Kobe was one of the best players in NBA history. His skill, work ethic, and sheer competitiveness were almost unmatched, as was his ability to shoot the ball. However, as many people forget, he had plenty of raw athleticism too.
The Lakers legend was one of the most physically gifted athletes of all time. This guide looks at that in great detail by breaking down Kobe’s vertical (which is 38 inches or 97 cm), the ways he used it so effectively, as well as how it measures up against other all-time great jumpers.
What’s In a Jump
Almost every single athlete who’s ever played in the NBA has been able to dunk with relative ease. Even the ones who have a bit of trouble, such as Steve Nash and Stephen Curry, can still throw down when needed. However, not everyone jumps in the same way.
Being able to get to the rim is one thing, but being able to get above it is another. Currently, the average vertical across the league clocks in at 28 inches (71 cm). That’s much higher than the average person, but it’s not incredibly crazy either. Big men tend to drag the average down.
For a player to be considered a true jumping phenom, their vertical must be at around 40 inches. Anything above that is truly in another world, with only a handful of players getting to that point, while being just below it is great too. Kobe was in the latter.
A High Flying Rookie
Kobe is remembered for his scoring and his championships, but it’s important to remember his athleticism too. The late guard wasn’t just springy, he had one of the best verticals in the league. He could jump 38 inches (97 cm), easily placing him in the upper echelon of NBA stars.
That number isn’t quite at the cut-off of 40, but it shows that Kobe had ample bounce. In fact, his jumping ability helped put him on the map.
After coming into the NBA straight out of high school, Kobe had giant expectations. The league thought he might bring about a new era and gave him the opportunity to show his stuff. He did just that in 1997. Not only did he play well on the court, but he won the Dunk Contest too.
That’s a moment in Kobe’s career few people talk about, but the young guard was able to easily beat a field of strong contenders. That proved his jumping ability, and earned him newfound respect.
Going Higher and Higher
Vertical jump is impressive on its own, but it’s also a good measure of other athletic abilities. It suggests that the person is a solid weight, has a decent amount of strength, and also that they are light enough to get up in the air. Kobe had a little bit of all three.
His scoring ability was his most impressive feature, but that tied directly into his vertical. Being able to jump up over defenders is what helped him create his patented jump shot. It also enabled him to sky up for rebounds or make impressive blocks.
The jump informed every part of Kobe’s game. A turnaround fade away isn’t effective if a player can’t get higher than their defender’s outstretched hand in the same way a layup falls short if they can’t fly past opponents. It gave him an edge he was able to take to the top.
Kobe may not be thought of in the same way as Jason Richardson or Vince Carter, but he could fly. He had plenty of hops, and he used them with deadly precision again and again. It wasn’t just that he had a high vertical, it’s that he wouldn’t have been the same player without it.