Kobe Bryant competes at the NBA Slam Dunk Contest on Feb. 8, 1997.
(Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Lakers History: Rookie Kobe Soars to Dunk Contest Title

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

Four years after he dunked a basketball for the very first time, an 18-year-old Kobe Bryant soared his way to a trophy at All-Star Weekend.

The rookie threw down two impressive dunks in the first round and added a near-perfect slam in the championship portion, earning the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest title in front of a sold-out Cleveland crowd.

Despite scoring a then-record 31 points in the Rookie Challenge earlier that day, Bryant proved that he had plenty of energy left.

For his first dunk, he started from the 3-point line, took two large strides and threw down a one-handed reverse slam.

Needing 35 points to advance, the teenager found himself in a spot of trouble after missing his second attempt.

He kept cool, starting in the corner and sprinting the baseline before slamming a backwards jackknife to advance with a 37-point score.

The first round eliminated Ray Allen, Bob Sura and Darvin Ham, leaving only Michael Finley and Chris Carr in the way.

Bryant went first in the championship and immediately brought the crowd to its feet.

In an iconic moment for a future legend, he put the ball between his legs mid-air and then rocked the rim one-handed.

The judges — Julius Erving, Walt Frazier, George Gervin, Bob Lanier and Lisa Leslie — gave him a 49 out of 50, and Dr. J himself jumped out of his seat when Bryant flew.

The 18 year old flexed and swaggered his way off the court, knowing that his score was near-unbeatable and that he was moments away from becoming the NBA’s youngest dunk champion ever.

“I know I don’t have much,” he told reporters, “but I decided to flex what I have.”

By the end of the night, he also had a Slam Dunk Contest trophy — the first of many awards in a legendary career.

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