Kobe Bryant's Top 20 Career-Defining Moments with the Los Angeles Lakers
This article will chronologically look at Kobe Bryant’s 20 career-defining moments with the Los Angeles Lakers.
While the majority of these moments are positive, highlighting Kobe’s illustrious career, some of these career-defining moments will be unflattering.
If you forgot why you fell in love with Kobe in the first place, or started disliking him for that matter, this slideshow is your “one stop shop.”
Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals
After blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Los Angeles Lakers found themselves trailing by as much as 15 points in the fourth quarter of Game 7.
But the Lakers made a comeback for the ages, going on a 25-4 run to defeat Portland.
Kobe had one of his best, most underrated games of his career, posting 25 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks.
Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals
After missing Game 3 with an ankle injury, the 21-year-old Kobe Bryant came up huge in Game 4.
Midway through overtime, Shaquille O’Neal fouled out of the game. This forced Bryant to carry the load for the Lakers. Kobe went on to hit numerous clutch shots, giving the Lakers a commanding 3-1 series lead.
The team would go on to win its first championship since 1988.
En route to the Los Angeles Lakers posting a 15-1 playoff record and winning their second straight championship, Kobe put up what were then playoff career highs in scoring (29 points per game), assists (six per game) and rebounds (seven per game).
This was the point when people could legitimately start arguing Kobe as being a better overall player than Shaquille O’Neal.
Nine Straight of 40 or More
After winning three straight championships, the Los Angeles Lakers started the 2002-03 season dismally. After 30 games, the team had an 11-19 record.
Some were even wondering if the team would make the playoffs. Kobe quelled those worries quickly as the second half of the season got underway.
Kobe had nine straight games of at least 40 points, finishing February of 2003 with a 40 point scoring average for the month.
The team would finish the season with 50 victories.
2003 Sexual Assault Charges
In 2003, Kobe Bryant was arrested in Eagle, Colorado, after being accused of sexual assault by a 19-year-old hotel employee.
Bryant admitted he had sex with the girl but said it was completely consensual. Eventually, the charges were dropped after the defendant, Katelyn Faber, refused to testify in court.
Faber would eventually file a separate lawsuit against Bryant before the two ended up settling the suit outside of the courtroom.
Splitting Time Between Two Courts
Many times during the 2003-04 season, Kobe Bryant would spend the day in legal court in Colorado dealing with his accusations of sexual assault. By night, he was on the basketball court, dazzling Lakers fans.
The Kobe/Shaq Feud Reaches Its Peak
After Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault in 2003, his feud with Shaquille O’Neal hit an all-time high…err...low.
In a 2004 report, while being interviewed by the Colorado police following his arrest for alleged sexual assault, Kobe Bryan had this to say concerning teammate Shaquille O Neal’s supposed extramarital affairs:
"He (Bryant) should have done what Shaq does ... that Shaq would pay his women not to say anything" and already had paid up to $1 million "for situations like this."
In the same report, Shaq had this to say in rebuttal to Kobe’s remarks:
"I never hang out with Kobe, I never hung around him. In the seven or eight years we were together, we were never together. So how this guy can think he knows anything about me or my business is funny. And one last thing—I'm not the one buying love. He's the one buying love."
Needless to say, this little exchange of words did little to mend Kobe and Shaq's already rocky relationship
The Los Angeles Lakers Trading Shaquille O’Neal in 2004
Yes, Kobe Bryant was seen as the “puppet master” when Shaquille O’Neal was traded, blamed for orchestrating O’Neal’s departure behind the scenes.
But in hindsight, aren’t we all glad Shaq was shipped out instead of Kobe?
At first it appeared the Lakers made a mistake trading O’Neal, seeing as he helped the Miami Heat win a title in 2006, while the Lakers were struggling to make the postseason.
But now everyone can be thankful Kobe stayed a Laker and will likely retire as one. So far, Kobe has won one more championship than Shaq since the trade.
Also, the trade allowed Kobe to blossom into the more mature superstar we all see today.
62 Through Three Quarters
A month before Kobe Bryant dropped 81 on the Toronto Raptors, he had 62 against the Dallas Mavericks through three quarters. Even more impressive, the Mavericks had only 61 points through those three quarters.
Seeing as the Lakers had a comfortable margin, Kobe sat out the entire fourth quarter. Would he have reached 80? Quite possibly. 70? Almost guaranteed.
In January of 2006, Kobe Bryant scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, 55 of which came in the second half alone.
Kobe’s 81-point game is the second highest point total for a single game in league history, second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point performance in 1962.
However, many detractors chalk up Kobe’s amazing performance as another example of him being selfish.
