Across 20 seasons, five championships, and 220 playoff games for the NBA's most glamorous franchise, Bryant produced as many iconic moments as perhaps any player in basketball history — including Michael Jordan, who will present Bryant into the Hall.
We all know the Greatest Hits, and its B-sides: The '98 All-Star Game, the alley-oop, 2000 Finals Game 4, the 12 three-pointers, '06 vs. Phoenix, the 40-point streak, 81, 62 in three quarters, the bank over Wade, the clinical 61 at the Garden, the Gold Medal game, not flinching, slapping Alvin Gentry's ass, posters on Dwight, Ben Wallace, and Yao Ming, and, of course, the 60-point finale, among countless others.
Beyond a flair for the dramatic befitting of Hollywood, Bryant was revered by fans and peers for his night-to-night drive and persistent devotion to competing. In any given ballgame, no matter how inconsequential, Bryant, like Jordan, played like he owed the game and the fans maximal effort. Plus, that’s just how he was wired.
That Mamba Mentality is encapsulated in the deep cuts from Kobe's impressive catalog as much as the hits.
For instance, on Friday, Lakers All-Star Anthony Davis shared a personal favorite Kobe moment. AD recalled witnessing a 36-year old Kobe opt to shoot left-handed after dislocating his shoulder in an inessential matchup vs. the New Orleans Pelicans in 2015. Maniacal.
Here's the clip AD is referring to: a 36-year old Kobe, with a dislocated right shoulder, hitting a lefty turnaround fadeaway on Quincy Pondexter pic.twitter.com/55CfLCX0jB
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) May 14, 2021
(As an aside: I thought I’d use this space to Trojan Horse one personal anecdote. I worked as a research assistant on the documentary, Kobe Bryant’s Muse. Bryant had final cut over the project, which initially featured interviews with noteworthy folks in Bryant's orbit: Phil, Shaq, D-Fish, Jerry West, Rick Fox, Pau, Steve Nash, etc. About a month before its air date, Kobe screened the film. His response? To scrap the entire thing, and re-cut it with him as the lone talking-head, delaying the release by months. Was it the right creative choice? Honestly, maybe not. Was it the Kobe-ist choice? 100 percent.)
In that spirit, here are eight underrated moments from Bryant's Hall of Fame career, in not-quite-chronological order.
1) Kobe on Phoenix, Part 1
This began Bryant's tradition of committing fatalities against the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs.
In Game 2 of the 2000 conference semis, the 67-win Lakers trailed by one with 16 seconds left. A composed Bryant sized up All-Defense guard (and current Lakers assistant) Jason Kidd and nailed a double-clutch elbow jumper with 2.6 seconds left. The 22-year old could not have been less fearful of the moment, which came after early postseason shortcomings.
2) Kobe silences Ray Allen
Bryant always targeted Allen, who was selected seven spots ahead of Kobe in the stacked '96 draft.
During a preseason game in Oct. 2004 — Kobe's first season without Shaquille O'Neal — Allen strips Bryant at midcourt. Watch the Lakers guard calmly calculate Allen's path to the rim and plan his attack. Ray rises up for a lay-up, but Kobe rises a little higher and for a little longer, and swats the Spalding straight back.
How did Allen respond? By insinuating that Kobe's “selfish” tendencies would prevent him from winning without Shaq. Not surprisingly, these two Hall of Famers would beef for years, culminating in Kobe's game-winner over Allen in Boston in 2010.
3) Clutch offensive rebounds
Bryant’s elite hoops IQ manifested in myriad ways, with one being his knack for timely offensive boards.
In his breakout Game 4 in the 2000 Finals, Kobe snuck baseline for a pivotal put-back lay-in after a Brian Shaw miss to put the Lakers up by three with 5.9 seconds remaining.
Two years later, in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals, the San Antonio Spurs defense — anchored by Bryant’s fellow Hall inductee, Tim Duncan — foiled L.A.'s possession with the game tied and the clock running down. Derek Fisher missed a short jumper, but Kobe read the bounce and swooped in.
Finally, during a 2008 game vs. the Dallas Mavericks, Jeff Van Gundy — in his finest broadcasting moment — Romos the Lakers star plotting an offensive board based on Bryant's next-level savviness (btw, this move works in pick-up).
4) “Buckle up!”
This vicious, gravity-sucking windmill slam on the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2003 may be too overplayed to belong on this listicle. Whatever. I just eternally adore Kevin Harlan’s call. He perfectly times the “Buckle up!” for the second prior to Bryant's take-off, despite the fact that a dunk wasn’t something that Bryant was obviously going to attempt.
5) Kobe fakes out the entire Charlotte Hornets organization
I've never seen this happen in another basketball game. Somehow, Bryant Jedi Mind Tricked the Hornets into forgetting which basket they're supposed to be defending, simply by lining up a certain way. (BTW, shout-out to the announcer, who enjoyably yells “defensive faux-pas!” as Bryant breaks away.)
Who else would even think of trying this? Also: the disrespect is…voluminous. I'm sure Bryant didn't talk any smack to MJ about it afterward.
6) Kobe’s glorious late-career dunking season
Bryant had looked particularly spry that season, which came about a year after his experimental blood-spinning treatment. Truthfully, I distinctly remember having a recurrent thought throughout that 2012-13 campaign, basically: “Damn, Kobe keeps yamming on folks.”
He took on the entire Brooklyn Nets roster:
He schooled a young Klay Thompson:
He turned back the clock on Josh Smith and the Atlanta Hawks:
And on his good pal, Chris Paul:
There were so many more. Kobe was absolutely on one in 2012-13.
7) The other Toronto game
The 81-point game wasn’t the only time the Toronto Raptors were memorably victimized by Bryant.
In March of 2013, Kobe electrified Staples Center with 41 points, including three outrageously silly clutch triples in crunch-time — all from different angles and requiring hard work and intricate footwork to get space — and a massive overtime jam. This was peak Jaw Face Era.
8) This friggin' shot in the 2009 Finals
To this day, I'm surprised that more Bryant highlight reels don't include the comically acrobatic shot Bryant hit over Dwight Howard.
Look at this madness: Bryant elevates in the lane, shows the ball wide on the right side, brings it left around the Defensive Player of the Year, re-gathers, and makes a short jumper to put the Lakers up by 12 in the third quarter of the title-clinching Game 5.
Like the lefty fade on Quincy Pondexter, only Bryant would think he could pull this off.
I recall mentally bookmarking this shot when it happened, assuming it would be a mainstay in montages of Kobe's greatest moments. Oh well. I guess he just had too many others.