Pros: Two great shots and card design
Cons: It is easier to find than it should be
Whenever an NBA player ascends to the highest echelon of the sport, some people immediately want to compare that man to Michael Jordan. That's unfair to both the Bulls star and his greatness. It also unfairly lays a burden on the players who participate in the sport where Jordan found an unparalleled level of excellence. Those who follow have a right and an obligation to make a name for themselves. Kobe Bryant has been one of the biggest stars of the post-Jordan NBA, and Bryant even plays for Phil Jackson, Jordan's longtime coach, as the on-court force of the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant has set trends in the league in his own right. At age seventeen, Bryant became the first guard to go directly from high school in Pennsylvania to NBA draft pick when the Charlotte Hornets selected him in the first round of the 1996 Draft (13th overall). However, the Hornets dealt Bryant to the Lakers before he ever played in Charlotte. He's been in L. A. ever since, where he has been a ten-time All-Pro selection, as well as an eight-time All-Defensive team pick. He's been a four-time scoring leader in the league, and, in the 2007-08 campaign, earned his first Most Valuable Player award. Even though he has openly expressed some grievances about the Lakers organization, Bryant became the player with the longest continuous term of service with one team in 2007-08.
As a teen, Bryant was a reserve, honing his game as his playing time slowly grew. In his third season, Bryant became a full-time starter, teaming with Shaquille O'Neal on a lineup that would win the first of its three consecutive titles just one year later. His career on pasteboard began the same year as his NBA career. One of Bryant's many rookie card appearances came on the NBA Hoops line of Fleer cards. The predominant feature of the front is a shot of Bryant, with his name and team at the bottom of the shot. The back has another shot of Bryant, as well as a brief discussion about his play at Lower Merion High School. This Bryant rookie card is #281 in the 350-card 1996-97 NBA Hoops set. It is the key card of this set, and a fine alternative for collectors who can't afford a high-end Bryant rookie, such as his Topps Chrome card, with a Beckett value of $200. The Hoops rookie, by comparison, is a reasonable $4.
As trading cards changed in the nineties, I grew to like those cards which combined a photographic quality with the traits normally associated with trading cards. If the trading card portions of this card were removed, it would look like a small photograph. That maximizes the size of the shot, which shows Bryant in game action. His name is printed in gold foil in one corner, with more gold foil print in another corner to indicate his rookie status. The photo on the back is a fun one, showing the young guard making a move with the ball. The expression on Bryant's face shows he is delightfully in his element when he's playing. The son of former NBA player Joe Bryant has grown more into his element as his all-around skills have made him one of the league's top talent. Bryant became the fourth Laker to garner MVP honors, following Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and former teammate O'Neal.
In at least one respect besides their position, Kobe Bryant is like Michael Jordan. When he is on the floor, Bryant is the unquestioned leader of his team. When he thought the Lakers weren't doing enough to turn the squad into contenders, he openly talked of wanting to leave the team by trade. While that didn't happen, he became one of the big reasons the Lakers reached the NBA Finals for the first time in four seasons. If Kobe Bryant had never been dealt to Los Angeles, he might still be wondering when the Hornets were going to build their championship team. Instead, he keeps waiting to have a cast that will take them to the top once again. When the 2008-09 season starts, Bryant will be thirty years old. He shares the hopes of all Lakers fans in that he wants to be on the court when the team adds a fifteenth title to its storied history, one that is old as the NBA itself.