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 today, 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. Our fourth installment saw Bryant’s return to championship contention, as well as etching his name into the Laker history books. Today, we’ll take you all the way to his 2012-13 season. So without further adieu….
It wasn’t pretty. Bryant struggled. The Lakers shot a putrid 32.5% from the field. The Lakers two stars, Bryant and Gasol, shot a combined 12 of 40. Yet the Lakers found themselves in the game thanks to their mental toughness. Whereas two years earlier, the Lakers collapsed under the immense pressure of the Finals, this time they fought back. While the Lakers duo struggled shooting, they grabbed 33 total rebounds. Metta World Peace played the game of his life, single-handedly keeping the Lakers close in the first half.
After waiting nearly two years, the Lakers finally got their revenge. In Bryant’s 17+ years in the league, it’d be incredibly difficult to pin point his biggest win over that time, but this has to rank very high on the list.
Following the Lakers back-to-back titles, the purple and gold suffered through a couple of seasons of disappointment. They were swept out of the playoffs by the Mavs in 2011, who would go on to win the title. The next year in 2012, the Thunder dispatched of the Lakers on their way to the title. But when Team USA came calling for Bryant’s services in the Olympics, the Black Mamba gladly obliged.
But the situation was much different from 2008. In ’08, Bryant was coming off an MVP and was hands down the best player in the league. In 2012, Bryant was still an elite player, but was forced to take a backseat to LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The team cruised into the gold medal game, only once being tested in the games leading up to it. The finals saw them matched up once again against the Spaniards. Bryant, who had to play himself into shape at the start of the games, was a key contributor in all aspects for the finals, pouring in 17 points, coming down with big rebounds, and helping USA gain it’s second consecutive Gold medal.
Only five players in NBA history have scored 30,000 points over their career. It wasn’t until early December last year that Bryant joined that list, coming in an appearance in New Orleans against the Hornets. On the record-breaking basket, Bryant caught it on the wing, drove into the lane, and buried a floating shot to eclipse the 30k point plateau. Since then, Bryant has passed former Laker Wilt Chamberlain for 4th all-time and now sits just 675 points behind Michael Jordan for 3rd all-time in scoring.
Kobe Bryant has long been a fan favorite, making his first All-Star appearance in 1998. In 2013, he broke the record for most consecutive All-Star appearances when fans voted him in as a starter for the 15th straight year. Bryant was already the All-Star games leading scorer and owner of four All-Star game MVPs, adding this to his list of accomplishments.
Bryant showed his competitive desire in the All-Star game when he twice blocked LeBron James in the closing moments of the fourth quarter in a tight game. Always a fan of the big moments, Bryant took this game as a chance to prove he could still hang with the NBA’s elite.
Bryant has been involved in numerous comebacks over the course of his career. We discussed the comeback he had earlier in his career against the Mavericks, the largest in Lakers history. In 2013, the deficit wasn’t quite as big, but the importance of the game was greater. With the Lakers battling back from early season disappointment, every game mattered. So when the Lakers traveled to New Orleans to face a team that should have been easily beatable, fans were quite upset when the Lakers went into the 4th quarter down 18 points.
Enter Kobe Bryant. Led by Bryant’s 18 points and 4 assists in the fourth quarter alone, the Lakers came surging back. Bryant made threes, pull up jumpers, baskets at the paint, and set up both Dwight Howard and Jodie Meeks for wide open shots on numerous occasions. The dagger came on one of the biggest defensive mistakes you’ll ever see as, while ending the ball in the back court, the Hornets lined up on the wrong side of the Lakers, leaving them with a wide open court between them and the basket, giving Kobe a breakaway dunk to ice the game.
Kobe Bryant’s career has been made on clutch shots and game winners. Whenever the situation looks most grim, Bryant somehow finds an extra gear to finish you off. If he smells blood, he goes for the kill. Never was it more apparent than this spring in a matchup against the Raptors. With the Lakers still needing every win possible to make the playoffs, they once again saw themselves fall behind early and forced to battle back late.
Down five with two minutes to go, Bryant buried a deep, contested three pointer as the shot clock expired. The Raptors answered and forced a couple misses by the Lakers, hanging on to a four point lead with 31.7 seconds left. Bryant was hardly finished, as he buried a fadeaway corner three to cut the Lakers deficit to one. Following two free throws by Kyle Lowry, the Lakers had 8.4 seconds and a 3-point deficit. Bryant had one more miracle left, catching the inbounds pass, pump faking, and burying one last three pointer, essentially sending the game to overtime. The Black Mamba went for the kill in overtime with a driving dunk with 10 seconds left to give the Lakers the lead and the eventual win.
We finish our list of Kobe’s greatest moments with something that absolutely personifies the Black Mamba. The Lakers were in a literal do or die situation, needing to win every remaining game to assure them a spot in the playoffs. In a scene all too familiar with the Lakers last year, a game they should have won easily saw them in a dog fight. Thanks to 15 first-quarter points from Damian Lillard, the Lakers entered the second quarter down eight. Bryant took over the game in every facet imaginable. Where ever there was a loose ball or a game-altering play, Bryant was involved, usually winning the battle. He rejected Will Barton at the rim, helped pick Lillard’s pocket, and hit big shot after big shot. His final stat line is one that no NBA player has ever produced before. The win was Bryant’s second to last game of the year, and helped the Lakers secure a playoff spot.