Age certainly knows bounds, but Kobe Bryant doesn't.
For 17 years, we've watched in awe as the "Black Mamba" defied just about every law there is. Injuries should have slowed him. Surely his threshold for pain would eventually break.
Older players aren't supposed to play at a high level. If injuries don't get them, the natural regression that supposedly comes with age should.
It hasn't gotten Kobe.
Now 35, the Mamba is immersed in a rehabilitation that will redefine his career, but that doesn't mean he has finally succumbed to age or injury. He's still pressing, still pushing. The fight in him hasn't flamed out.
Until proved otherwise, we have to believe he's the same player he's always been, even if it doesn't make sense. And let's be real, it doesn't. Despite what we see, Kobe isn't superhuman; he's not immortal.
All players, the Mamba included, have their limits. Kobe has just yet to find his.
*Note: "Incredible highlights" are not to be confused with "greatest moments." This isn't a comprehensive ranking of personal feats—championships, MVPs, etc.—rather, it's a tribute to the brilliant, and oftentimes unbelievable, ways of Kobe Bryant.
Leave it to the Mamba to make exhibitions interesting.
Ben Wallace had about three inches and 40 pounds on Kobe at the time. I'm assuming that should have stopped the teenage Kobe or something. But it didn't.
Kobe seemingly climbed an imaginary ladder en route to a poster-worthy slam. Seriously, Big Ben never looked so tiny.
The crowd cheered, his teammates went nuts, and preseason basketball was never the same.
Derek Fisher and Kobe connected on a number of alley-oops aside from this one. None of them, however, was as fantastic as this highlight.
Despite fielding an erratic pass from Fisher, Kobe managed to throw one down with his right hand. For the life of me, I still can't figure out how.
Looking past the obvious fact that Kobe was running out of real estate, Fisher's pass wasn't likely to be caught by an uber-athletic version of Yao Ming, let alone a 6'6" Mamba. Yet somehow, Kobe reached up toward the heavens and corralled the ball with one hand just in time to bring us to our feet.
Fisher almost had some explaining to do. Luckily for him, his target still doesn't know how to fail.
Before he was Kobe's teammate, Steve Nash was Mamba-dunking fodder.
Once Lamar Odom came up with the loose ball and found a streaking Kobe, it was over. He turned an ugly play into an earth-shattering jam.
Some cried charge, but it didn't matter. Kobe's hops prevailed again.
Kobe has a knack for making a mockery of future Hall of Famers.
You saw what he did to Nash on the previous slide; now look at what he did to Kevin Garnett in 2004.
All it took were three well-timed passes to leave Garnett and Kobe alone on the strong-side corner. As soon as Kobe put the ball on the floor, Garnett decided to be a gentleman for the first time in his career by leaving a wide-open baseline for No. 8 to traverse.
And travel it he did, finishing with a one-handed reverse dunk.
Just so you know, Garnett did not win Defensive Player of the Year in 2004.
The dunk isn't what makes this one incredible; it's Kobe himself.
Recognizing that LeBron James was going for one of his patented chase-down blocks, Kobe slowed down and looked right at him as he flushed it with two hands.
Then he tried to smack The King's behind, because that's what Kobe does.
Most teams would kill for 30-point quarters. The Utah Jazz are one of them.
Here, against them, Kobe scored 30 in one quarter by himself.
Turns out 90 inches worth of Yao wasn't enough to stop Kobe in 2006.
Who would have thought?
If only Yao had been taller. And jumped higher. And the person taking flight had been Smush Parker, not Kobe.
For those who can't even dribble between their legs, Kobe doesn't feel your pain—because he can dunk between his legs.
Taking the stage alongside Michael Finley, Ray Allen, Chris Carr, Darvin Ham and Bob Sura as an 18-year-old rookie, Kobe stole the show—and the Slam Dunk championship in the process.
His between-the-legs stuff has been immortalized and remains the kind of athletic display we long to see when we're forced to suffer through what the competition has become today.
You can have him, Houston.
Almost two decades into his career, rehashing Kobe's dunking exploits should seem superfluous. But they don't. They never get old.
Unless, of course, your name is Todd MacCulloch. Then I assume this dunk from the 2002 NBA Finals got old fast.
After slicing through the paint, Kobe went up against the New Jersey Nets' 7-footer and won. Big time.
He went on to win the third of his five championships too, just in case you care about that kind of thing.
