The NBA is one of the toughest and most competitive sports leagues on Earth. Getting there is incredibly difficult, but staying is even harder. Even amazingly talented players can fade out pretty quickly. That’s why only the true greats stick around for a long time.
Kobe Bryant is one example of that. The late legend had one of the longest (20 years) and most successful careers of any basketball player to ever reach the NBA.
This article will expand on that by breaking down his years in the league and seeing how he managed to stick around for so long.
An Average Career
Before looking at Kobe’s time in the NBA, it’s first important to give context to the numbers. The NBA is a league with a lot of players, but most of them are only around for a few years. In fact, the average career length sits at right around 4.5 seasons.
As there are a lot of long-term athletes at the top, that figure shows just how many athletes fade out quickly. Everyone in the league is talented, but being talented and being able to stay on a team are two different things. Many move back and forth from the G-League as well.
Taking that into account, those who make it past five years are above the average. However, for someone to be considered a longtime player they have to stick around for a decade or more. Anything beyond that is reserved only for the true greats. That includes Kobe Bryant.
Athletes that stick around in the NBA for a long time tend to start early, and that’s exactly what Kobe did. The Lakers superstar made headlines when he entered the league directly out of high school rather than going the traditional route and moving up through college.
Though some had their doubts, he immediately took the entire league by storm. Kobe exploded out of the gate. He put up big numbers right from the get-go and slotted right into the Los Angeles system. In just a few short years, he and Shaq brought the city numerous rings.
While he was young, no one doubted Kobe would be around for a long time. However, even back then it was hard to imagine just how long that would be.
Building a Legacy
Kobe’s career went through many peaks and valleys. He started strong and then fell off during the 2000’s before coming back with a vengeance in 2008 and 2009. He won two more championships at that point, and only grew his legacy. Even so, his career was far from over.
When it was all said and done, the Lakers great spent twenty years in the league. He was just the fifth player to stick around for exactly two decades, and only the tenth to even surpass nineteen seasons. Looking at everyone who’s played the game, that’s incredibly impressive.
Even more, he was one of three people (alongside Udonis Haslem and Dirk Nowitzki) to stick around that long with a single team. He had a lot of loyalty to the team who picked him, and that never once wavered.
It wasn’t just talent that kept Kobe around, it was an unyielding drive and the physical ability to keep pushing no matter how tough or hard things got.
Staying in the NBA is incredibly difficult. Doing it for two decades is almost impossible. While Kobe hit many amazing benchmarks, his longevity is what truly made him so special. He wasn’t just great, he was great for years. Few have ever had that type of consistency.