34 Most Amazing Kobe Bryant Career Highlights to Celebrate Mamba's 34th Birthday
He may look younger when he steps foot on the basketball court, but Kobe Bryant is now 34 years old. To celebrate his birthday, let's take a look back at the 34 most amazing highlights of his career.
To be clear, these are not all individual plays that you would find in SportsCenter's Top 10.
There are some of those—don't worry—but highlights can include records, achievements, awards and championships.
With five titles, an MVP award, 14 All-Star selections and many more honors in his illustrious career, this top-10 player of all time has certainly given us plenty to choose from.
Kobe has plenty of supporters and plenty of detractors, but let's all put aside the biases and enjoy the remarkable career that the Black Mamba has put together for our viewing pleasure.
Drafted and Traded, 1996
Photo credit to Unathleticmag.com
Kobe Bryant was originally drafted at No. 13 in the 1996 NBA draft. Can you imagine how different his career would have turned out if he'd entered into an ugly holdout with the Charlotte Hornets before ever stepping onto the court?
Fortunately, that never happened as the prep-to-pro shooting guard's draft rights were traded to the Los Angeles Lakers before he was even off the board.
The power that a 17-year-old Bryant had at the time was significant, and this moment launched the rest of his storied career.
First NBA Start, 1997
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During his rookie season with the Lakers, Kobe received his first start against the Dallas Mavericks in an away game.
In that start—the first of many in his career—Kobe scored 12 points, grabbed three rebounds, dished out two assists, stole the ball twice and swatted away a single shot.
His line was nicely balanced, and he contributed in all facets of the game.
Most importantly, the Lakers won the game by 19 points.
Scoring 33 Against Michael Jordan, 1997
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The precocious young shooting guard proved that he was a future star in the league during the beginning of his sophomore season when he went up against the Chicago Bulls and scored 33 points in enemy territory.
Matched up against the legendary Michael Jordan, still an extraordinarily effective player in the late 1990s, Kobe made 12 of his 20 shots from the field.
Sure, the Bulls won the game. Sure, MJ dropped 36 points.
But Kobe still proved that he was going to be around for a long time.
Slam Dunk Champion, 1997
Kobe Bryant, Chris Carr, Michael Finley, Darvin Ham, Ray Allen and Bob Sura lined up to compete for the Slam Dunk title in 1997, but it was the Black Mamba who reigned supreme.
Highlighted by the between-the-legs dunk in the final round, Kobe moved clear of the field in the Finals after finishing third in the preliminary set of dunks.
It's tough to score much better than 49.0.
Dunking on Ben Wallace
For those of you who don't remember, Ben Wallace was one of the best defensive players of the modern era. Even before he had an Afro, Big Ben was a force to be reckoned with in the paint.
However, on this play, Kobe took him down.
Wallace ended up on his behind (and some posters), while Kobe dunked it home with some serious force.
2000 Western Conference Finals, Game 7
With the series tied at three games apiece in the Western Conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Los Angeles Lakers found themselves in a bit of a pickle.
They were down 15 points in the fourth quarter, far more than the previous record for the biggest comeback in the final quarter of a Game 7—six points.
A 15-0 run quickly changed that, and the Kobe-to-Shaquille O'Neal lob with 40 seconds remaining helped give the Purple and Gold an insurmountable lead.
Kobe finished the game with 25 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks, but that play sticks out more than any other.
2000 NBA Finals, Game 4
Just four games after his Game 7 heroics, Kobe Bryant returned from an ankle injury, eager to prove to the world that the Lakers didn't belong solely to Shaq.
He got his opportunity when the big man fouled out with 2:33 remaining in overtime with a three-point lead over the Indiana Pacers.
Kobe scored three of the next four baskets to close out the game, including a ridiculous put-back with his back to the basket. Even though he scored "just" 28 points, he knocked down eight of them in overtime when it mattered most.
