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Before joining the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant was a star at Lower Merion High School. — AP photo

After playing 20 years in the NBA for the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant has announced that this will be his last season. Bryant, 37, will be playing his final game in Philadelphia tonight (7 p.m.) against the hometown Philadelphia 76ers. Bryant announced his retirement on Sunday, Nov. 29 leaving quite a basketball legacy that featured a number of highlights over the last two decades.

Bryant had a brilliant scholastic career at Lower Merion High School where he was regarded as the No. 1 high school basketball player in the nation. In 1996, he decided to skip college and made himself available for the NBA draft. The Charlotte Hornets made him the 13th overall pick. After that, he was traded to the Lakers where he won five NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVPs, 17 NBA All-Star appearances and became the third all-time leading scorer with 32,683 points.

When it comes to basketball, Bryant had a great foundation. It starts with his parents Joe and Pamela Cox Bryant. His father, Joe, was one of the greatest high school players to ever play in Philadelphia. He was a tremendous basketball player at Bartram High School and La Salle before he played eight seasons in the NBA. He also played professionally for seven seasons in Italy and one in France. His uncle John “Chubby” Cox (Pam’s brother) was a huge basketball star at Roxborough High School and the University of San Francisco. Cox also had a brief stint in the NBA with the Washington Bullets.

Bryant and Cox both honed their skills in the Sonny Hill League, which had some of the best high school players in the country. Both players starred in the league during the ‘70s. The league helped to set the stage for Kobe Bryant’s career. When Kobe first started playing in the Sonny Hill League at Temple’s McGonigle Hall, you could see the raw talent right away. You could also tell that he really enjoyed the game. Aside from the talent, you could see the enthusiasm he brought to the court. He started playing the league at 12-years-old. He played in the Development League, the Future and the Sonny Hill League, which are all a part of the Sonny Hill Community Involvement League.

Chubby’s son, John Cox, played in the league, too. Both John and Kobe spent a lot of time working on their game. In fact, they used to play one-on-one together. John had a terrific basketball career at Engineering and Science and the University of San Francisco.

The Sonny Hill League, started in 1968, has provided a safe haven and many opportunities for players to grow and learn the game of basketball in the Philadelphia area. It’s amazing when you think about all the people from the Sonny Hill League who have watched Kobe play as a youngster right on up to his high school years. People like Sonny Hill, Tee Shields, Claude Gross, Tony Samartino, James Flint, Cal Smith, Fred Douglas, John Hardnett and so many others.

The late Herm Rogul was the first sports writer in Philadelphia to write about Kobe. Rogul spent 20 years writing the famous People in Sports column in The Evening Bulletin prior to finishing his career at The Philadelphia Tribune.

Rogul wrote about Kobe playing in the Sonny Hill League. His articles always included Pam, Joe, Kobe’s sisters Sharia and Shaya and Joe’s dad, Joe Bryant Sr. They all came to watch Kobe play in the league during the summer months.

When Kobe first started playing in the league, it was hard to tell whether or not, he was going to go straight from high school to college. However, you could see improvement every year. He played in the Tony Samartino Future Stars Tournament his senior year in high school. There was something magical about him. You could tell his game had gone to another level. You could see the quickness, the ball handling skills, the range on the jump shot and the ability to take over a game.

Kobe learned more than basketball from the league. In 2005, Chubby Cox coached an undefeated basketball at Vaux High School comprised of eighth, ninth and 10th graders. Chubby asked him to come to the school to present trophies to the players. Kobe had a game with the Washington Wizards at the MCI Center the night before. With just a few hours of rest, he arrived the ceremony on time. It was a real treat for all the kids. That’s a part of Hill’s reach back philosophy.

They’re a lot of people who helped Kobe Bryant throughout his career. However, the Sonny Hill League certainly helped to pave the way for him.

dhunt@phillytrib.com

(215) 893-5719

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