24 quintessential moments of Kobe Bryant's career
Harry How/Getty Images

24 quintessential moments of Kobe Bryant's career

Kobe Bryant has provided fans from around the world with some of the most memorable moments in sports. From his incredible athleticism to his otherworldly work ethnic and insatiable drive to win, the "Black Mamba” struck fear in his opponents and gained the favor of many fans during his exceptional career. In no particular order, here are 24 great (and not-so-great) moments that are classic Kobe Bryant.

 
1 of 24

1997 Slam Dunk Champ

1997 Slam Dunk Champ
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Let’s start at the beginning, though. A precocious 18-year-old Kobe Bryant was just getting his career started when he burst into the spotlight with a series of high-flying dunks to win him the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest in front of the stars of the NBA. It was one of many trophies Bryant would collect in his career.

 
2 of 24

Putting Vincent Yarbrough through the spin cycle

Putting Vincent Yarbrough through the spin cycle
Andrew D Bernstein/Getty Images

One of the prettiest poster dunks ever seen, it wasn’t enough that he dribbled the ball behind the back to get the necessary room to set up the dunk. He added a 360 when he could have easily just put it in with one hand. Only Kobe.

 
3 of 24

Welcome to the league, Dwight

Welcome to the league, Dwight
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

If you don’t think that this contributed to Dwight Howard’s disdain for Kobe, you’re more naïve than Lakers management, who thought it could retain Howard after the fiasco in 2013.

 
4 of 24

Great wall of Yao crumbles

Great wall of Yao crumbles
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

At 7-6, Yao Ming was a center who didn’t have many challengers. As one of the greatest players ever, Kobe Bryant never saw a challenge he couldn’t solve.  Something had to give (hint: it was Yao).

 
5 of 24

Averages 40 points… for a month

Averages 40 points… for a month
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Some NBA players have a great stretch of maybe five games where everything they put up goes in. For Bryant, however, a great five-game stretch was the standard. An entire month of incredible scoring performances in February 2003? Now that is something to behold.

 
6 of 24

Shooting free throws with a torn Achilles

Shooting free throws with a torn Achilles
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Never, EVER question Kobe Bryant’s toughness.

 
7 of 24

Two threes to win against Portland and claim the Pacific Division in 2004

Two threes to win against Portland and claim the Pacific Division in 2004
Sam Forencich/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers needed to win against the Trail Blazers to secure the Pacific Division and a higher seed going into the playoffs, but Portland was not going to go quietly into the night. That’s why you have Kobe Bean. You can take that to the bank, Ruben “Kobe Stopper” Patterson.

 
8 of 24

Four straight games of 50+ points, 2007

Four straight games of 50+ points, 2007
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The NBA 2K video game series has ruined the standard for amazing performances done in real life. Bryant got pretty darn close to making the real thing look like the game at the rookie difficulty setting with this stretch of games.

 
9 of 24

Downs Spain in 2008

Downs Spain in 2008
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

After the fall from grace that Team USA basketball had in 2004 (thanks, Larry Brown), Kobe Bryant signed up to bring the United States back to the top of international basketball. Spain was looking to play spoiler to the USA’s re-coronation with the Redeem Team in 2008, but the best player on the planet showed up when his nation needed him the most.

 
10 of 24

Kobe stops shooting vs. Phoenix, Game 7, 2006 playoffs first round

Kobe stops shooting vs. Phoenix, Game 7, 2006 playoffs first round
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

If we embrace all the positive aspects of Bryant’s playing career, we should also recognize the negative ones. After scoring 50 points in a Game 6 loss against the Phoenix Suns, the media blamed Bryant for being a ball hog and not trusting his teammates. In response, it appeared that Bryant passed up shot after shot to show fans and media what happened when he was not scoring. The result: getting blown out by 31 points. He sacrificed a playoff series to make a point, a point he denied on TNT, but the controversy still remains.

 
11 of 24

Matt Barnes inbounds play

Matt Barnes inbounds play
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Barnes is no slouch when it comes to toughness. However, when you face a legend, he won’t even react to your desperate ploys.

 
12 of 24

Profanity-laden rant at practice

Profanity-laden rant at practice
Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports

The finals years of Kobe Bryant’s NBA career were not fun ones for him. The Lakers were in full rebuild mode and losing a lot of games to retain their first-round picks. This didn’t put Bryant in the best of moods when the team wasn’t practicing particularly hard.