All-Star Game MVP, 2002
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Kobe Bryant was booed by the Philadelphia crowd every time he touched the ball, and the shouting was so loud that David Stern's voice was drowned out when he announced who had won the MVP.
Who knew Philly fans could be so passionate?
Kobe said after the game in the city where he went to high school, "I'm happy I played well. I'm happy to win MVP in Philadelphia, and the booing was just hurtful. But it's not going to ruin this day for me."
You know that a 31-point, five-rebound, five-assist performance had to feel good. He's been named the All-Star MVP four times in his career, but this one had to have been the most satisfying.
Kobe over Todd MacCulloch, 2002
I don't think any words can properly describe this slam from the 2002 NBA Finals against the New Jersey Nets.
Hitting 12 3-Pointers, 2003
Sometimes, Kobe just catches on fire. When that happens, nothing can slow him down when he lets fly.
Even though he was shooting just 28 percent from downtown before this game started, Kobe drilled an NBA-record 12 three-pointers against the Seattle SuperSonics.
Making nine triples in a row helped him break Dennis Scott's previous record in the 119-98 victory.
Kobe finished with 45 points, 38 of which came in the middle two quarters.
Scoring Explosion in February of 2003
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During February of 2003, Kobe averaged a ridiculous 40.6 points per game. Even more impressively, he did so by shooting 47.2 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from downtown and 84.6 percent from the charity stripe.
Kobe never scored less than 30 points in a game and managed to break the 40-point barrier in nine consecutive games.
Nine. As in one less than 10. One more than eight.
The Passing of the Torch, 2003
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Even though Michael Jordan was the star of the show in the early going for the Washington Wizards, this quickly became the Kobe Bryant show.
The Black Mamba scored 23 straight points for the Lakers and 42 of his 55 before the teams retreated to their respective locker rooms at halftime.
MJ finished with 23 points and just couldn't hang with the younger shooting guard at his advanced age. As the game advanced, Jordan even tried to avoid guarding the Lakers star.
After this game, the torch had officially been handed over to the next generation.
Poor Vincent Yarbrough, 2003
Kobe Bryant wasn't content to simply dunk on Vincent Yarbrough.
He had to humiliate him.
After catching a lob pass, Kobe went behind-the-back and threw down a huge, thunderous slam over the top of poor Yarbrough.
Before They Were Teammates, 2004
On this play, he made the huge mistake of stepping in front of a young, athletic Kobe Bryant.
You can see how the rest unfolded in the embedded video. Dwight's reaction at the beginning speaks volumes.
Kobe Wins the Division, 2004
In the final game of the regular season, Kobe showed off his flair for the dramatic.
He helped the Lakers win the Pacific Division title by scoring 37 points against Zach Randolph and the Portland Trail Blazers.
No shots were bigger than the three-pointer to send the game to overtime and the ensuing game-winner in the extra period.
Back-to-back missed free throws by Ruben Patterson set the stage with just eight seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. To add to Patterson's misery, Kobe nailed a ridiculously difficult shot from the top of the key right over Patterson.
As my friend Marvin Barge says, "He doesn't sound like the Kobe killer to me. More like the Kobe enabler."
Kobe Goes Reverse Against KG, 2004
If Kevin Garnett had his druthers, all the video evidence of this play would have been deleted from the Internet.
It's bad enough to get dunked on.
It's even worse to get posterized reverse-style and have the gravity sucked out of the building.
Shaquille O'Neal Traded in 2004
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After two unsuccessful seasons—and let's be honest, after a three-peat anything that doesn't result in a title is a failure—it was time for either Kobe or Shaq to go.
The two had feuded for quite some time, and it was increasingly clear that L.A. wasn't big enough for both of them.
It might be vindictive, but the trade that sent Shaq to Miami had to be a highlight for Kobe.
Outscoring Dallas Mavericks Through Three Quarters, 2006
After the Los Angeles Lakers scored only 74 points the game before, the Black Mamba needed to send a message to his struggling teammates.
