Born: 23 August 1978
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Best known as: Superstar guard of the Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996 and became part of a celebrated one-two punch with center Shaquille O'Neal. The pair led the Lakers to NBA championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Bryant was an NBA prodigy, jumping straight from high school to the pros. (He was drafted in 1996 by the Charlotte Hornets, then traded to the Lakers for center Vlade Divac.) Bryant's charisma and flashy talent led some to compare him with former NBA superstar Michael Jordan. In July 2003 Bryant was charged with sexual assault after an encounter with a 19-year-old resort employee in Colorado; Bryant insisted that his relationship with the woman was consensual. The case was eventually dismissed and Bryant settled a civil suit with the woman out of court. Bryant continued to play with the Lakers, and on 22 January 2006 scored 81 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors. It was the second highest-scoring individual performance in NBA history, trailing only the 100 points scored by Wilt Chamberlain on 2 March 1962.
Extra credit: Bryant stands 6'7" and plays guard... He wore the jersey number 8 for years, but switched to 24 at the start of the 2006 NBA season... According to Bryant's NBA bio, his parents "named him after a kind of steak (kobe) seen on a restaurant menu prior to his birth"... Bryant's father Joe Bryant played eight seasons in the NBA and also played pro ball in Italy, where Kobe spent part of his childhood... Bryant married the former Vanessa Laine in April 2001; their daughter, Natalia, was born in January 2003.