An 18-year-old Kobe Bryant barely took his training wheels off when he burst into the spotlight with a series of high-flying dunks to win the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest. It would be one of many trophies Bryant would collect in his career.
Bryant received experimental platelet-rich plasma therapy called Orthokine in Germany to treat the pain on his left knee and ankle, and Mike Brown replaced the retired Jackson as coach of the Lakers in the off-season. Bryant began the season playing with an injured wrist. On January 10, 2012, Bryant scored 48 points against the Suns. "Not bad for the seventh-best player in the league", said Bryant, referring to a preseason ESPN ranking of the NBA's top players. He went on to score 40, 42, and 42 in his next three games. It was the sixth time in his career he scored 40 or more points in four straight games, a feat exceeded only by Chamberlain (19 times). At the 2012 NBA All-Star Game, Bryant scored 27 points to pass Jordan as the career scoring leader in the All-Star Game. He also suffered a broken nose and a concussion in the third quarter of the All-Star Game after a hard foul from Dwyane Wade. In April, Bryant missed seven games with a bruised left shin. He returned three games before the end of the regular season. He sat out the season finale against Sacramento, foregoing the chase for a possible third NBA scoring title, having needed 38 points to surpass Kevin Durant. The Lakers were knocked out of the playoffs by Durant and Oklahoma City in the second round of the playoffs, losing in five games in what would be Bryant's final playoff appearance.
Bryant was called "one of the greatest players in the history of our game" by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, and The New York Times wrote that he had "one of the most decorated careers in the history of the sport." Reuters called him "arguably the best player of his generation", while both Sporting News and TNT named him their NBA player of the decade for the 2000s. In 2008 and again in 2016, ESPN ranked him the second-greatest shooting guard of all time after Jordan. In 2022, to commemorate the NBA's 75th Anniversary The Athletic ranked their top 75 players of all time, and named Bryant as the 10th greatest player in NBA history, the second highest shooting guard on the list, behind only Jordan. Players including Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, and Derrick Rose called Bryant their generation's version of Jordan. The Press-Enterprise described Bryant as "maybe the greatest Laker in the organization's history". He was the Lakers' all-time leading scorer, and his five titles are tied for the most in franchise history. Both numbers he wore during his career, 8 and 24, were retired by the Lakers on December 18, 2017. In his first year of eligibility, Bryant was named a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, weeks after his death, before being elected a couple of months later in April 2020. His formal induction was delayed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In October 2021, Bryant was honored as one of the league's greatest players of all time by being named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team.