We sometimes forget how spoiled we’ve been as Lakers fans. The current generation of fans has seen as much of Kobe Bryant’s life in the national spotlight as there was before the Lakers. With Bryant turning 35 in just 5 days, we here at Lake Show Life decided to count down Bryant’s 35 greatest moments in the NBA. The first thought was to rank them, but when trying to determine which of Bryant’s accomplishments are better than another, we realized it was too hard. Instead, we’ve listed them in chronological order, starting with Bryant’s first year in the league and working the way to last season. So without further adieu,……
The obvious beginning of Bryant’s greatest moments has to start with getting into the league. Bryant was seen as a can’t-miss prospect, signified by his 13th overall selection. But the Lakers, and specifically Jerry West, saw something in the 17-year old out of Philly, convincing the Hornets to trade the youngster for Vlade Divac.
Bryant’s career, as expected, began with a rather big learning curve. While he tackled the challenge head on, he had his fair share of struggles, meaning he wasn’t selected for the All-Star game in his first season. However, he was selected to participate in the Slam Dunk contest, which he beat out Michael Finley and Ray Allen (yes, Ray Allen).
Despite the big learning curve, Bryant did enough early in his second season and was a big enough fan favorite that he was selected to start in the 1998 All-Star Game. Bryant proved he belonged in the game, leading the Western Conference in scoring with 18 points. However, the West was dominated by the East, who featured Michael Jordan, a young Grant Hill, and Reggie Miller.
Bryant and Shaq certainly didn’t get along at the end of their ride in LA, but the duo were on the same page for this memorable Lakers moment. With the Lakers vowing for their first Finals appearance in nearly 10 years, they faced a double-digit deficit in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Blazers. Led by some clutch 3-point shooting from veterans Brian Shaw and Robert Horry, the Lakers stormed back, taking the lead in the closing moments. With a chance to ice the game, Bryant brought the ball up court, crossed over Scottie Pippen, got into the lane, and lofted a beautiful lob to the big fella, who slammed it home.
In the 2000 NBA Finals, the Lakers often deferred to Shaq, who had a huge size advantage against the Pacers inside. However, in Game 4, the Lakers lost their big man early in overtime, leaving them with huge shoes to fill. In one of the first moments where we saw just how cold-blooded Bryant could be, he took over the extra period, hitting pull-up jumpers, contested shots, and finishing it off with the tip-in in the waning seconds to give the Lakers the win.
Coming into the 2001 playoffs, the Lakers were red-hot. winning their last 8 regular season games, then dispatching the Blazers in three games before meeting the Kings. Heading into Game 4, Bryant and the Lakers had a 3-0 series lead and were looking for their second straight sweep. Bryant and O’Neal came out focused and determined. While O’Neal had a good outing himself with 20 points and 15 rebounds, Bryant overshadowed him with a 48 points, 16 rebound outing. The 16 rebounds is still Bryant’s career high, while the 48 points is the 3rd most in Bryant’s 220 playoff games.
June 12, 2002 – Completing the 3-peat
With the Lakers winning back-to-back titles to start the new millennium, they were looking to complete the first 3-peat since the Celtics in the mid-1950s as they headed into the 2002 playoffs. The Lakers certainly met their fare share of challenges, facing an experienced Trail Blazers squad in the first round, then their rivals in the Spurs in the 2nd round. The Finals, however, saw them meet the Kings, which became one of the greatest series in NBA history, with the Lakers stealing Game 7 in hostile territory. In the Finals, the Lakers barely broke a sweat as the handled the Nets in four games, winning their third straight title and cementing themselves in NBA history.