Kobe Bryant has given fans some of the best moments in sports. From his elite athleticism, peerless work ethnic and insatiable desire to win, “the Black Mamba” struck fear in his opponents during his exceptional career. Here are 40 great (and not so great) moments that are classic Kobe Bryant.
It’s been 14 years since the dynamic duo of Kobe and Shaq broke up in spectacular fashion. Even if they’ve been friendly in their respective retirements, they buried the hatchet on-air in an intense and intimate interview. It was a sweet ending to what was one of the most bitter feuds of the NBA.
Bryant was always a special basketball player, but he was famously distant from teammates and fans. No one seemed to know who the real Kobe was. But as he aged, he let more and more people in. Eventually, he would be interviewed by Arianna Huffington, and there he revealed how beautifully bizarre he was with topics ranging from his upbringing to meditation. Turns out, the Black Mamba is a human.
After being eliminated in the first round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs, Bryant did the unthinkable: requested a trade. For all of his scoring, he couldn’t carry a team of nobodies far and he wanted to go to a team where he would get support. He eventually withdrew his request, but his discontent with management motivated the move to get Pau Gasol, giving the Lakers a championship-caliber duo to build around.
Many wondered how Bryant would transition into retired life. Turns out, he stays winning. Mamba focused on his production company, swung big on his first project, “Dear Basketball,” and he came away with one of the most coveted awards a filmmaker can win. Success is not limited to the basketball court with Vino.
Bryant entered the league as a precocious, wiry teenager. General managers and coaches knew he was going to be special, but the NBA fans found out how good he was going to be when he rocked a facial over a very young Ben Wallace in the preseason of his first year. Welcome to the league, rook.
Bryant’s legacy is built on performances when his team needs it the most. In the 2002 NBA Finals, the Lakers had a chance to put the stranglehold on the Nets and go up 3-0. Bryant put up 36 points, including clutch free throws down the stretch to seal the game.
There aren’t many players who are bigger basketball nerds than Kobe Bryant. So when he had the chance to add to the Lakers legacy against Boston and failed in 2008, he was devastated. Given a second chance in 2010, Bryant capitalized and added to the Lakers-Celtics lore with his fifth championship and second Finals MVP.
At 22, regular dudes are maybe graduating from college, grinding it out at a job or trying to figure out whether Stacy is really into them or not. Kobe Bryant was not a normal dude at 22. A kid who should’ve been more worried about grades dropped 51 on the Golden State Warriors and established himself as one of the baddest guys in the league.
Unexpectedly down 1-0 to the stingy Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers found themselves with their backs against the wall in Game 2. The Pistons were up by three with 10.9 seconds when Bryant rose up from 27 feet to drain an ice cold, overtime-clinching three. The Lakers may have lost the series, but for one game Bryant carried the team.
Many experts doubted Bryant’s ability to get a team to the championship without Shaquille O’Neal. Given the opportunity, he did what he always does: close. Bryant put up 30 points to put away the Orlando Magic to secure his fourth championship, proving he could lead a team to the Promised Land on his own.
At 34 years old, people wrote off the Black Mamba as washed. In 2013, the Lakers had their detractors, but Bryant proved he was still up to the task of carrying the team when he turned back the clock to rock a poster dunk over Josh Smith and sank a game-winning shot to beat the Atlanta Hawks.
It seems the Toronto Raptors bring out the best in Bryant. In a back-and-forth game in the last minute, he hits two clutch threes to help send the game to an extra frame. Then he shows up right on time to hit a game-winning shot to sink the Raptors and finish with 41 points.
When the NBA locked out its players, there was a lot of ballers who were out of a job. True to form, Bryant took his game from the bright lights to the humid gyms of Drew League, where he put on a show. Not only did he pour in 45 points, he sniped the game-winning shot over rising star James Harden. Take that, young gun.
You never know who’s going to show up at Rucker Park in the summer. In 2002, coming off his third straight title, Bryant stepped onto the legendary court for the first time. Before going with the Black Mamba moniker, Bryant received a couple of nicknames from iconic Rucker Park announcer, Hannibal, but none stuck out more than “Lord of the Rings.”
LeBron James’ prime and Kobe Bryant’s didn’t quite overlap totally, but it was there long enough for some epic duels between the two. Bryant put his stamp on the rivalry with a beautiful rainbow shot over James in Cleveland to give the final blow to the Cavaliers’ chances.
Bryant always prided himself in being better than the best, and he proved it four times at the NBA All-Star Game with four MVP awards. His last one may have been the sweetest when he dunked on a trailing LeBron James and helped the West blowout the East.
To label Bryant a “student of the game” would be underselling his knowledge and wisdom when it comes to playing basketball. He took that IQ to the fans for easy consumption in his ESPN series, “Detail.” This gave incite to habits, tendencies and solutions that brought every basketball fan closer to the game and its intricacies.
An 18-year-old Kobe Bryant barely took his training wheels off when he burst into the spotlight with a series of high-flying dunks to win the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest. It would be one of many trophies Bryant would collect in his career.
