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20 For 20: The Best Moments Of Kobe Bryant’s Career

Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

Relive the greatest moments of Kobe’s 20-season career, year by year.

Over 19 years ago, Kobe Bryant entered the NBA in 1996 when the Charlotte Hornets took him with the 13th overall pick. After his trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations.  

Throughout his illustrious career, Kobe has made 17 All-Star games, 11 All-NBA first teams, and 9 Defensive All-NBA first teams. He won 4 All-Star Game MVPs, 2 scoring titles, 2 Finals MVPs, and the 1997 Slam Dunk Championship. Most importantly, he won all five NBA titles with the Lakers.

For almost two decades, Kobe has blessed NBA fans with unforgettable performances. To capture his legendary career, here is the “best moment” from each of his 20 NBA seasons. The best are saved for last.

20. 2015-16 Season: Kobe Fills Stat Sheet with 17 Pts, 9 Ast, & 8 Reb


Choosing a great moment from this season was like choosing the best used car at a sketchy dealership. This performance will have to do for now, but opportunity knocks with an impending game in Philly against the 0-18 Sixers.

19. 2013-14: Kobe Rallies Lakers to Road Win with 21/8/7 Line

 

For many players, this would be a career performance. Kobe put up a nice line on 9-18 shooting and scored the go-ahead free throws in an 88-85 win over the Bobcats. He only played six games this season due to a broken knee bone, so this was his best game from a small selection.

18. 1996-97: Kobe Wins the Slam Dunk Contest


By 2015 standards, these are not the most impressive dunks. But this performance in his rookie season put Kobe on the national radar. That being said, his between the legs dunk at 1:40 was impressive by any measure.

17. 2014-15: Kobe Wills Lakers to Win With Triple-Double


People have been quick to criticize Kobe in recent weeks, saying he should have retired already. But just 12 months ago, the Black Mamba willed his team to an OT victory over the favored Raptors with a 31/12/11  triple-double on 11-24 shooting. How many 19th-year NBA veterans have done that?

16. 2011-12: Kobe Outduels Durant in Playoff Win


Sometimes a team is simply not talented enough to win an NBA Title. Kobe faced that grim reality against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 Western Conference Semifinals. Facing an 0-2 deficit, Kobe brought his A game to help the Lakers avoid a series sweep. In addition to scoring 36 tough points, Bryant grabbed 7 boards and dished out 6 assists. 

15. 2004-05: Simple Road Buzzer-Beater in Charlotte


This was not a fun year for Kobe or the Lakers. The team missed the playoffs, and faded badly down the stretch. Leave it to Kobe to provide a silver lining here.

14. 1998-99: Kobe Helps Lakers Stormed Back with 33 Second-Half Points 


In an otherwise forgettable season for the Lakers, Shaq and Kobe provided several moments of magic. The most impressive came in Orlando, when Kobe’s 33 second-half points helped LA rally from a 20 point halftime deficit against a good Magic squad.

13. 1997-98: Kobe Drops 33 on Jordan in Losing Effort


Kobe made his first All-Star game during the 1997-98 season, and this performance against Michael Jordan on national TV was pivotal in that decision. Bryant looked unstoppable at times, making incredible moves on the G.O.A.T. in his second NBA season. Honorable mention goes to this disgusting preseason dunk over Ben Wallace.

12. 2010-11: Kobe’s 42 Help Lakers Survive in Triple OT


Kobe generally delivered when the stakes were highest, and this game was no exception. Around the 4:20 mark, Kobe denies a winning chance for Phoenix. He made 9 All-NBA Defensive First Teams for a reason.

11. 2007-08: Kobe Scores & Dishes in Playoff Romp


Kobe did not need to hit buzzer-beaters during his MVP season. As a result, this 49 point, 10 assist double-double takes the cake. Who says Kobe couldn’t pass? Honorable mention goes to the Mamba for a clutch Conference Finals Game 1.

10. 2001-02: Kobe Hustles for the Putback Winner in San Antonio


This shot from Kobe is lost in the annals of history. This play is fascinating because it shows Kobe’s mortality, along with his hustle, strong basketball IQ, and determination to win. Bryant nearly turned the ball over on an ugly dribble, but he stuck with the play and followed Derek Fisher‘s miss for the winning bucket. 


