OAKLAND, CA - 1997: Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles circa 1997 at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1997 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant at 40: Throwback Photos of Mamba's Early Days

Celebrating the Laker legend's milestone birthday.

Lordy, Lordy, Kobe's 40. Three years after his retirement — and 20 stellar seasons leading the Lakers — the man they call Mamba is tiptoeing toward middle-age. But as these pictures show, Bryant doesn't look so far removed from the fresh-faced teenage superstar who took the NBA by storm in the fall of 1996. As he celebrates the milestone birthday, a look back at the early days of the Laker legend (and famous Virgo!).

31 Mar 1996: Kobe Bryant looks to pass the ball during the McDonald''s All-American at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger /Allsport Doug Pensinger/Getty Images ALL-AMERICAN Before he was an 18-time NBA All-Star, then 17-year-old Kobe capped his high school career with an appearance in the prestigious McDonald's All-American game in 1996. Kobe Bryant and Brandy (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage) Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage PROM DATE Months after going to prom together, Kobe and singer Brandy attend a 1996 movie premiere in Los Angeles.

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WALTHAM, MA - JUNE 20: The Boston Celtics trying out Kobe Bryant as coaches look on during practice at Brandeis University. (Photo by Tom Landers/The Boston Globe via Getty Images) Boston Globe via Getty Images AS A CELTIC? Kobe, decked in Celtics gear, attends a pre-draft workout with future-rival Boston in 1996. EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JUNE 26: Kobe Bryant drafted by the Charlotte Hornets shakes NBA Commissioner David Stern's hand during the 1996 NBA Draft on June 26, 1996 at the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1996 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images AS A HORNET? Before Bryant was a Laker, he had a minutes-long career with the Charlotte Hornets, who drafted him 15th overall before trading his rights to LA. INGLEWOOD, CA - JULY 11: Kobe Bryant holds a #8 Los Angeles Lakers jersey after being the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets who then traded his draft rights to the Los Angeles Lakers on July 11, 1996 in Inglewood, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1996 NBAE (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images) Juan Ocampo/NBAE/Getty Images ONCE A LAKER, AWAYS A LAKER That's more like it. Kobe holds up his number 8 Lakers jersey — he would later change to number 24, which he wore at Lower Merion High School, for the 2006 – 07 season. 1996: Kobe Bryant and his father pose for a portrait. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice: Copyright 2002 NBAE (Photo by: Andy Hayt/NBAE/Getty Images) Andy Hayt/NBAE/Getty Images WITH POPS Joe Bryant, himself a professional basketball player, joins his son for a portrait during the 1996 rookie photoshoot. 1997: Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers poses for a studio portrait circa 1997. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1997 NBAE (Photo by Andy Hayt/NBAE via Getty Images) Andy Hayt/NBAE/Getty Images SERIOUS TALENT An 18-year-old Kobe keeps his game face on during a 1997 shoot. INGLEWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 3: Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers waits to enter the game for his first professional minutes during the first quarter during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on November 3, 1996 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. (Photo by David Taylor/Getty Images) David Taylor/Getty Images FIRST OF MANY Kobe waits to enter a game against the Timberwolves on November 3, 1996 — the very first of his legendary NBA career. THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 962 -- Pictured: (l-r) Professional basketball player Kobe Bryant during an interview with host Jay Leno on July 17, 1996 -- (Photo by: Margaret C. Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images) NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images HEEEEERE'S KOBE The star in the making appears as a guest on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" in 1996. PHILADELPHIA - NOVEMBER 26: Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers and his dad Joe Bryant pose in the locker during a game played on November 26, 1996 at the First Union Arena in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1996 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images THAT 90'S STYLE Marooned-out with his dad after a 1996 game against the 76ers — his first visit as a player back to his home city of Philadelphia. INGLEWOOD, CA - 1997: Kobe Bryant #8 and Shaquille O'Neal #34 of the Los Angeles Lakers before a game circa 1997 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1997 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images) Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES Shaq and Kobe, seen here in 1997, were a daunting combination, winning three consecutive NBA championships (2000, 2001, 2002). INGLEWOOD, CA - 1997: Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers pose for a photo circa 1997 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1997 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images) Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images YOUNG PHENOMS With golfing great Tiger Woods after a 1997 game in LA. INGLEWOOD, CA - JANUARY 3: Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the game against the Sacramento Kings on January 3, 1997 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1997 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images) Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images EAR TO EAR Kobe, all smiles during a 1997 matchup with the Kings.



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