He did that, and then some.
Through three quarters, Kobe had 62 points and the Dallas Mavericks had only 61.
Perhaps he would have challenged the 74-point threshold if he'd even stepped onto the court during the fourth quarter.
Dropping 81, 2006
Just over a month after his 62-point explosion, Kobe set his career-high in points scored during a single game.
Some may call the performance selfish, but his 81 points against the Toronto Raptors was undoubtedly impressive. Plus, it isn't really selfish when you're shooting more efficiently than the rest of your team.
It would be different if Kobe had dropped 81 on 40 percent shooting, but he did so with a 60.9 percent mark from the floor.
This remains one of the most legendary performances in NBA history, as Kobe scored 28 of the team's 31 fourth-quarter points.
You only get a chance to witness a few once-in-a-lifetime sports moments, and this was one of those type of performances.
30 in a Quarter, 2006
Lakers fans received a late Thanksgiving present on Nov. 30 when Kobe scored an astounding 30 points in the third quarter against a stunned Utah Jazz.
He became the third player in NBA history to hit that benchmark during the early portion of the 2005-2006 season, but did so once more during this game.
I've already covered the last time it happened: the 62-point performance against the Mavericks.
Kobe fell short of that total, putting up "only" 52 in the contest.
Before They Were Teammates, 2006
I'd be willing to bet that Kobe brings up this play quite a few times now that he and Steve Nash are actually on the same team.
To be fair, there's not much a center could have done to stop Kobe on this drive to the basket. Nash is no center, last I checked.
He probably should have saved himself the embarrassment and gotten out of the way. It's not like he'd be risking his defensive reputation.
Kobe over Yao, 2006
Thank goodness for chronological order, because this just drives home my point about how not even centers can stop Kobe when he's going to the basket with a full head of steam.
Last I checked, Yao Ming is a center.
2006 Western Conference First Round, Game 4
Even though the Los Angeles Lakers dropped this series in Game 7 against the Phoenix Suns, no Lakers fan will ever forget Kobe's heroics during Game 4 of the Western Conference's first round in 2006.
Up 2-1 in the series, the Lakers were down by two points with only eight seconds left. Plus, the Suns had the ball.
Then Smush Parker deflected the inbounds pass, and Kobe hit the layup to force overtime.
Only a few minutes later, he got the ball off an inbounds pass and hit a tough layup to cut the deficit in extra time to just a single point. Steve Nash was tied up (somewhat controversially) on the ensuing play and Kobe took advantage of the jump ball.
He then knocked down a pull-up from the right elbow to give the Lake Show a one-point lead and the victory.
Kobe finished with 24 points, four rebounds, eight assists and seven turnovers. It wasn't his greatest overall performance, but he simply tore it up down the stretch.
50 Is a Nice Number, 2007
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Kobe Bryant became the first player since the NBA-ABA merger to score at least 45 points in four straight games during the 2005-2006 season.
Then he upped the ante and dropped at least 50 big ones in four straight games, joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in league history to do so.
Kobe scored 65 points against the Portland Trail Blazers, then 50 against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He added a 60-point game and a 50-point outing against the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, respectively.
It was a nearly unparalleled run of scoring performances.
In basketball, there are generally two options when you pick up your dribble.
A player can either shoot the ball or pass it to one of his teammates.
Kobe Bryant has a third option.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Amazing as it is, Kobe Bryant has only been named the league's MVP one time during his legendary career.
He received the honor after the 2007-2008 campaign, when he led the Lakers to a 57-25 record—the best in the West—while averaging 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.8 steals and 0.5 blocks per game.
It was actually the worst season in three years for Bryant from a statistical standpoint, but the feeling he had when lifting up the trophy at the end of the regular season had to have been amazing.
Consider this not only an MVP award, but also a lifetime achievement honor, given the number of times he was in contention for the trophy.