9. 2012-13: Kobe Sinks Two Clutch Free Throws on Torn Achilles


After scoring 34 points against Golden State to keep the Lakers’ playoff hopes alive, the Mamba tore his left Achilles on a drive to the basket. Despite suffering from the excruciating pain as well as the knowledge his season would shortly end, Kobe coolly drilled two game-tying free throws. The Lakers won by two points and used that win to sneak into the playoffs. As the years go by, the more impressive those free throws become. 

8. 2009-10: Kobe Hits Contested Winner in Boston


This game served as a fun regular-season appetizer for the classic seven-game NBA Finals that ensued in June. The Celtics frustrated Kobe for most of this contest, but Kobe came through when it mattered most. 

7. 2006-07: Kobe Nets 65, Including Three Clutch Treys in OT Win


At first glance, this seemed like a meaningless game between two middling teams. For 47 minutes, the Lakers looked like losers. Down 96-92, Kobe nailed one three to cut the deficit, another to tie it at 98-98, and a third in the final minute of OT to push LA ahead for good. Despite logging 50 minutes, the Mamba definitely saved his best for last. 

6. 2002-03: NBA Record 12 Threes vs. the Sonics


The 2003 Sonics were not the best opponents for Kobe. And this was not part of his 16-game run with at least 30 points scored. However, scoring 12 threes in one game is a historic feat, particularly for someone who lacked a consistent outside shot before the 2003 season. Imagine how Ray Allen felt watching an opponent catch fire from deep.

5. 2000-01: 48 and 16 Boards to Sweep the Kings at ARCO Arena


Kobe was capable of dominating any game against any opponent when his shots were going down. However, he seemed to have his best games on the road, and the Mamba relished silencing opposing crowds. The Lakers swept their way through the Western Conference Playoffs in 2001, and Kobe’s massive double-double in Sacramento helped preserve that 12-0 streak. 28 of the points came after halftime.

4. 2008-09: Kobe Goes for 61 in the Garden


One could argue that any of Kobe’s six game winning shots in 2009 carried more in-season significance. Yet he delivered a superior all-around performance in New York. To put it another way, people still talk about Kobe dropping 61 in the Garden, even more than Derek Fisher’s Finals-clinching threes against Orlando.  

3. 2003-04: Disgusting Buzzer-Beaters vs. the “Kobe Stopper”


This is easily the most underrated clutch Kobe game of his career. And of all my Kobe memories, this might be the most FUN one. 

Some context for non-diehard Laker fans: 1) This came on the final day of the regular season, and the Lakers needed a win to overtake Sacramento for the division title. 2) This was the season where Kobe had to travel between Colorado and LA multiple times to deal with his rape trial. Opposing fans booed Kobe mercilessly that season. 3) Blazers guard Ruben Patterson used to call himself the “Kobe Stopper,” and he played perfect defense on both shots. 4) It did not matter, because Kobe is an utter freak.

The first shot sent the game to OT, and the second won the division for Los Angeles. Both were ruthlessly cold-blooded shots, particularly in a hostile environment like the Rose Garden. On this KCAL-9 feed, the announcer shrieks like he just won the lottery. The 11-year old me definitely jumped around after these epic shots.  


2. 2005-06: 81 Points


This was easily Kobe’s best individual performance in a season full of them. Kobe averaged a ridiculous 35.4 ppg during the 05-06 season, making his MVP snub one of the most egregious of all-time. Against the Raptors, Kobe scored 81 points in 42 minutes. Each point mattered, because LA trailed by 15 points in the second half before Kobe’s outburst took the Lakers into the lead. Honorable mentions go to Kobe scoring 62 in 33 minutes versus Dallas, and to his playoff heroics versus the Phoenix Suns.

1. 1999-2000: Kobe Silences the Pacers on a Sprained Ankle 


By any statistical measure, this was not Kobe’s finest performance. Statistics cannot measure grit though, and Kobe showed tremendous toughness by leading the Lakers down the stretch for this 121-119 OT win in Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals. 

To recap: Bryant sprained his ankle in Game 2. Kobe missed Game 3 and plead with medical staff to play in Game 4. Most players would have missed the game, but Kobe excelled in high-pressure situations. After Shaq fouled out to start overtime, the Mamba outshot Reggie Miller to put the Lakers ahead 3-1 in the series. The Lakers ultimately won 4-2, but the 2000 title and subsequent ones may have never occurred without this effort. He delivered the first of several championship performances, and he did it without Shaq.

Edited by John Ray, Brian Kang.

SQuiz
Kobe Bryant Sits in Which Position on the NBA All-Time Scoring List?
Created 11/30/15
  1. 2nd
  2. 3rd
  3. 4th
  4. 5th

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