Once upon a time, nobody really gave a damn about the NBA Summer League except for the players and teams in it. It wasn’t televised, the NBA didn’t care to have any camera men at the games and the audience didn’t have camera phones and social media to capture, comment about and share the action. If they did, you can bet Kobe Bryant would have been a trending topic.
In the summer of 1996, a few weeks after getting drafted by the Hornets and traded to the Lakers, a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant made his Summer League debut against the Detroit Pistons, scoring a team-high 27 points. After the game, Pistons coach Alvin Gentry raved about the rookie, saying, “I have never seen a better player at his age at his position.”
The Lakers then went to play an exhibition game in China, where Kobe eclipsed the 20 point mark again by putting up 22.
He followed that up with a 15-point game and then came his statement game against the Phoenix Suns: Kobe, wearing #32, scored a summer-high 36 points (9-of-22 from the field and 17-21 from the line) in 38 minutes and dished out 5 assists. He did have 7 turnovers but nobody was complaining.
The complaints came right before training camp, when he broke his wrist playing a pick-up game at Venice Beach and couldn’t practice for 5 weeks. Then in one of his first exhibition games, he suffered another injury and sat out most of the preseason and the season opener. You could say Kobe had a really rocky start to his NBA career…but it turned out OK.