Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant was drafted into the NBA at just 17 years old and retired at 37, and his hair went through a number of different styles throughout this 20-year span. So not only did basketball fans all over the world witness the evolution of his game, but also the evolution of his hair.
Kobe Bryant’s changing hair didn’t influence his play at all given he always had his foot on the gas pedal. Rather, it gave Kobe’s die-hard fans bookmarks of the various chapters in his 20-year career. Here’s an attempt to define those bookmarks, by way of Kobe’s changing hairstyles over the course of his career.
Bald Kobe (1996-97)
In 1996, a confident and brash Kobe declared for the NBA Draft. He sported a bald look then, a hairstyle he carried over to his first season in the NBA. Bryant’s rookie year was not too eventful, as then-Lakers coach Del Harris played him a mere 15.5 minutes per game in 71 contests (six starts). The biggest highlight of a bald, young Kobe was winning the Slam Dunk Contest.
The Frobe era marked key transition years for Bryant. It was in this span that Kobe transformed from a fan favorite to a bona fide NBA superstar. At 18 years old, he became an All-Star for the first time in his career. Also, he finally became a starter after sitting on the bench in his first two years. And, of course, who could forget the Lakers’ three-peat.
It was in these years that Kobe entered the national and world consciousness, truly becoming a household name and getting a signature shoe and multiple sponsorships. What’s impressive is that Kobe was just in his early 20s during this time. One could say he had achieved everything a basketball player could ever dream of. But he was just getting started.
Buzz Cut (2003-2010)
The buzz cut years were met by various struggles on and off the court. On the court, Kobe Bryant’s relationship with Shaquille O’Neal was turning sour. Both of them were at the peak of their careers, but they just weren’t seeing eye to eye. After their 2004 Finals defeat, the Lakers sent O’Neal away via trade.
Without Shaq in the fold, Bryant was forced to answer the question on everyone’s mind: could he win without The Diesel? While he wound up doing so, Bryant and the Lakers had to endure a number of struggles before finally winning another championship in 2009. Note that it was in this span (2006) that Bryant exploded for 81 points, but it was a feat he had to do because nobody else was there to help him.
This time period also coincided with Kobe’s sexual assault allegations, which marred his career.
The balding years can safely be tagged as Kobe Bryant’s twilight years. He still had a bit of hair, but it wasn’t as glorious as his mini fro or as classy as his buzz cut. In his last six seasons in the league, Bryant guided the Lakers to just three playoff appearances, with two of the campaigns ending in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Lakers also made the playoffs in 2012-13 and lost in the first round, but Kobe didn’t play due to tearing his Achilles.
Bryant was still getting buckets, but injuries just kept on coming, including that Achilles tear that signaled it was time to hang up his sneakers. In classic Mamba fashion, a balding Kobe left us with a 60-point game in his final contest.