Remembering Kobe Bryant's Greatest Moments

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2020

Remembering Kobe Bryant's Greatest Moments

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    News of the deaths of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash shook the world Sunday.

    The 18-time All-Star, 15-time All-NBA player and five-time champion's impact and legacy, as well as the loyalty he inspired in fans, were on vivid display throughout the day. Few expressed the weight of the tragedy as effectively as former President Barack Obama.

    "Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act," he tweeted. "To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day."

    As millions around the globe attempt to process Sunday's shocking events, let's look back at some of the moments, highlights and performances that defined an icon.

Kobe to Shaq

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    Kobe won three straight NBA titles alongside Shaquille O'Neal. Together, they made up one of the most dominant duos in NBA history.

    In 2000, on the way to their first championship, Shaq and Kobe found themselves down 15 to the Portland Trail Blazers in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.

    After completing the comeback, the superstars connected for one of the most memorable alley-oops the league has ever given us. Lakers.com's Joey Ramirez described the exclamation point that put the game on ice.

    "Bryant sized up [Scottie] Pippen yet again and dusted him with a crossover. Then he lobbed the ball to O'Neal, who seemingly grazed the STAPLES Center ceiling to grab it.

    "Shaq brought the ball down with thunder, rocking the crowd and cementing a six-point lead with 40 seconds remaining.

    "'I thought I threw the ball too high,' Bryant told reporters. 'Shaq went up and got it, I was like, 'Damn!'"

    Of all their moments together, few left as striking a visual.

62 to 61

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    About a month before his 81-point outburst against the Toronto Raptors, Kobe put up a whopping 62 in three quarters against the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 20, 2005. The opposition had 61 as a team when Kobe checked out for the final time that night.

    In just 33 minutes, he had 62 points on 18-of-31 shooting from the field, 4-of-10 from three and 22-of-25 from the line.

81 on the Raptors

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    Kobe's single-game peak was undoubtedly his 81-point opus against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006.

    That night, Kobe went 28-of-46 from the field, 7-of-13 from three and 18-of-20 from the line. He grabbed six boards, swiped three steals, dished out two assists and even recorded a block. He registered a 63.5 game score, the second-highest on record.

    "No offense to the late, great [Wilt] Chamberlain, but he was better positioned to dominate a box score back then with the overwhelming size and strength advantages he possessed, especially given the lack of defensive sophistication in those days," ESPN's Marc Stein wrote as he declared Kobe's 81 superior to Wilt's 100. "Some of you will inevitably counter with the claim that Kobe had the benefit of a 3-point line, but don't exaggerate. Having the long-ball option added only seven extra points to Bryant's total."

    In the modern NBA, 81 is an unfathomable total, even for those of us who witnessed it.

Reclaiming Gold

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    In 1992, the Dream Team had an average margin of victory of 43.8 points on the way to a gold medal in Barcelona. But over the next 12 years, as the talent pool around the world deepened, USA Basketball lost its grip on its dominance of the sport. In 2004, they finished in an unthinkable third place.

    Four years later, Kobe led the charge to re-establish his country's position atop the basketball world.

    "His work ethic, approach and how he appreciates the game is infectious," Kevin Durant said of Kobe's leadership during those games, per Mark Medina of the Orange County Register. "He's someone who loves to play so much. He's competitive when he steps in between those lines. He wants perfection."

    He got perfection during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The Americans went 8-0 en route to a gold medal, and Kobe averaged 15.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals.

Nerves of Steel

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    Kobe's steely resolve was never on more vivid display than the time Matt Barnes threw a pass fake that came within inches of his face.

    In 2018, during an appearance on ESPN's The Jump, Barnes explained that the tense moment may actually have been the beginning of the process that took him to L.A. the next offseason, calling the moment an "audition."

The Fifth Title

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    In February 2008, the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies, and the big man helped Kobe get back to the Finals for the first time since Shaq's departure from L.A.

    That 2008-09 season ended in heartache as the Big Three-era Boston Celtics beat Kobe's Lakers in six games.

    The next year, Kobe made it back to the mountaintop, beating the Orlando Magic in five games. His 32.4 points, 7.4 assists and 5.6 rebounds per contest earned him Finals MVP honors.

    The next year might've felt even sweeter.

    Kobe and the Lakers had their shot at revenge against the Celtics. The historic rivalry was given a brilliant new chapter as the 2010 Finals went seven games. Kobe averaged 28.6 points and secured his second Finals MVP trophy.

    In Game 7, he shot 6-of-24 from the field but snagged 15 rebounds. Scoring was always his greatest strength as a basketball player, but this performance showed he could positively impact the game without pouring in a ton of points.

Two Free Throws on a Torn Achilles

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    On April 10, 2013, Kobe scored 47 points in 48 minutes against the Portland Trail Blazers. In the Lakers' next game, he continued leading his team's playoff push, dropping another 34 in 45 minutes. His last two that night were among the most memorable in his career.

    With just over three minutes left in the outing against the Golden State Warriors, Kobe drove left past Harrison Barnes. He had his mind set on tying the game. His Achilles had other ideas. It ruptured, leaving Kobe with one of the game's most devastating injuries.

    That still wasn't enough to deter him from stepping to the line and calmly drilling both free throws.

    The competitiveness that drove him to make those shots was a hallmark of Kobe's career.

60 on the Jazz

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    No one had a more fitting on-court farewell than Kobe, who dropped 60 points on 22-of-50 shooting in an April 13, 2016 victory over the Utah Jazz to end his basketball career.

    The New York Times' Tyler Kepner broke it down:

    "He looked where he always has: the basket. Bryant played to type, like a man with so many more points to score and so little time to do it. His final performance would not be a dud, the way so many are. Michael Jordan scored 15 points in his final game as a Washington Wizard. Charles Barkley scored 2 as a Houston Rocket. Shaquille O'Neal — Bryant's onetime teammate and foil, who hugged him courtside as the last seconds ticked away — scored none as a Celtic."

    "What else can I say?" Bryant asked after the game. "Mamba out."

Kobe Meets Oscar

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    Just two short years after his retirement from the NBA, Kobe took home one of the biggest honors the entertainment industry bestows: an Academy Award.

    In 2018, Dear Basketball won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.

    "It's a message for all of us," director Glen Keane said as he accepted the award with Kobe. "Whatever form your dream may take, it's through passion and perseverance that the impossible is possible."

    Most people aren't blessed with the size and athletic ability of Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players of all time. The work ethic he applied throughout his career and in endeavors after basketball is worth emulating.

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