Kobe Bryant

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was born on August 23, 1978.

The son of professional basketball player Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, Kobe spent part of his childhood in Italy and is still fluent in Italian today. He also enjoyed the mentorship of his father as a young basketball player.

Kobe was good enough that he declared for the NBA Draft right out of high school. The Charlotte Hornets made him the 13th pick -- and then traded him to the Lakers in exchange for Vlade Divac.

The trade seems absurd today, but at the time Bryant was seen as much more of a risk -- he was only 17 when he signed his first contract with the Lakers, and while he displayed athleticism at a young age, he took time to blossom into the star he is today.

Eventually, though, Kobe became one of the best players of his generation, drawing comparisons to Michael Jordan and earning widespread recognition as the heir to Jordan's NBA throne.

Once the Lakers added Shaquille O'Neal and hired Phil Jackson as coach, Bryant began to earn the winning pedigree as well. To date, he's won five NBA championships, including a memorable three-peat in the early 2000s -- a time during which the Lakers sometimes seemed unbeatable.

After playing second fiddle to Shaq -- and occasionally struggling to co-exist with his larger teammate -- Bryant added two more titles as the clear alpha dog of the franchise.

While the Lakers in recent years have fallen on hard times and have been forced to rebuild around an aging Bryant, the shooting guard's legacy is well in place. Entering the final year of his contract and mulling retirement at the year's end, Bryant is third all-time on the NBA scoring charts.

Bryant also won two NBA Finals MVP awards and the NBA's regular-season MVP award in 2008. A 17-time All-Star, Bryant is a Basketball Hall of Fame lock -- and if he does choose to prolong his career, he could be in reach of the all-time NBA scoring mark.

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