Growing up watching Kobe during my college days, he was the closest thing to Michael Jordan. I never expected for him to be gone so soon.
1. Slam Dunk Competition
Kobe did not have the same immediate impact as Allen Iverson or Michael Jordan as a rookie, but he made a lot of noise during the All-Star weekend in 1997. He participated in the annual Slam Dunk Contest and won against high flyers like Ray Allen and Michael Finley. He won with a J.R. Rider-inspired East Bay Funk Dunk.
As a rookie, Kobe was a bench player behind starter Eddie Jones, who was a decent scorer and defensive stalwart. Kobe only averaged 7.6 points in 15.5 minutes per game during his rookie season. Despite this, he was starting to show flashes of brilliance and gave people a sneak peek into the future.
At the age of 18, Kobe became the youngest person to win the Slam Dunk Contest. While it is not a guarantee that contest winners go on to have stellar NBA careers, the event helped springboard the young Bryant into becoming a household name.
Kobe's first foray to the postseason in 1997 ended badly. The rookie had to carry the team on his own at the end of Game 5 in the Western Conference semifinals. Byron Scott missed the game due to an injury, Robert Horry was ejected for fighting, and Shaq fouled out in the fourth quarter. Kobe shot four airballs that allowed the Utah Jazz to advance. Kobe cried at the end of game as he badly wanted to win.
In 1999, Los Angeles was able to sign eight-time champion Phil Jackson as their head coach. Phil won two rings as a player for the New York Knicks and six rings as a coach for the Chicago Bulls. He immediately paid dividends as he was able to instill a championship philosophy in the young and talented team. In 2000, the Lakers were able to make it to the Finals for the first time since Magic Johnson led the Showtime Lakers. The Pacers also made it to the Finals after being foiled by the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks in the previous years.
The Pacers were a tough defensive team and were coached by living legend Larry Bird. They had one of the best offensive players in Reggie Miller and a nice supporting cast of veterans in Dale Davis, Al Harrington, Mark Jackson, Chris Mullin, Sam Perkins, Jalen Rose, and Rik Smits. In a grueling six-game series, the Lakers defeated the Pacers to win the NBA championship.
The next year, the Lakers were aiming for a repeat. They were dominant in the season as they steamrolled through the West. They went undefeated in the postseason until the first game of the Finals when Allen Iverson lit them up. The Lakers did a much better job in containing Iverson and won the next 4 games.
After the repeat, the Lakers set out to do what Magic couldn't—bring a third straight title to the City of Angels. The roadblock this time was Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets. The Nets simply had no answers for Shaq and Kobe; Shaq averaged more than 36 points per game while Kobe averaged more than 26 points per game.
At last, the Lakers finally got their three-peat. What was not achieved by Magic and Kareem was achieved by Shaq and Kobe.
3. Scoring 81 Points
Wilt Chambelain once scored 100 points in a game. Nobody ever came close to this record until January 22, 2006, when Kobe Bryant scored 81 points over the hapless Toronto Raptors.
During this offensive barrage, Kobe made 7 three-pointers and 18 free throws that led to a come-from-behind victory.
To put this accomplishment in perspective, the closest score to reach Chamberlain's record was 71 from David Robinson. Even Michael Jordan only managed to score 69 points as his career high. Larry Bird was only able to muster 60. LeBron James, as great as he is in the eyes of many, only has 61—a far cry from Kobe's 81.
This game is mentioned a lot on NBA television. The main reason is that it is the highest a player has scored in the modern era. However, it also gets brought up a lot because ESPN commentator Jalen Rose was one of the hapless Raptors guarding Kobe that night. Rose is often ribbed by his fellow commentators for failing to slow down Kobe. Then again, when Kobe was this hot, who could have?
After Shaq left the Lakers in 2004, the team saw a sharp decline. They were so bad that they did not even make the playoffs in the season after Shaq left. They made the postseason in 2006 and 2007. Unfortunately, the Phoenix Suns eliminated Los Angeles in the first round during both years. Things did not look too promising for the Lakers.
The Lakers needed some retooling, and with the acquisition of Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies, the team was back in title contention.
Kobe and Pau's partnership yielded two consecutive titles; one against the Boston Celtics and another against the Orlando Magic. This was validation for Kobe as people never believed he would win without Shaq.
5. Regular Season MVP
Kobe was the Michael Jordan of his era. What could be more synonymous to MJ than the Maurice Podoloff trophy? In 2008, Kobe averaged 28.3 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, 5.4 assists per game, and 1.8 steals per game.
Kobe was a versatile player during the 2007-2008 season. He had half a dozen assists and rebounds per game. He not only helped control the boards from the guard position, he also helped facilitate the offense.
6. Passing Michael Jordan on the All-Time Scoring List
Kobe Bryant, just like many kids during his time, wanted to be like Mike. However, he was one of the few who actually came close. Kobe copied Michael's playing style and mannerisms. He also wore the number 24, which was close to the 23 worn by Michael.
On Dec. 14, 2014, Kobe passed Michael's 32,292 career points. He scored 26 points and helped vanquish the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Kobe closed his career with 33,643 points. He would have scored more if he had not been plagued by injuries during his last 3 seasons.
7. Final Game
The Force was with Kobe in his final game. He scored 60 points on the Utah Jazz on his home turf.
Though Kobe's 20th and final season was a farewell tour, people still looked forward to seeing his final game in the NBA. The last few seasons were not the best for the future Laker legend as he was saddled with injuries. It was also evident that he was past his prime. The mileage of multiple playoffs and Finals series had taken their toll on Kobe.
For this brief moment in time, Kobe seemingly found the fountain of youth as he assaulted the Jazz with a combination of three-point bombs, midrange jumpers, and numerous drives to the basket. Prime Kobe showed up on this day as he scored 60 points. The final score was close at 101-96 in favor of the Lakers.
After the game, Kobe closed his career with a speech. He thanked everyone for supporting him and he also was thankful to have spent 20 years with the Lakers.
8. Jersey Retirement
On December 18, 2017, the Lakers honored Kobe by retiring both of his jersey numbers—number 8 and number 24. Kobe's jerseys were now up in the rafters alonside a pantheon of greats such as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, and Shaquille O' Neil.
This was a special day for Kobe and his fans. Being immortalized among the other Laker legends is already a huge accomplishment, but having two numbers retired by one team had never been done before.
Favorite Kobe Bryant Moment
© 2020 Jan Michael Ong