Born in Philadelphia and partly raised in Italy, Bryant was recognized as the top high-school basketball player in the U. S. while at Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania. The son of former NBA player Joe Bryant, he declared for the 1996 NBA draft after graduation, and was selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th overall pick; the Hornets then traded him to the Lakers. As a rookie, Bryant earned a reputation as a high-flyer and a fan favorite by winning the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest, and he was named an All-Star by his second season. Despite a feud with teammate Shaquille O’Neal, the pair led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA championships from 2000 to 2002. In 2003, Bryant was charged with sexual assault following an accusation by a young female hotel clerk. The criminal charges were dropped after the accuser refused to testify, and a lawsuit was settled out of court. Bryant issued a public apology and admitted to a sexual encounter but denied the assault allegation and said it was consensual.
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