A year ago today, Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi tragically passed to the shock and grief of the entire world. In memory of Kobe and all he brought to the sport, let's break down his most iconic moments in and out of basketball.
Let's just get the things I can list out of the way first, so you understand the magnitude of the man I'm talking about. *ahem* Kobe Bryant was an All-Star 18 times, 15 time All-NBA Team member, 12 time All-Defensive, the 2008 MVP, two time Finals MVP, five time champion, fourth on the all time scoring list (retired at third), and scored the second highest number of points in a single NBA game ever. I'm leaving some stuff off, too. You get the idea.
He Scored 81 Points in a Single Game
First, off the bat, I don't care if Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a single game, this is the greatest scoring performance in NBA history. There are a lot of reports that they were basically feeding Chamberlain the ball the entire game so he could get to a hundred anyways. He scored 81 points. The game didn't even go to overtime. I'm not even sure I can really paint you a proper picture to explain how impressive that is.
If you're not a basketball fan, 50 points in a game is considered an amazing game, you'll make the news. 60 points even more so. 70 has only happened a handful of times, and then there's Kobe. And Wilt Chamberlain, but, again, I don't count it.
This was the first season after Shaq left. Everyone counted the Lakers out, and for good reason. The most dominant center in NBA history was gone, and everyone was looking to see if Kobe could really do it by himself. Turns out he could.
'97 Slam Dunk Contest Champion
Many don't consider this the highlight of his career, and it isn't, but keep in mind Kobe had just turned 18 when he won this contest. He was fresh out of Lower Merion, some random kid the Lakers had traded for on draft day who was supposed to be pretty good.
This wasn't the modern day dunk contest, either, where the dunk contest is a bunch of benchwarmers who can jump filling up airtime before Zach Lavine or Aaron Gordon jump over a car. This was back when the dunk contest was a big deal.
Unfortunately, this was actually one of the worst dunk contests ever, with Kobe being the only person who shined, but making all the other contestants, including future Hall of Famer Ray Allen, look so bad they actually cancel the dunk contest for 1998, is no small feat.
Passing MJ on the All-Time Scoring List
It was no secret that Kobe emulated Michael Jordan during his career. And, it's no secret that, despite having a rock solid legacy of his own, he never quite surpassed MJ. Jordan just had more accolades, more rings, more MVPs, more of everything. Except points. Kobe got more points.
This allowed Kobe, even at the end of his career, to step out of that shadow he always walked in.
Winning his First Ring without Shaq
Up until this ring, this was the main criticism of Kobe. "He can't do it without Shaq, he can't do it without Shaq". Yes he can. After three peating with the big man in the early 2000s, people waited years for the Lakers to get back to the top.
That they did, with Kobe, along with Pau Gasol, leading the charge to the tune of two rings in a row in 2009 and 2010, against the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics, respectively.
Also, I am so sick of this argument he couldn't do it without Pau either, or he couldn't do it by himself. MJ couldn't do it by himself, Lebron couldn't do it by himself, Dirk couldn't, Shaq couldn't, no one can. The only person who came close to doing it by himself was Allen Iverson, and the Lakers destroyed them in the finals after AI dropped 48 in Game One. So enough of this "he has to do it alone" talk, it's ridiculous.
The Game Winning Alley-Oop to Shaq Against the Blazers
This Western Conference finals, I'm told, was one of the most exciting in history. I couldn't tell you, I was about a month old at the time. The Lakers went up 3-1 in the seven game series, and Portland clawed all the way back to make the series an even 3-3. With Portland holding all the momentum from the last 2 games, it looked like the Blazers were making it to the finals this year, with the Lakers left to sit on their respective couches.
But, in the last 40 seconds of the game, Kobe and Shaq, together, iced this game with one of the most emphatic statements possible. An alley oop is one of the most disrespectful plays imaginable, and to do it with 40 seconds left, in one of the most important games of the year, with the game on the line, and succeed? Sheesh.
He Scored 62 Points in 3 Quarters
So, we already talked about the 81 point game, so why am I mentioning this one? Because he did it in three quarters. He didn't even play the last quarter, there was no point. The work was done.
He Held the Record for Threes in a Game
So, this one was kind of random. Kobe was never a bad three point shooter, but he was never Kobe Bryant, that guy who takes all those threes. This record stood for a long time. Like, he set this record when I was in pre-k, and when Steph Curry broke it, I was a junior in high school.
This was also long before Steph and Klay turned the NBA into a three point contest, too. This was the early 2000s, mid range jumpers and post play basketball. Taking twelve threes was unheard of, making twelve threes was even better.
Kobe dunked on Kris Humphries harder than Kim Kardashian did after 72 days. Now, I know you're thinking, why do I care about this dunk? It's just a good dunk. He was 34 years old when he did that, which, in basketball years, is about 85. I'm 20 years old as of the posting of this article. I can't do that. Can you?
Making Both His Free Throws After Tearing his Achilles
I don't know about you, but if I was playing basketball and tore my Achilles, I'd probably cry, panic, breath heavily, call my mommy, etc. I definitely wouldn't demand my free throws before I left the floor.
"He's not even really going to shoot the free throws" says the announcer. Ha.
He Made the NBA Huge in China
The NBA has made a large effort since the introduction of commissioner Adam Silver to expand themselves into international markets, China being chief among them. Along with Yao Ming, Kobe was instrumental in making China as obsessed with the NBA as it currently is, to the point that they actually gave him a statue in the city of Guangzhou.
You'd think, after being one of the best players who ever lived, one of the most successful and recognizable faces on the planet, and his name literally being synonymous with making a basket, Kobe would just sort of relax for a bit, post retirement. Nope, he won an Oscar instead. If Mark Hamill handed me a bag of garbage that would be the highlight of my entire life. Kobe got an Oscar handed to him by Luke Skywalker for his animated short film Dear Basketball, and that's just kind of a footnote.
He became a prolific businessman, starting a production company for his films as well as Kobe Inc for business ventures, flipping a $6 million investment on BodyArmor into $200 million.
He published a book, called Mamba Mentality: How I Play, discussing what he believes it takes to truly succeed in 2018, and at the time of his death was working on a book for underprivileged children.
He launched the Mamba Sports Academy, a series of athletic training facilities, which currently have 2 locations and resounding success.
There are special people, people who will succeed no matter what, because they're just programmed to work as hard as they possibly can. Kobe was one of those people. May you and Gigi rest in peace, the world misses you.
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