By: Kento Kato
On my way traveling back to Japan to take care of some things, I was forced to spend a night in Toronto due to weather troubles. As I do at any hotel, I turned to the TV and turned to the sports channel as I unpacked and tried to relax. As I set up my laptop, I heard the late Stuart Scott’s voice and when I turned to the TV, I saw Kobe in the midst of scoring 81 points against the Toronto Raptors. I could do nothing but laugh as I sat there, re-realizing, just how amazing that performance was. What was even more amazing was that the Lakers, on the same date, in 2017, managed to score just 73 points while taking more than 20 more shots. And while that game was played in Los Angeles, I still found it strange that I found myself in Toronto, 11 years to the date that my favorite athlete of all-time had put together a historic performance against the Raptors. Later on that night, I started to think about what my favorite Kobe Bryant moments were. There are so many. And while it was hard, I tried to come up with a top 10 list of what comes to mind when I think of Kobe Bryant and his career.
10. Christmas games. Now I am a Kobe fan but I am not going to pretend like he was perfect. In fact, his record and some of his losses on Christmas day are closer to bad than good. But I think that it still says something about him that when you think of Christmas day games, he is one of the players that comes to mind. For many years, even when he had horrendous teams, the NBA put him up on Christmas day, and Kobe competed. I still remember being a kid and watching him go up against Shaq after all of their drama. Even after those years, he would be put up against the big 3 of the Celtics and even later on, LeBron. And he would play on Christmas day very late into his career.
9. Struggling against Utah in 1997. I think most, if not all, Kobe fans know by now, that Kobe struggled early in his career. He had some huge expectations placed upon him and more often than not, he disappointed early on. This was the case in a playoff game against a veteran Utah Jazz team in which Kobe shot several air balls in the 4th quarter and the fans in Utah let him have it. The 4 air balls 5 minutes obviously flustered and disappointed him and this could easily have been the start of a downfall for a young player. But instead of losing confidence, Kobe only used this game as motivation and it is just one of the examples of what made Kobe, Kobe. This was one of the first examples of a young kid who was determined and confident taking steps to becoming one of the all-time greats.
Video of the air balls:
8. Game winners against Portland to clinch the division. The Blazers and the Lakers had a pretty good rivalry in the early 2000s. The teams often met in the playoffs and there were even some scuffles. With the division up for grabs, the two teams played at the end of the season and the game was close again. With the game coming to an end, Kobe made a fade away three to send it to overtime. That alone would have been clutch but he hit another fade away 3 in over time to clinch the division. We all know Kobe went on to hit a few more clutch shots but these were the first I remember being in awe of.
Here is a video of the shots:
7. The game-winner against the Suns. This is one of the more famous shots made in recent playoff history. In a playoff series against the Suns in 2006, the Lakers were up 2-1 but were looking defeat in the eyes as they trailed 90-88 with 7.9 seconds left with the Suns inbounding the ball. The Lakers were able to steal the ball and Kobe hit a floater with .7 seconds left to send the game to overtime. And in that overtime, the Lakers once again, found themselves looking at defeat as they trailed 98-97 with 6.1 seconds left. This time it was a jump-ball, one which the Lakers would win. Kobe then dribbled to the right elbow and pulled up for a fade away buzzer-beating fade away. While the Lakers would ultimately lose this series, this would go on to be one of Kobe’s most memorable shots.
6. Willing his team to the playoffs in 2013 and the torn Achilles. We all thought that team was a lock in the finals. With Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, and Steve Nash, the team had a big 4 unlike anyone else in the league. But we now know that that team never fully clicked and whether it was the injuries, the coaching change, or the chemistry, the team underperformed. But I still remember Kobe doing whatever it took to will that team to the playoffs. Through the drama, the arguments, and the disappointments, Kobe did whatever the team needed. Passing, defense, rebounding, and even playing 40+ minutes on consecutive nights, Kobe would not be denied a playoff birth. He played some of his best all-around basketball that year and it was truly memorable and inspirational. What made this even more memorable was the torn Achilles. The aforementioned season came to an abrupt end for Kobe as he tore his Achilles just a few games before the playoffs. It was sad to see the man, who put so much on the line, to get his team to the playoffs, not be able to play in the playoffs. It made it that much harder to see because this was the same man that had bounced back from so many injuries and hardships. But this time, he looked defeated. With his age being a factor, some even questioned if that was the end of his career. But to see him step up to the free throw line and to even attempt to play on, just seconds after tearing his Achilles, you had to respect his will.
5. The game winners in 2009. In an attempt to repeat and win his 5th ring, Kobe Bryant went on a tear during the season making game-winners on what seemed like a nightly basis. Of course that wasn’t the case, but he still made many shots that would once again, prove how clutch Kobe could be. Most of us remember the bank three over Wade, but from the fade away against the Bucks from the left elbow, to the catch and shoot three in the corner against the Kings, Kobe put together one of the more clutch years in recent history.
For those that want to see the 5 game-winners that he hit that year:
4. Outscored the Mavs through 3 quarters. Situation-wise there isn’t too much to brag about. Kobe was in the midst of playing with some very subpar teams and struggled to contend as he tried to will his teams by putting up some ridiculous numbers but just did not have enough help. But this one was still impressive as Kobe outscored a Mavericks teams 62-61 by himself through 3 quarters. He ended up not playing the 4th either.
3. 81 point game. In terms of difficulty to do, or just in terms of impressiveness, this might have been number 1. He scored 81 points in a game, which to this day, is the second most in a game and the team needed most, if not all of the points. They were in a close one against the Toronto Raptors and were actually down for much of the game. I don’t think this one will be broken but even if it is to be broken, it will take a while as it will take a player who has the ability to score in bunches, to be feelings it, in a game that is close, and he has to have the mentality that it is either him or nobody else.
2. 60 in his last game. This one may not be as impressive as the 81 point game because his team was just giving him the ball and there are even controversies on if the Jazz kind of let him do his thing. Regardless, to watch him score 60 points, in his last game, in a winning effort, was amazing. When talking about what is memorable and what kind of career and legacy he had, this game will be something everyone will talk about. It was so fitting for a man like Kobe to go out in such a way. Fun fact, did you know he started as a small forward in his last game?
1. First championship without Shaq. This one was just personal. Many had said that Kobe could not win without Shaq. And whie he had some awful teams after Shaq left, it was starting to look like Kobe may struggle to win one. But after a trade for Pau Gasol, the Lakers quickly turned into contenders. After losing to Boston in the 07-08 finals, the Lakers would go back the following season to win it all. As a Kobe fan, it was great seeing Kobe lift the trophy as the unheralded go-to-guy on his team especially since it came after all of the down seasons.