Torching Michael Jordan wasn't a hobby of Kobe's, but it seemed like it was in 2003.
Fifteen years the 39-year-old Jordan's junior, Kobe lit up his idol for 55 points en route to leading the Lakers to a 108-94 win over the Washington Wizards. All but 13 of Kobe's points came in the first half.
As the game wore on, it became clear that Jordan wanted no part in defending the Mamba. Saying that Kobe dismantled MJ, then, may be a bit of a stretch.
More than anything, this was a sign of the changing times. Kobe picked apart a team led by the greatest to ever play the game. By the final buzzer, the torch hadn't just been passed once and for all—it had been ripped from Jordan's aging hands in dramatic fashion.
Someone get LeBron a towel, because I'm pretty sure he's drooling by now.
Aged 34 and still double-clutching on reverse jams like he's 18—the Kobe Bryant way.
Someone needs to tell him he's not supposed to do that this late in his career. Or at least, that's what the Golden State Warriors appeared to think.
The way that Klay Thompson, David Lee and Andrew Bogut all looked on in amazement, you'd think Kobe sprouted wings while he was airborne.
Little did they know Kobe was just due for a breath of thinner air.
All-Star games provide a platform for the league's elite to showcase their talents.
Dunks are thrown down, isolations are used in excess, and there's no such thing as defense. In this instance, there was no such thing as gravity either—for Kobe.
His reverse is one we've seen before—and still love—but he didn't generate this kind of hang time for every poster.
There was literally nothing Derrick Rose could do once Kobe took flight. He hung in the air for a little extra longer before finally descending upon the rim and unleashing hell.
Kobe apparently believes he can fly. After watching this, I believe it too.
There are almost no words.
Robert Horry threw a LeBron James touchdown-style pass from out of bounds to Kobe. He caught it, and in an obvious effort to keep things simple, he went on to complete an everyday behind-the-back, 360-degree, one-handed slam.
Say that 10 times fast.
Then offer your condolences to Vincent Yarbrough. From where he was standing, this looked ugly.
Turns out Kobe can do more than score.
When he wasn't dunking on Yao, he was busy erasing the 12-inch height advantage that Houston's center had over him.
Suffice it to say, help defense from the weak side never looked so good. Or bad, depending upon which side of Kobe's fence you stand.
It's not that Kobe doesn't trust his teammates; it's just that he doesn't trust them as much as he trusts himself.
You know you've thrown down a helluva dunk when Luke "I Prefer to Remain Expressionless" Walton shows any kind of emotion. At all.
"Up high, down hard" doesn't even begin to describe what Kobe did here.
In the first round of the 2011 NBA playoffs, Kobe, amid doubts that his ankle would hold up, dunked on Emeka Okafor of the New Orleans Hornets.
I'm no doctor, but he looked pretty good here.
Which is more than I could have said for Okafor at the time. Hopefully he was able to obtain an antibiotic that alleviated the intense embarrassment he experienced.
Jeff Van Gundy called this shot by Kobe "greatness personified" in the above video, and I don't know how you could disagree.
Down by two to Dwyane Wade's Miami Heat, Kobe got off a long three in the face of a kind-of, sort-of double-team. And somehow, someway, he banked it home as time expired to give the Lakers a 108-107 victory.
When watched on a loop—which I can only assume you're all doing at the moment—the fact that he was able to release the ball at all is incredible. Wade defended him well, although Chalmers could have provided some better help.
And for those wondering, yes, the Mamba most definitely called glass.
Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal may not have always seen eye-to-eye, but they worked together on the court just fine.
Just ask Scottie Pippen. Or Rasheed Wallace. Or anyone else who thought the Lakers were going to drop Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals in 2000.
They'll tell you.
Kobe doesn't always pass in transition, but when he does, he prefers to flavor it with a behind-the-back dribble and incisive spin.
He also prefers a (fairly) clean-shaven Ronny Turiaf to be on the receiving end of it.
Let's just go ahead and call this the most interesting pass in the world.
Step One: Send Game 4 in the first round of the 2006 NBA playoffs into overtime with a high-arcing floater.
Step Two: Down by one, hit a well-defended fadeaway at the buzzer for an overtime victory.
Step Three: Rip your jersey off to the side and roar like a Mamba-bitten lion.
Step Four: Rinse, lather, repeat.
