained the league's highest-paid player, although he accepted a discounted deal; he had been eligible to receive an extension starting at $32 million per year. Bryant's contract became a polarizing topic, with detractors arguing that stars should take less money to allow their team more financial freedom, while supporters countered that the NBA's biggest stars were being paid less than their true value. Bryant resumed playing on December 8 after missing the season's first 19 games. On December 17, Bryant matched his season high of 21 points in a 96–92 win over Memphis, but he suffered a lateral tibial plateau fracture in his left knee that was expected to sideline him for six weeks. He had played six games since returning from his Achilles injury, which included time at point guard after injuries to Nash, Steve Blake, and Jordan Farmar. Bryant was averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 assists, and 4.3 rebounds. Despite being sidelined, he was voted by fans to start in his 16th All-Star game. Bryant did not feel he was deserving of the selection, and some likened it to a career achievement award for his past performance. However, he missed playing in the game, still hampered by his knee. On March 12, 2014, the Lakers ruled Bryant out for the remainder of the season, citing his need for more rehab and the limited time remaining in the season. At the time, the team was 22–42 and tied for the worst record in the Western Conference. The Lakers finished 27–55 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
Bryant returned for the 2014–15 season, his 19th season with the Lakers, who had replaced D'Antoni with Bryant's former Lakers teammate, Byron Scott. On November 30, 2014, in a 129–122 overtime victory against the Toronto Raptors, Bryant recorded his 20th career triple-double with 31 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds. At age 36, he became the oldest NBA player to achieve 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in a game. On December 14, Bryant became the NBA's third all-time leading scorer, passing Jordan (32,292) in a 100–94 win against Minnesota. He played in the first 27 games of the season, averaging team-highs with 26.4 points and 35.4 minutes per game while leading the league with 22.4 shots per game. However, Scott held him out for three straight games to rest after one of his worst performances of the season, when Bryant committed nine turnovers and scored 25 points on just 8-for-30 shooting in a 108–101 loss to Sacramento. He was suffering from soreness in his knees, feet, back, and Achilles tendons and Scott planned to reduce his workload going forward. Three times Bryant had exceeded 40 minutes in a game, and the coach blamed himself for overloading him after he started the season in such great shape. For the season, Bryant had been shooting just 37 percent from the field, and the team's record was only 8–19. In his second game back after resting, he had 23 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds in a 111–103 win over Denver, and became just the third player in league history to record multiple triple-doubles in a season at age 36 or older. On January 21, 2015, Bryant suffered a rotator cuff tear in his right shoulder while driving baseline for a two-handed dunk against the New Orleans Pelicans. Though he was right-handed, he returned to play in the game and ran the offense while shooting, dribbling, and passing almost exclusively with his left hand. Prior to the injury, Bryant had been rested in 8 of 16 games. He underwent season-ending surgery for the injury, finishing the season averaging 22.3 points but shooting a career-low 37.3 percent, well below his 45.4 percent career mark to start the season. He was expected to be sidelined for nine months with a return targeted toward the start of the 2015–16 season. The Lakers finished the season with a record of 21–61, surpassing the franchise record for most losses in a season that they had set the previous year.
After recovering to play in the 2015–16 preseason, Bryant suffered a calf injury and missed the final two weeks of exhibition games. However, he played in the season opener to begin his 20th season with the Lakers, surpassing John Stockton's league record of 19 for the most seasons with the same team. On November 24, 2015, the Lakers fell to 2–12 after losing 111–77 to the Warriors. Bryant scored just four points in 25 minutes on 1-for-14 shooting, matching the worst-shooting game of his career in which he attempted at least five shots. On December 1, 2015, Bryant played his last game against his hometown team, the Philadelphia 76ers, where the Lakers lost 103–91.
