Before Kobe Bryant was an NBA superstar, a Los Angeles Lakers icon and a basketball legend, he was a Lower Merion Ace.
Twenty years ago this season, as a high school senior, Bryant led Lower Merion to the 1995-96 Pennsylvania state championship. That was also his final season as an amateur, and as anything remotely resembling a normal teenager. Months later, he was playing in the NBA, against grown men before audiences of millions.
Now Bryant is on a different cusp. He’s 37, slogging through the final season of his Lakers contract and visibly in the twilight of his career. Over the weekend, he announced that he will retire.
This is his last season.
When Bryant hangs up his sneakers, he’ll do so as an NBA idol. Five championships. Two NBA Finals MVPs. Seventeen All-Star appearances. One NBA MVP. Eleven First Team All-NBA selections. Two scoring titles. All-time leading scorer in Lakers franchise history. First guard to enter the league straight out of high school. The list goes on.
But before all that, there was a moment — a brief moment — when a teenage Bryant existed on the brink between hometown hero and worldwide celebrity. It’s the instant before everything goes boom and nothing is the same. It’s the last fateful step the Beatles took onto The Ed Sullivan Show stage.
For Bryant, that moment was his senior Lower Merion High School season, just before he announced his intentions to jump to the NBA.
This is the story of that moment, as remembered 20 years later by those around Bryant — his 1995-96 Lower Merion state championship teammates and coaches.
THE CELEBRITY SPOTLIGHT
A FIRE INSIDE