In the days after one of the biggest tragedies to occur in NBA history, reflecting over Kobe’s career has become unavoidable.
Instead of ranking his best, clutchest or most iconic moments of his career, I have compiled some moments that I feel best encapsulate who and what Kobe represented. These are the moments in between moments that represented Kobe in his true essence.
Young Kobe vs. Utah
Often, we see the highlights from Kobe’s career.
The game winners, the dunks and the plays that spark a true sense of wonder in all of us.
This is not that.
Let me set the scene. It’s game 5 of the Western Conference semi-finals and the Lakers are down 3-1 to the Utah Jazz. Led by one of the best duos in NBA history, John Stockton and Karl Malone, the Jazz seem to be making light work of the Lakers.
Having won the previous game by 15 and with Shaq fouling out late in the fourth quarter, the Jazz seemed all but guaranteed to head through to the next round.
The Lakers are looking for any sort of hope. Any sort of inspiration to spur them over the line. The young 18-year old rookie, Kobe Bryant, feels that this is his opportunity to shine.
It didn’t happen.
What happened instead was 4 airballs in 5 minutes. Once at the end of regulation – what would’ve been the game winner – and 3 times in overtime – 2 of which could’ve been the game tying shot.
This showed us what Kobe could become. A player so unfazed by failure, a player so confident within his own ability that despite the knowledge that he had failed multiple times already, he still backed himself to be the guy that the Lakers needed him to be.
Free Throws with a busted Achilles
This one is tough to watch.
The night before this, Kobe had 47 points (in 48 minutes as well). He came into this game with the exact same hunger as the night before but this time against a young, dangerous Warriors team.
With just over 3 minutes remaining, Kobe attempted to drive past Harrison Barnes to tie the game at 109.
His Achilles ruptures.
He was fouled as this happened and was awarded 2 free throws. Any sane individual would’ve cut their losses and left the court to be treated.
The competitive drive that he possessed forced him to do whatever he could to win for his team. He scored his 33rd and 34th points of the game right there at the free throw line.
Limping off the court, he is met with a standing ovation from a Lakers’ crowd – headlined by Jack Nicholson himself – that adored him and everything he represented.
Kobe vs. Matt Barnes
Everyone has seen this. And everyone loves it.
There’s not much I can say about this clip that you can’t deduce for yourself by watching it.
Do yourself a favour, watch the clip again.
Kobe’s Chase Down Block vs. Andre Miller
Not enough can be said about the competitive fire that burned within Kobe.
The never-say-die drive that propelled him to make himself and those around him better. Every inch was fought for, every point was earnt. When you came up against Kobe, you knew that you had to work for everything.
This is what is showcased here.
Annoyed with himself after turning the ball over, Kobe is the only Laker that turns and sprints after the ball on defense. It is already airborne, on its way to Andre Miller for 2 of the easiest points he’ll score in his entire career.
He should’ve dunked it.
Kobe never gives up. He sprints down the court and pins the ball against the backboard. His defensive tenacity, as well as his offensive, is what made him so great.
You could never outwork Kobe.
Kobe vs. Chris Rock
Its Game 1 of the NBA Finals, 2010. The Celtics are back in Staples Center just 2 years after breaking the hearts of all Lakers fans in the 2008 Finals.
Kobe isn’t about to let that happen again.
He has worked too much and too hard to get so close to revenge for something to mess with his focus.
Nothing can faze him. Not even Chris Rock.
One of the funniest people on the planet would be enough to get through to anyone, even David Spade is losing it just sitting next to him.
Not Kobe though.
His focus is so fierce, so impenetrable that he doesn’t acknowledge Chris Rock in the slightest. Not even an eye twitch, no smirks, no chortles out of the nose. Nothing.
It worked. The Lakers won in 7 games to avenge their own loss to the Celtics two years prior, and Kobe became a back-to-back Finals MVP.
In the aftermath of Kobe’s death, we think about what he meant to everyone. The way in which he conducted himself to become one of the most intense competitors the game has ever seen is something that we will never see again. Kobe meant so much to all of us that it is important to celebrate Kobe’s life, rather than focus on the grief that surrounds his death.
On a personal note, the news of Kobe’s death shook me to my core. As a Celtics fan, Kobe was one of the scariest opponents that I ever had to cheer against. Pure ecstasy in ’08 turned to absolute devastation in 2010. After his retirement, I had a small sense of relief as I thought there was no way he could break my heart again.
I was wrong.