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 tomorrow, 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.
In the first installment, we saw Bryant mature in front of our eyes, ending with the Lakers 3-peat. The second installment saw Bryant burst out from Shaq’s shadow and become a superstar in the following two seasons. Our third installment showcased the middle years of Bryant’s career that featured his greatest scoring performances. For round four, we’ll focus on Bryant’s return to the top, so without further adieu….
Bryant and the Lakers struggled through the 2006-07 season, ending in another first round exit. Bryant, frustrated with the direction the Lakers were taking and feeling his prime years were being wasted, demanded a trade. Fortunately for the Lakers and their fans, the front office talked Bryant down and he came into the 2007-08 season refocused with the promise the Lakers would find him another superstar to trade for.
Bryant didn’t wait on the extra help, unleashing another fantastic season. Despite being a bit delayed, Bryant was given the All-Star teammate he was promised when the Lakers brought in Pau Gasol. Nevertheless, Bryant didn’t miss a step and continued his MVP-worthy season, highlighted by an end-of-the-season showdown with the Hornets for the #1 seed in the Western Conference. Bryant poured in 29 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out 8 assists, and led the Lakers to a victory. Bryant was finally awarded for his accomplishments when he was awarded the regular season MVP trophy, his one and only of his career.
Behind Gasol and Bryant’s great partnership, the Lakers made the NBA Finals and were matched up with the Boston Celtics. Lakers fans know how this ended, so we won’t jump into that one. However, almost immediately following their Finals failures, both Gasol and Bryant left for their international squads in preparation for the 2008 Olympics. For USA, the squad was tagged as the “Redeem Team” in reference to their failures in the previous Olympics.
Led by Bryant, Team USA stormed through the group play stages, then through the knockout phase into the Gold Medal game. Waiting for him was Gasol and the Spanish team. Seen as the biggest competitors in USA’s quest for gold, Spain gave Team USA it’s biggest test of the summer. With the squads still battling late in the fourth quarter, Bryant took over. Highlighted by his four-point play, Bryant led the Redeem Team to the gold medal.
Heading into the 2009 season, the Lakers had one thing on their mind: redemption. After suffering the embarrassing defeat in 2008, the Lakers core looked to get back to the Finals. They came out firing on all cylinders and were 37-9 when they met the Knicks in New York. Bryant, who was having a pedestrian year by his standards, always relished the opportunity to play in Madison Square Garden. This time, he put forth his greatest performance. Bryant showed a variety of offensive moves, perfect footwork, and even the occasional high-flying move on his way to 61 points, the most in Madison Square Garden history. The win came in a part of a 17-2 stretch for the Lakers as the claimed the #1 seed in the Western Conference.
Bryant and the Lakers cruised into the playoffs, flying high and feeling invincible. They quickly dispatched the Jazz in five games before meeting the Rockets, who were undermanned and seemingly overmatched. However, the Lakers overlooked the Rockets and needed seven games to finish them off. They finally finished off the Nuggets in six games and found themselves in their second straight NBA Finals.
Waiting for them was Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic, who beat the Celtics and Cavaliers on their way to the Finals. However, Bryant quickly alerted them he’d put up a bigger fight. He set the tone early for the series and the game, scoring 40 points, grabbing 8 rebounds, and dishing out 8 assists as the Lakers beat down the Magic by 25 points. Nothing could stop Bryant on the night as he attacked the rim and Howard all night and blew the game open in the 3rd quarter with his 18 points.
On paper, the Lakers five game series against the Magic looks like a fairly easy win. However, the Lakers were just a couple plays from a completely different landscape. A Courtney Lee missed lay-up at the end of regulation cost the Magic Game 2. In Game 4, Derek Fisher saved the Lakers twice with huge three point shots, leading to a win in overtime. With the possibility of closing out the series in front of him, Bryant grabbed the opportunity and didn’t let go.
The Lakers withstood an early onslaught by the Magic, then methodically worked their way back into the game, eventually taking a 10-point lead into the half. Bryant assured himself that the Magic wouldn’t get any closer, pushing the lead to 15 to close the third. A few more clutch shots down the stretch kept the game out of reach for the Magic and Bryant celebrated his 4th title. His 32.4 point, 7.4 assists, and 5.6 rebounds averages over the five games garnered him the NBA Finals MVP.
The following season, the Lakers were still focused on a title, wanting revenge against the Boston Celtics for their 2008 beat down. They stormed out of the gates and sat at 14-3 when the Miami Heat came into town. The Heat were a struggling team who should have been nothing more than a blip in the Lakers radar. However, the two squads battled into the fourth quarter, where Bryant poured in 17 total points. But with the Lakers trailing by two and just 3.2 seconds remaining, they’d need a miracle to pull the game out.
In one of his most iconic buzzer beaters to date, Bryant put up a running, one-footed jumper from beyond the three point line while being perfectly defended by Dwyane Wade. None of it mattered though as Bryant banked in the three, giving the Lakers their 8th straight win. It’d become a commonplace for Bryant that season as he made six separate game-winning shots for the Lakers.
Bryant’s name was already etched into Laker history at this point in his career. He was apart of four title-winning teams, had earned both regular season and Finals MVP awards, and was selected to a dozen All-Star games. His claim as the greatest Laker of all-time was viable and he still had many years left in his legs.
But on this night in Memphis, Bryant had quite possibly his greatest individual achievement to date. Coming into the game, Bryant trailed Jerry West by 28 points for the claim as the all-time Lakers scoring leader. Bryant struggled early, but came on in the second, scoring the last 13 points of the quarter and headed into halftime with 23 points. Midway through the 3rd, with Bryant just one point behind West, Metta World Peace corralled the loose ball, found Jordan Farmar down court, who laid it off to Bryant, who flushed home the two-handed dunk and passed West.