LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant tipped off his 20th season with the Lakers on Wednesday in the team’s regular-season opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center, setting an NBA record for most seasons played with one franchise.
Bryant surpassed John Stockton, who played for the Utah Jazz from the 1984-85 season until his retirement after 2002-03. Only four other players in NBA history have played 20 seasons: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Garnett, Robert Parish and Kevin Willis.
“It’s unbelievable,” coach Byron Scott said before the game in addressing Bryant’s impending mark. “I don’t know if we’ll see that one again, either.”
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Bryant, 37, is the only player in any of the four major North American sports leagues to play 20 or more seasons all for a team based in L.A.
Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and the third-leading scorer in NBA history, returned to the court after his 2014-15 season ended in late January because of a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.
Scott recalled playing alongside Bryant, then an 18-year-old rookie, in the 1996-97 season, Scott’s final season as a player with the Lakers and in the NBA.
“He was at the [Fabulous Forum] shooting, and the lights weren’t even on,” Scott said, referencing the Lakers’ previous arena in Inglewood, California.
“The first real conversation that we really had, when I asked him, ‘What do you want to be in this league? How do you want to leave your mark?’ And he just looked at me and said, ‘I want to be the best player in this league.’ He’s always been driven. That’s just been him. It hasn’t changed. The only thing that’s changed is he’s just gotten older. His passion for the game and his love for the game and his determination has been the same since day one. He wanted to be great the day he got picked up by the Lakers. He wanted to be great, and he achieved that.”