On November 29, 2015, Bryant announced via The Players' Tribune that he would be retiring at the end of the season. In his poem titled "Dear Basketball", Bryant wrote that he fell in love with the game at age six: "A love so deep I gave you my all/From my mind & body/To my spirit & soul." The 2015–16 season "is all I have left to give./My heart can take the pounding/My mind can handle the grind/But my body knows it's time to say goodbye./And that's OK./I'm ready to let you go." In a letter distributed to Lakers' fans before that evening's game against the Indiana Pacers, Bryant wrote, "What you've done for me is far greater than anything I've done for you. ... My love for this city, this team and for each of you will never fade. Thank you for this incredible journey."
At the time of his announcement, he was second on the team in minutes (30.8) behind Jordan Clarkson and leading the team with 16.7 field goal attempts per game, while averaging just 15.7 points and shooting a career-low 31.5 percent. His free throw attempts had dropped from his career average, and his game had become over-reliant on pump fakes and long-range shots, making a league-worst 19.5 percent from three-point range while attempting seven a game, almost double his career average. In his press conference after the announcement, he acknowledged his declining skills. "Even though I play like shit, I've worked really, really hard not to play like crap and I do everything I possibly can. And I feel good about that", he said.
Bryant requested that opposing teams on the road not hold any on-court ceremonies in his honor or present him any gifts in public. Prior to announcing his retirement, he had been steadfast about not wanting the fuss of a staged farewell tour, preferring to hear boos instead of cheers. Still, he was honored around the league with video tributes and fan ovations, including arenas that historically jeered him such as TD Garden in Boston, Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, and Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. Previously, Bryant was respected but not beloved, and he was astonished at the cheers he was now receiving.
On February 3, Bryant made seven three-pointers and scored a then season-high 38 points, including 14 of the team's 18 points in the last 5:02 of the game, for a 119–115 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The win ended a 10-game losing streak, and the Lakers averted establishing the longest losing streak in franchise history. He became just the fourth NBA player over 37 years old to log at least 35 points, five rebounds, and five assists in a game. Bryant was the leading overall vote-getter for the 2016 All-Star Game with 1.9 million votes, ahead of Stephen Curry's 1.6 million. Having moved to small forward that season, Bryant was selected as a frontcourt starter for the first time. Playing in his first All-Star game since 2013, Bryant had 10 points, six rebounds, and seven assists. West teammates offered to feed him the ball in an attempt to get him another All-Star MVP, but he declined.
In the season finale on April 13, Bryant scored an NBA season-high 60 points against Utah in his last NBA game, outscoring the entire Jazz team 23–21 in the fourth quarter, in the Lakers' 101–96 victory. He became the oldest player to score 60 or more points in a game at 37 years and 234 days old. The Lakers finished the season with a 17–65 record, their worst record in franchise history.
National team career
Bryant declined to play in the 2000 Olympics because he was getting married in the off-season. He also decided not to play in the 2002 FIBA World Championship. Bryant was originally selected for the FIBA Americas Championship in 2003 but withdrew after undergoing arthroscopic shoulder and knee surgeries. In the following summer, he had to withdraw from the Olympic team because of his sexual assault case. Along with LeBron James, he was one of the first two players to be publicly named to the 2006–2008 U.S. preliminary roster in 2006 by Jerry Colangelo. However, he was once again sidelined after knee surgery and did not participate in the 2006 FIBA World Championship.
Bryant's United States national team career finally began in 2007. He was a member of the 2007 USA Men's Senior National Team and USA FIBA Americas Championship Team that finished 10–0, won gold and qualified the United States men for the 2008 Olympics. He started in all 10 of the USA's FIBA Americas Championship games. Bryant averaged 15.3 points, 2.9 assists, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game in the tournament.
On June 23, 2008, he was named to the USA Men's Senior National Team for the 2008 Summer Olympics. This was his first time going to the Olympics. Bryant scored 20 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter, along with six assists, as Team USA defeated Spain 118–107 in the gold medal game on August 24, 2008, for its first gold medal in a worldwide competition since the 2000 Olympics. He averaged 15.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists while shooting .462 from the field in eight Olympic contests.
Bryant rejoined the national team for the 2012 Summer Olympics. After winning another gold medal, Bryant decided to retire from the team. He finished his national team career with a record of 26–0 across three tournaments, winning a gold medal each time.