Front row seat to Kobe Bryant's final HS game

Front row seat to Kobe Bryant's final HS game
Kobe Bryant (Source: AP Images)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - NBA star Kobe Bryant will retire at the end of the season after 19 years in the league.

20 years ago all we really knew was we were watching the young man that everyone considered the best high school basketball player in country.  Kobe Bryant went on, of course, to become one of the greatest basketball players
to ever play the game.   Bryant is making his final appearance in Cleveland as a Los Angeles Laker but in the spring of 1996 Bryant was a senior at Lower Merion High School playing in the Pennsylvania big school state championship game against Erie Cathedral
The game was played at the Hershey Park Arena and it was an evening I will never forget.  I was working in Erie at the time and as a former college basketball player I was hired to provide the analysis for the TV broadcast
of the game.  Remember, this was 20 years ago so video of every high school phenom was not at everyone's fingertips.  We had, however, heard the stories of Bryant completely dominating the competition and when we had the chance to watch some of his game films
it was clear he was the real deal.
Hershey Park Arena was jam packed, tickets were tough to get, as  everyone wanted to see how Kobe would play in his final high school game.  Bryant had not yet made it known that he would skip college and go directly to the
NBA, but it was a foregone conclusion that Kobe was going to the NBA.  Bryant said weeks later that he had decided sometime during his senior year in high school that he was not going to play college basketball.  For him, it was the right decision.
I was thrilled to have a front row seat for the circus that followed Bryant wherever he went.  My first impression was that even though, at 6'6'', Kobe was the tallest player on the floor, he was also very thin so he didn't appear
to be a physically dominating presence.  His talent however quickly made him the dominant presence in the game.  Erie Cathedral Prep had decided that they were going to make someone other than Kobe beat them that night. They almost made that happen.  Kobe
clearly was the quickest player on the court, but Prep played a matchup zone and doubled Kobe every time he touched the ball.  Bryant is  often is accused of being a gunner but he is a smart basketball player and even in high school he realized he could not
beat a double team every time he had the ball so he spent a good portion of the first half looking for teammates.
Lower Merion made a clear decision to speed up the game in the second half and get Kobe in the open floor.  It worked, Kobe sprinted from baseline to baseline for dunks and layups and also found his teammates wide open for easy
baskets when Prep would manage to get him double teamed.   Prep hung in there though and were down only 2 points and had the ball with under a minute to play,  Kobe however pulled down a Prep miss, sprinted the floor and dished off to a teammate for the bucket
that put the game away.
Kobe came into the game averaging 31 points a game. Prep held him to 17 points but Kobe's team won the game and there wasn't anyone there that night, except maybe the disappointed Prep players, that did not see greatness in his game.  
I remember thinking  that Bryant clearly was a dominant talent but that he could probably use a year in college to get physically stronger for the NBA. 

Bryant was the 13th pick in the draft by the Charlotte Hornets and was then traded to the Lakers.  His first year in the league was a bit of a struggle, he scored only seven points a game, but even then it was clear it
was just a matter of time before he was a very good player.  It turned out he became one of the best, maybe the best pure scorer, to ever play.

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