Kobe Bryant, along with eight others, was killed in a helicopter in Calabassas, California Sunday morning in what is undoubtedly one of the biggest tragedies in the history of the National Basketball Association.
Kobe was the ultimate winner, he had a drive and passion second to none which led him to a historic five NBA championships as well as a deluge of individual accolades and achievements, including a first-ballot nomination to the basketball hall of fame.
This is a look back at the legacy-defining moments of one of the greatest to ever do it and a hero to millions around the world, Kobe Bryant
“The most important thing is you must put everybody on notice that you’re here and you are for real.”
The Los Angeles Lakers were the dominant team of the early 2000s, winning three straight NBA titles from 2000 to 2002 on the backs of Shaquille O’Neal and a young Kobe Bryant. But all that could have never happened if not for one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history.
In the 2000 Western Conference Finals, the Lakers were on the ropes, down by 15 points in game seven to the Portland Trail Blazers they needed a miracle. The Lakers defense clamped down on Portland, who didn’t score for nearly eight minutes as the Lakers went on a 15-0 run to tie the game. Then with the game tied Kobe made two key free throws and a critical jump shot to set up one of the greatest plays of all time.
After another Blazers miss Kobe drove towards the basket and threw up a perfect alley-oop to Shaq, which brought the house down and put the game away with 50 seconds left.
In the NBA finals, the Lakers would defeat the Indiana Pacers to win the first of their three straight titles.
Win at Any Cost
‘Once you know what failure feels like, determination chases success’
After Shaq was traded away from the Lakers to the Miami Heat in 2004 many people doubted if Kobe could lead a team to the promised land himself.
His efforts over the next few years would all fall short due to no fault of his own, it’s hard to win an NBA title with players like Smush Parker and Chris Mihm in the starting lineup. But while he didn’t quite have the team success just yet he did have some of the most iconic and legendary moments of his career.
The first came in January of 2006 in what at first seemed to be a fairly insignificant game vs the Toronto Raptors. In this game, Kobe had the greatest scoring performance in modern NBA history with 81 points, shocking the NBA world.
After the game it seemed Kobe was just as surprised as everyone, saying “It really hasn’t, like, set in for me. It’s about the `W,’ that’s why I turned it on. It turned into something special. To sit here and say I grasp what happened, that would be lying.”
During the 2006 playoffs, Kobe would have what many consider to be his defining game, game four of the Lakers series versus the Pheonix Suns. While his stats weren’t all that impressive (25 points, 8 assists, 7 turnovers) he hit two incredible shots, one to send the game to overtime, and the other to win it with no time remaining. It’s a sequence that sends chills up your spine and perfectly encapsulates exactly why it was such a joy to watch Kobe play, knowing any given night something incredible could happen.
King of the Mountain
‘Winning takes precedence over all. There’s no gray area. No almosts.’
Even with all his individual accomplishments, including the 2007-2008 MVP award, Kobe was still searching for that elusive first title on his own. He suffered a heartbreaking loss in the 2008 NBA finals, losing to the Lakers archrival Boston Celtics in a close series.
The next season he would leave no doubt as to what his legacy would be. 65 wins in the regular season, a gutsy run through the western conference playoffs, and a demolishing of the Orlando Magic in the NBA finals in which Kobe averaged 32 points while winning his first finals MVP.
He followed it up the next year by winning his second title in a row, this time getting revenge on Boston. These two titles left no doubt in anyone’s minds, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players to ever touch the hardwood.
One Last Time
‘The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do.’
Kobe was the definition of a loyal player. He stuck with the Los Angeles Lakers to the bitter end even as his body began to fail him and the losses piled up.
While his last few seasons were not what he wanted Kobe still saved the best for last, delivering what is considered the greatest final performance in NBA history.
60 points, 23 in the fourth quarter, and one final win.
Rest in peace Kobe, you will never be forgotten.