On April 13, Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant will take the court for the final game of his NBA career. The 37-year-old guard, selected in the first round of the 1996 draft out of high school, is finishing up his 20th season in L.A. — a record for the most years played with a single team.
TIME asked sports photography professionals to choose one frame from Bryant’s career, which spanned over 1,300 regular season games, 33,583 points — good for third all-time — and five Lakers championships.
Manny Millan, Sports Illustrated, Photographer
Kobe Bryant posed the same problem for photographers that Michael Jordan did: Do not attempt to frame him too tightly because he would literally leap out of your image! [My] photo taken at the 2002 All-Star game demonstrates his incredible leaping ability. He is head and shoulders above his fellow all-stars…Kobe rarely failed to impress us with his incredible athleticism ant talent game after game!
Andrew Bernstein, Los Angeles Lakers, Team Photographer
I’ve had the good fortune as Lakers team photographer to have photographed almost every significant moment in Kobe Bryant’s 20 year NBA career. During the 2009-10 season I traveled extensively with the team which resulted in some special behind-the-scenes moments. [My] photo was shot in the locker room at Madison Square Garden about an hour or so before game time. The Lakers were on a long east coast trip and had just played the night before in Cleveland, where Kobe scored 31 points in 40 minutes. He was beat up at that point in the season—broken finger, ankles hurting, etc. This photo sums up the incredible will I have witnessed in Kobe every night. I have never seen an athlete so determined and focused. He came out and played 42 minutes and dropped 27 points on the Knicks in the Lakers victory that night.
Wally Skalij, The Los Angeles Times, Staff Photographer
Picking a favorite photograph of Kobe is a difficult task, especially covering him for the past 20 years. The one thing that I did notice in most of the photos is his intensity. The fierce, competitive edge that brought him to seven NBA Finals and five championships. The one thing that stands out glaringly is his face as he walks from the locker room to the hallway before taking the court with his teammates, but the picture that speaks to me is his celebration. That one moment where he releases all that fierceness, anger, dedication, focus and the many hours in the basketball gym in one moment. I picked this photo of him the moment he won the NBA championship against the Magic because it relates to what he is experiencing this year. A weight has lifted off his shoulders and now I see a totally different face.
Walter Iooss, Sports Illustrated, Photographer
We were doing a shoot for Adidas, which always meant a good day with a lot of time and options. They brought in the car, which was really too small for Kobe, but he always knew how to pose, and always had a sense for what what we needed in a photograph. He made my life as a photographer easy.
Harry How, Getty Images, Staff Photographer
This images stands out to me because a Laker game is as much a sporting event as it is a spectacle of court-side stars. You’ll often see big name celebrities sitting court side at the big Lakers games and many have supported Kobe throughout his career. It’s rare to see Kobe celebrate with an individual fan at a big playoff game but here celebrity and sport collide as only Kobe could get Justin Timberlake into the arena and out of his seat to cheer Kobe’s 4th quarter basket in playoff game seven. This is a classic LA moment to me.
Brad Smith, former Director of Photography, Sports Illustrated
Kobe Bryant is a jerk. Just like Michael Jordan was, and Larry Bird. And that attitude, that competitive level he has is what drove him to be one of the greatest players in NBA history. The drive to make his teammates better, to make them be as good as he is, to care as much as he does. It showed in every game he played, every point he scored, and in each of the 5 world championship rings he has. If you want to win, sometimes you need a jerk on your team.
Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press – Los Angeles, Staff Photographer
This image was taken on Sunday, April 22, 2012 during the second overtime between the Lakers and Thunder in their final home game of the season. As if the double overtime wasn’t enough, there had been a lot of drama in this game which saw Metta World Peace ejected for knocking the Thunder’s James Harden to the floor during a celebration and the Lakers recover from an 18 point deficit in the second half to come back and win 114-106. At the moment this image was taken, the clock was winding down to the final few seconds and Kobe walked toward me with a blood stain on his jersey and made this enormous lions’s roar. I think that Kobe was finally able to release all of the tension that had built up from such an emotional game. I have seen a lot of different kinds of emotions from Kobe in the 19 years that I have been covering his games, but this one is the most visceral and memorable.
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