 
13 of 24

Kobe steps up with Shaq out vs. Pacers, Game 4, 2000 Finals

Kobe steps up with Shaq out vs. Pacers, Game 4, 2000 Finals
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

In Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals, Shaquille O’Neal fouled out of the game in overtime. The Lakers were only up one with 2:13 left in the game. Playing on a bum ankle, Bryant scored six of the last eight points for the Lakers to secure the win and a 3-1 lead in the Finals.

 
14 of 24

Fun with Alvin Gentry vs. Phoenix Suns, Game 6, 2010 Western Conference Finals

Fun with Alvin Gentry vs. Phoenix Suns, Game 6, 2010 Western Conference Finals
Noah Graham/Getty Images

With a spot in the Finals on the line, Bryant was in top form against the Suns. Up five with 35 seconds to go, he hit an impossible fade-away over Grant Hill to stick the dagger in Phoenix. Not one to pass up the chance to throw a little salt on the wound, Bryant gave Suns head coach Alvin Gentry a little parting gift after sending Phoenix home.

 
15 of 24

45 points, 10 rebounds vs. Spurs, Game 1, 2001 Western Conference Finals

45 points, 10 rebounds vs. Spurs, Game 1, 2001 Western Conference Finals
Anacleto Rapping/Getty Images

Top-ranked defense, top-ranked schmefense. The San Antonio Spurs were the best defensive team in the league and entered the series with homecourt advantage, but Bryant was not going to be denied in 2001. The Lakers would go on to record a 16-1 playoff record that year, which has yet to be equaled.

 
16 of 24

61 at the Garden

61 at the Garden
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

All NBA players can play, but only a select few can perform when the bright lights of the Madison Square Garden are shining on them. Forever on the quest to top Michael Jordan, Bryant surpassed MJ’s double nickel with a 61-point outburst in New York.

 
17 of 24

40-8-8 vs. Magic, Game 1, NBA Finals

40-8-8 vs. Magic, Game 1, NBA Finals
Noah Graham/Getty Images

After losing to the Boston Celtics the year before, Bryant still had many questions on whether he could win a title without Shaq. He quieted a lot of that with this Game 1 gem against the Magic.

 
18 of 24

You’re not the only one who can shoot threes, Ray

You’re not the only one who can shoot threes, Ray
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time, but it wasn’t because of his three-point shooting. Bryant had that weapon, though, which was on full display against the hapless Seattle SuperSonics.

 
19 of 24

Anything you can do, I can do better

Anything you can do, I can do better
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

It’s one thing to compete against your idols. It’s another to perform well. Jordan was well past his prime but was still showing some spunk at his advanced age. Bryant was entering his prime and hung his own double nickel against His Airness to send him off into his third retirement.

 
20 of 24

Game-tying three vs. Pistons, Game 2, Finals 2004

Game-tying three vs. Pistons, Game 2, Finals 2004
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Not a lot went right for the 2004 Lakers, but they were able to get to the NBA Finals with four future Hall of Famers in their roster. After dropping the first game against the gritty Pistons, the Lakers were in danger of dropping to 0-2 for the series. Not on Kobe’s watch.

 
21 of 24

Game-winner vs. Phoenix, Game 4, 2006 First Round

Game-winner vs. Phoenix, Game 4, 2006 First Round
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The return of Phil Jackson to the Lakers in 2005 got the team back into the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Lakers were facing off against the No. 2 team in the West in the seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns. Up 2-1 in the series, the Lakers were down to the Suns by one with 6.1 seconds left. There was no doubt who was going to take the shot.

 
22 of 24

Kobe 62, Mavericks 61

Kobe 62, Mavericks 61
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

He outscored an entire team by himself. BY HIMSELF. Even in high school this is a crazy achievement, and Bryant did it against grown men in the best league in the world.

 
23 of 24

81

81
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Nothing needs to be said for one of the greatest performances of all time.

 
24 of 24

A glorious finale

A glorious finale
Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports

Bryant couldn’t leave the NBA without one more signature performance. Not only did he erase a 10-point deficit with 2:16 left in the game, but he hit the game-deciding jumper with 31 seconds left and iced the game from the free throw line. Thanks for the memories.

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