This may be one of the slickest poster dunks ever to occur in the NBA. Bryant not only dribbled the ball behind the back to get the necessary room to set up the dunk, but he also added a 360 when he could have easily just went up with two hands. Only Kobe has that much swag.
When Dwight Howard went to the Los Angeles, he and Bryant could not get along. I’m guessing this highlight hung over the big man’s head. If you believe this didn’t result in Howard’s hate for Kobe, you’re more naïve than Lakers management, who thought it could get Howard back after the 2013 season.
The 7-foot-6 Yao Ming was a player who didn’t have many challengers in the NBA. Kobe Bryant never saw a challenge he couldn’t solve. Something had to give. (Hint: it was Yao). Oh, and Bryant scored 52 points.
Some NBA players can have a great stretch of maybe four to five games where they are on fire. For Bryant, however, a fire five-game stretch is the norm. An entire month of incredible scoring performances in February 2003? Now that is some legendary stuff.
You think you know tough? Try sinking two free throws after ripping apart your Achilles tendon, knowing your season and career might be over.
The Lakers needed the W against the Trail Blazers to finish atop the Pacific Division and secure a higher seed in the playoffs. Portland was not going to go easily, giving Los Angeles a fight. But that’s why you have Kobe Bean to sink a game-tying shot in regulation and a game-winning rainbow in overtime. How about that, Ruben “Kobe Stopper” Patterson?
The NBA 2K video game franchise has ruined the standard for amazing performances done in real life. Bryant did his best to emulate it. He made the real thing look like the game at the rookie difficulty setting with this incredible stretch of games.
With USA Basketball needing a reboot after 2004 (thanks, Larry Brown), Kobe Bryant signed up to bring the country back to the top of international basketball. Spain wanted to play spoiler to the USA’s recoronation with the Redeem Team in 2008. But the best player on the planet showed up when his nation needed him the most with clutch shots, including a demoralizing four-point play.
If we highlight all the positive aspects of Bryant’s playing career, we should also acknowledge the less glamorous ones. After scoring 50 points in a Game 6 loss against the Phoenix Suns, the media blamed Bryant for being selfish and not trusting his teammates. Bryant responded by appearing to pass up shot after shot to show fans and media what happens when he was not scoring. The result: getting blown out by 31 points. He tanked a playoff series to make a point — something he denied on TNT, but fans are not hearing that.
Barnes is not a person you want to test in terms of toughness. However, when you face a legend, he won’t react to even the most desperate ploys — like a faked chest pass to the face.
The final years of Kobe Bryant’s career were fraught with losses. The Lakers were rebuilding, and a lot of games were lost to keep their first-round picks. This didn’t put Bryant in a good mood when the team wasn’t practicing particularly hard. He used some colorful language to let his teammates and general manager Mitch Kupchak know what he thought about them.
Shaquille O’Neal fouled out of Game 3 of the NBA Finals in overtime. The Lakers were only up one with 2:13 left in the extra frame. Playing on an injured ankle, Bryant scored six of the last eight points for Los Angeles to get the win and a 3-1 lead in the Finals.
With a spot in the Finals on the line, Bryant was not taking any prisoners against the Suns. Up five with 35 seconds to go, he hit a nasty fadeaway over Grant Hill, sticking the dagger in Phoenix. Not one to pass up an opportunity to throw a little salt on the wound, Bryant gave Suns head coach Alvin Gentry a little parting pat on the rear end after sending Phoenix home.
The San Antonio Spurs had the best defense in the league and entered the Western Conference Finals with home-court advantage, but Bryant was not going to quit in 2001. He dominated the Spurs from the get-go, and the Lakers would go on to record a 16-1 playoff record that year. Top-ranked defense? Top-ranked schmefense.
Few players have the moxie to perform under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. Bryant surpassed Michael Jordan’s “Double-Nickel” game with a 61-point outburst against the Knicks. Another topping of MJ in Bryant’s book.
The Lakers ended the 2008 season watching the Celtics dance on their grave in the NBA Finals. There were still many questions on whether Bryant could win a title without Shaq. He quieted a lot of that with this Game 1 gem against the Magic.
Michael Jordan, one of the greatest players of all time, wasn’t the best three-point shooter. Bryant had that weapon though, and he showed off the range against the hapless Seattle Supersonics, knocking down a then NBA-record 12 three-pointers.
Competing against your idols might be nice, but performing well is much sweeter. Jordan was well past his prime but was still showing some grit with his old-man game. Not one to take it easy on anyone, Bryant hung his own "double nickel" against his Airness to give him a nice gift for his third retirement.
Phil Jackson returned to the Lakers in 2005 and got the squad back to the postseason. Unfortunately, they were facing off against the Western Conference’s No. 2 team: 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 and make the shot.
Bryant outscored an entire team on his own. On. His. Own. Doing this against grown men in the best league in the world is one of the greatest scoring performances ever.
Nothing else needs to be said about one of the greatest displays of scoring ever.
Bryant couldn’t retire without one more iconic performance. He wiped out a 10-point deficit with 2:16 left in the game, had the energy to hit the game-deciding jumper with 31 seconds left and iced the game from the free-throw line. Thanks for the memories.
You'll receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams.
Emailed daily. Always FREE!