But when one considers all of the self-serving players who have played in the NBA, and believe me, there have been plenty, don’t you think they all would have scored 81 if they could have?
Bottom line: Whether Kobe was being selfish or not, 81 points is mighty impressive.
The 2005-06 Season
One of the best individual seasons in NBA history was Kobe Bryant’s 2005-06 campaign.
And before I get started, can any level-headed basketball fan honestly tell me it was because Kobe was being selfish. The man had to be selfish. Remember, this was before the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum becoming a perennial All-Star.
Outside of Lamar Odom, Kobe was playing with a collection of D-League caliber players. And that’s no exaggeration.
Now let’s take a look back.
Kobe averaged 35 points that season, including his 81-point affair, and his game against Dallas in which he scored 62 points through three quarters.
Also, he single handedly led the Lakers to 45 wins that season and a near upset of Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs. To say the Lakers overachieved that season would be a gross understatement.
Here are a couple of other bits of impressive information from Kobe's 2005-06 season:
- Averaged 43.4 points in January 2006. The highest scoring average for a month from any player other than Wilt Chamberlain.
- Became the only player since 1964 to score at least 45 points in four straight games.
Game Winner Versus Phoenix in the 2006 Playoffs
With the Los Angeles Lakers up 2-1 in their best of seven first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, Kobe Bryant hit a buzzer beater at the end of Game 4 to give the team a 3-1 series advantage.
It looked as though the Lakers were on their way to winning their first playoff series since trading Shaquille O’Neal, but the Suns came back and won three straight to take the series in seven games.
While the Lakers lost the series, the shot proved Kobe’s clutch abilities in the playoffs.
Changing Jersey Numbers
Prior to the 2006-07 season, Kobe Bryant announced he would be changing his jersey number from eight to 24.
While I couldn’t ever find a confirmation as to exactly why Kobe changed his number, some rumors include that he multiplied his old jersey (No. 8) by the number of championships he had at the time, and/or he originally wanted the number as a rookie and it wasn’t available.
Demanding to Be Traded
After another early exit from the playoffs in the spring of 2007, Kobe Bryant demanded to be traded to a team who would surround him with a better supporting cast. Later in the offseason, an amateur video was released of Kobe denouncing both Andrew Bynum and general manager Mitch Kupchak.
Kobe’s rants ceased, when Bynum played well to start the following season, before he suffered a season ending knee injury in January of 2008. Then the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol, the team made the NBA Finals and Kobe’s harsh words were soon forgotten.
Winning the 2008 MVP Award
Kobe Bryant won his first (and likely his last) regular season MVP award in 2008. Kobe averaged 28 points, six rebounds and five assists, in addition to leading the Los Angeles Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference.
Considering it was a travesty Kobe didn’t win the award for his 2005-06 season (we will get to that more in a bit), I have always felt this was more of a “make-up/lifetime achievement award.”
Wouldn’t it be weird if Kobe, who will likely retire as one of the game’s top 10 players, had not won one MVP award?
61 Points at Madison Square Garden
In February of 2009, Kobe Bryant scored 61 points against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Kobe Broke Bernard King’s 60-point Garden record, which he set in 1984.
First Championship Without Shaquille O'Neal
After Shaquille O’Neal was traded in the summer of 2004, it took Kobe Bryant and the Lakers until 2008 to win a playoff series. That season, the Lakers were embarrassed by the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
The loss to Boston only intensified the talks of Kobe not being able to win the big one without Shaq. But those talks were short-lived, as the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic in the 2009 Finals.
Once and for all, Kobe proved he could indeed lead the Lakers to a championship as the team’s alpha dog.
Becoming the Franchise's All-Time Leading Scorer
In February of 2010, Kobe Bryant passed Jerry West to become the franchise’s leading scorer. Also, Kobe sits in sixth place on the league’s all-time scoring list.
The next person Kobe is set to pass? None other than Shaquille O’Neal.
Leading the Los Angeles Lakers to Victory over Boston in the 2010 Finals
Kobe Bryant put his stamp on the historic Lakers/Celtics rivalry by leading the team to victory over the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.
Not only did Kobe add another title to his resume, but he further proved his worth as the team’s leader, in addition to avenging the team’s loss to Boston in the ’08 Finals.
Relationship with Phil Jackson
Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant certainly had their ups and downs in their 11 seasons together. After Phil Jackson temporarily retired following the 2004 season, Jackson wrote in his book, The Last Season, Kobe Bryant was “uncoachable.”
But when Jackson returned for the 05-06 season, Kobe and Phil put their differences aside, winning two more championships together in 2009 and 2010.