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 3 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. The first installment featured Kobe’s first moments in the league, so without further adieu…..
The 2002-03 season was Bryant’s big time coming out party. Fans knew he was a budding star, but in 2002-03, he took over as the team’s offensive leader (for better or for worse), averaging an even 30.0 points a game. He also set career high averages in rebounds, assists, and steals while playing all 82 games. Early on in the season, Bryant and the Lakers, who were struggling mightily at this point in the season, took on the red-hot Mavericks. Heading into the 4th quarter, the Mavs led by 27 and were in cruise control. Thanks to 21 points from Bryant in the fourth quarter, the Lakers pulled off the largest comeback in Lakers history, capped off by Bryant’s turnaround jumper with 8.4 seconds remaining to win the game.
We’ve had the opportunity to watch many hot shooting performances by Bryant in his long career, but few were as impressive as the one he gave us in early 2003. During the second and third quarter alone, Bryant knocked down 9 straight three pointers en route to an NBA record 12 threes in a single game. Bryant was firing on all cylinders from deep, burying shots from all around arc, with or without defenders, and even a couple from WELL beyond the line. Nothing could stop Bryant, however, as he etched his name atop the record books for the first time in what would become a long list of accomplishments.
Bryant has become known as arguably the greatest scorer in NBA history. He’s had his fair share of scoring accomplishments, but one of his most impressive came during that 2002-03 season. Starting with a trip to Madison Square Garden and ending with a home match-up against the Sonics nearly three weeks later, Bryant strung together 9 consecutive 40-point games. Over the course of the game, he averaged 44.0 points, shot 49.6% from the field, and shot a blistering 47.1% from 3-point land. He topped the 50-point plateau during the streak twice, scoring 52 points against Houston and 51 points in Denver.
For all NBA fans, 2003 might be remembered as Michael Jordan’s final farewell as he was treated to parties and ceremonies at each stop during the season. When Jordan traveled to Los Angeles for the final time of his career, Bryant wasn’t nearly as nice to arguably the greatest of all-time as he dropped 42 points in the first half and 55 total points on MJ. Bryant started the game 14 of 16, rained in 8 first half three-pointers, and ripped the proverbial torch out of MJ’s hand in the process as the Lakers walloped the Wizards.
For Lakers fans, 2004 was a year they couldn’t forget quick enough. Seen as a super team thanks to the acquisitions of Gary Payton and Karl Malone, the Lakers were a relative shoo-in for the 4th title in 5 years. However, things quickly were derailed, starting with Bryant’s rape allegations in the summer. To Bryant’s credit, he remained focus on the season while going through intense media scrutiny and traveling to and from Colorado for his court case. The Lakers, however, couldn’t maintain the same focus and struggled through the season. In the season finale, the purple and gold traveled to Portland with a win securing them a division title and the 2nd seed in the playoffs. With eight seconds left in regulation, Payton inbounded the ball to Bryant, who was guarded by the “Kobe Stopper” Ruben Patterson. Bryant, who was forced to pick up his dribble, proceed to bury a falling down, drifting three-pointer to tie the game and send it to overtime. In the extra session, the Lakers saw themselves down two points and one second remaining. Again they turned to Bryant, and again Bryant delivered, hitting another falling down three pointer to win the game and the division title.
As we said, Bryant did a great job of maintaining focus on the games during his legal battle in 2003-04. Luckily for the Lakers, Bryant’s court proceedings never interfered directly with him playing for the Lakers. Bryant was most notably tested in the 2004 Western Conference Semis when he spent the day in Colorado for a pre-trial hearing. The Black Mamba raced back to Los Angeles following his hearing, arriving at the Staples Center just two hours before tip-off. You wouldn’t have been able to tell, however, if you watched the game as Bryant put on a clinic as only he could, hitting an array of shots en route to a 42 point, 6 rebound, and 5 assist performance to tie up the series for the Lakers.
Despite a rocky season, the Lakers found themselves in the NBA Finals matched up against the underdog Detroit Pistons. However, it was the Pistons who looked like the team that belonged in Game 1 as the handled they easily handled the Lakers by 12 points. In Game 2, Bryant and Shaq came out with a noticeable drive and determination, notably on the defensive end. Bryant led the charges on both ends of the floor, but even then, the Lakers saw themselves down 3 with 10.9 seconds remaining. Bryant, as he’s done his whole career, took the ball off a screen, pulled up from deep three point territory, and calmly buried a the shot in Rip Hamilton’s face. Bryant and the Lakers would go on to win in overtime, but would ultimately lose the series in spite of Bryant’s heroics. The series, however, would signify the end of an era for the Lakers as Shaq, Malone, Payton, and Phil Jackson all would leave the Lakers that summer.