61 at Madison Square Garden, 2009
Madison Square Garden is sometimes considered the mecca of basketball, and players always tend to get a little bit more pumped up before stepping foot on the hardcourt and hearing the jeers of the always raucous crowd.
Mere mortals wilt under the pressure, but Kobe is no mere mortal.
On Feb. 2, 2009, Kobe set the single-game scoring record at MSG, dropping 61 points against the New York Knicks in a 126-117 victory.
In a career full of highlights, this one was particularly sweet for the Mamba.
2009 NBA Finals, Game 1
In the opening game of the 2009 NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic, Kobe joined an elite group, one comprised of only Shaquille O'Neal, Michael Jordan and Jerry West.
After the Magic kept things close during the first quarter, the Lakers stormed ahead in the middle two periods. Kobe was at the forefront of the charge.
He finished the game with 40 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, a steal and two blocks. By doing so, he joined the aforementioned trio in the exclusive NBA Finals 40/8/8 club.
Becoming the Lakers' All-Time Leading Scorer, 2010
While the call in the video might be a little extreme—whether Kobe has passed Magic Johnson as the greatest Laker of all time is still a question worth asking—it shows just how special this moment was.
When Phil Jackson acknowledges greatness, you know that the magnitude of that greatness is quite significant.
With Kobe's wide-open dunk, he passed Jerry West to become the franchise's all-time leading scorer.
2010 Western Conference Finals, Game 6
Up 3-2 in the Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Suns, Kobe had everything working against him.
He was playing with a bad finger and a knee injury that would require surgery in the offseason. Additionally, he was coming off an inefficient 30-point outing in Game 5, one that resulted in a win after Ron Artest tipped in a missed game-winner by Kobe.
Kobe came out on fire in Game 6, scoring 37 points of his own while playing with vigor on the defensive end.
Kobe Isn't Human
Human beings flinch when basketballs are thrust into their face without a moment's notice.
Kobe Bryant didn't flinch when Matt Barnes tried to intimidate him.
The logical conclusion is that Kobe Bryant is not a human being.
Kobe Posterizes Okafor, 2011
"Shannon Brown said the last time you dunked like that, you had an Afro."
"Yeah, and he was two."
That quote from the embedded video just about sums this one up.
Kobe turned back the clock with this posterization of Emeka Okafor, utilizing the open space in the lane quite effectively.
The lesson here was one that Kobe has been teaching opponents since he first entered the league: Don't contest a Kobe shot. If you do, it's at your own peril.
At this stage of the Black Mamba's career, any player who hasn't been posterized by him has either always been on the Lakers, has always been trapped on the bench or doesn't like trying to play defense.
So Many Buzzer Beaters
You could fill up this list of memorable Kobe moments with buzzer beater after buzzer beater.
Instead, I'm combining them all into one slide.
Kobe is often referred to as one of the most clutch players of all time, a man who has ice water flowing through his veins. Those who like looking at the statistics might dispute this fact, but this isn't the time or place for that discussion. I'm not even going to reveal where I fall on the "Kobe is clutch" argument.
It's the man's birthday for crying out loud!
For now, just sit back, click play on the video, relax and enjoy watching greatness personified.
All the Championships
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
You may have noticed that Kobe's championships have been conspicuously absent from this brief run-through of the most amazing highlights of his Lakers career.
That's only because I'm saving the best, most important highlights for last.
Kobe is one of the winningest basketball players of all time, holding up the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the end of the season five times during his career. That count may still grow.
He three-peated with the Lakers in the early 2000s, playing alongside Shaq on some of the most dominant teams in basketball history.
Then he won back-to-back titles in the late 2000s once Pau Gasol came to town.
Championships stand head and shoulders above all else for Mr. Bryant. It's what the shooting guard has always defined himself by.
His quest is no longer to continue playing basketball at a high level, but to do everything in his power to win a sixth ring and match a certain player named Michael Jordan.
With two Finals MVPs and five championships to his name already, he could very well do so in the near future.