Kobe Bryant’s NBA career got off to a lackluster start 24 years ago

  • Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant holds up his jersey during his introductory news conference on July 12, 1996. (Andrew Scholer/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

LOS ANGELES — When Kobe Bryant made his Lakers debut on Nov. 3, 1996, he was already a big deal.

Two months and 11 days after his 18th birthday, the star player from Lower Merion High near Philadelphia received two standing ovations from the crowd at the Forum before officially becoming the youngest person to ever play in the NBA.

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On that particular night, however, the future Lakers legend did not live up to the hype. He played just 6 minutes, 22 seconds and missed the only shot he took. He did pull in one rebound and had one blocked shot but also committed one foul and one turnover.

“It’s one of those things,” coach Del Harris said after the Lakers’ 91-85 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. “He’s just as likely to have a big game next time.”

Bryant did score his first point the next time out, making one of two free throws during 3:16 of playing time two days later against the New York Knicks, but his many big games were a little further down the road. He scored a season-high 24 points against the Golden State Warriors on April 8, 1997, and had 19- and 22-point outings during the Lakers’ playoff run, which ended against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference finals.

Bryant averaged 7.6 points a game that first season but went on to become one of the greatest to play the game, scoring 33,643 career points (fourth on the all-time list) and winning five NBA championships. He died Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash that also took the lives of his daughter Gianna and seven others.

But 24 years ago Tuesday, Bryant was just a blip in the box score. Shaquille O’Neal led the Lakers with 35 points, 19 rebounds and three blocked shots to help avoid an embarrassing loss to the Timberwolves, who had won only 26 games the previous season.

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Even that night, however, teenage Kobe was already displaying a bit of what would become known as the Mamba Mentality.

“We can’t be almost losing to a team like Minnesota if we want to accomplish what we want to accomplish,” he said after the game.

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