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Kobe Bryant's 20-year career also shows how far video games have come

One of the last active players to begin his career as a sprite.

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Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

After this season, Kobe Bryant will close the door on a 20-year career in the NBA, and a pair of video game screenshots getting a lot of play on Twitter highlight just how long that is and how much can change in that time.

Bryant, 37, is one of three NBA players still active who debuted in video games as sprites and not as a motion-captured, 3D-modeled and animated figures. Minnesota's Kevin Garnett debuted in the 1995-96 season; Bryant followed in 1996-1997 with the Los Angeles Lakers, and San Antonio's Tim Duncan came along in 1997-1998.

Those are the last three years EA Sports' NBA Live series published 16-bit versions, featuring players as 2D sprites, for Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. NBA Live also published more sophisticated versions on PlayStation and PC in those years.

NBA Live 97, Bryant's rookie year in video games, was the first to use 3D models for players (previous editions had rendered the court in 3D, with accompanying camera angles, but the players still were sprites). Visual fidelity increased exponentially in the years since, particularly with the NBA 2K series by Visual Concepts beginning on Dreamcast in 1999 and continuing to this day on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

In that span, Bryant has gone from dead-eyed, angular and robotic to increasingly lifelike, dripping sweat, pointing at teammates and giving defenders a disdainful side-eye. Here's Bryant 13 years ago, in NBA Live 2003.

kobe bryant nba live 2003

This is what Bryant looked like a decade ago, in NBA Live 06

kobe bryant nba live 06

And here's how he appeared five years ago, in NBA 2K11.

kobe bryant nba 2k11

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