This one had to hurt—Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace, I mean.
By now, you would think every player on the planet knows to get out of Kobe's way. "Crash" and Humphries must not have gotten that memo...or the hundreds of other ones.
Words simply can't do this mauling justice. All I can say is, less than one year later neither Humphries nor Wallace is still repping Brooklyn.
If there was ever a time to echo "Mama, there goes that man," it's now.
Also, Jaren Jackson. May he rest in peace, metaphorically speaking.
I don't care that this didn't take place at the Staples Center or in any other arena, it's still incredible.
Some of us jump hurdles, small cousins or fences. And Turiaf has been known to sail over the occasional remote-controlled monster truck or two.
Kobe, though? He leapfrogs cars—Aston Martins to be exact.
Chances are you had to ask yourself if this was real or not. It wasn't, but that we even believed it for a second or had to question if he actually did it speaks to Kobe's superhuman-like abilities.
Never stop jumping, Kobe—even hypothetically.
Every so often, Kobe likes to remind us age is but a number and that defenders can be used as steppingstones whether you're 24 or 34.
March 13, 2013, was the day. Kobe was the 34-year-old. "J-Smoove" was the steppingstone. And the Mamba's will was done.
Missing is for chumps.
Against the Seattle Supersonics in 2003, Kobe set a then-NBA record by drilling 12 threes, nine in succession (also a record at the time). He finished 12-of-18 from beyond the arc in that game.
Primarily known for his dunks, this serves as a nice reminder that Kobe can also shoot to a point where he forgets how to miss.
I'd count all the ways in which this is incredible if I wasn't positive I'd run out of room.
In 2006 against the Toronto Raptors, Kobe went off Wilt Chamberlain-style.
The Black Mamba torched Toronto for 81 points, drilling seven treys and finishing 28-of-46 from the field overall and 18-of-20 at the foul line. His single-game total is second only to Chamberlain's 100 points against the New York Knicks in 1962.
It was a mesmerizing performance from Kobe, though if you ask him, he'll probably lament the 18 shots he missed and his failure to surpass Wilt's benchmark.
But that would just be Kobe being Kobe.
Well before Latrell Sprewell was rejecting $20 million-plus contracts because he needed to feed his family, he was getting dunked on by Kobe.
Watching this, I can't help but marvel at Kobe's instincts and Sprewell's poor defense.
With the way the basket was left quivering, I also can't help but wonder what would have happened if hoops had still been attached and made the way they were when Shaq was on the Orlando Magic. Glass would have rained down on everyone, I imagine.
This one was that thunderous.
Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward in NBA history. He's also an elite defender, timely shot-blocker and all-around good guy.
To this day, Kobe still doesn't care.
Need I say more?
This actually happened.
Upon shedding Allen Iverson, Kobe and Brian Shaw connected for the ever-incredible reverse alley-oop.
Naturally, I attribute its completion to some combination of Iverson's lack of size and defensive awareness, Shaw being slightly confused, Kobe's freakish athleticism and that blossoming afro he used to sport.
A recipe for success if I ever read one.
You don't even need to watch this one. Just listen to the sound the rim makes once he completes the jam.
But seriously, watch it. Kobe spins. Then finishes with one hand. In transition. At Minnesota's expense.
Earlier we saw Kobe posterize Big Ben as a teenager; this is the sequel.
Paul Millsap will be playing the part of Ben Wallace, the Utah Jazz will be portraying the Wizards, the 2009 NBA playoffs will be substituted for the preseason, and the role of Kobe's afro will be dually represented by the stubble on his head and in our vivid imagination.
Good things tend to happen when Kobe attacks from the baseline.
Well, unless you're a defender. Or the rim Kobe is about to abuse.
The Sacramento Kings and that reddish-orangy piece of iron from the above video know what I'm talking about.
Here's that moment when the normally mundane became exceedingly painful and seemingly impossible.
Moments after tearing his Achilles, Kobe limped toward the free-throw line showing little-to-no signs of weakness on his face. With the Lakers down by two and still chasing a playoff berth, he sank two clutch shots at the charity stripe to tie the game.
Los Angeles went on to win the game and ultimately snatch a postseason spot. And Kobe entered an extensive rehab but not before leaving his mark on the Lakers season and his legacy with two of the most inspiring free-throw attempts ever.
If that's not incredible, nothing is.
Happy birthday, Kobe.