Kobe Bryant has added to his Laker legacy by winning the last two NBA championships, and amazingly, he has already been in the NBA for 14 seasons. It seems like just yesterday, he was an unproven 17-year old who the Lakers traded Vlade Divac to acquire. He is already the Lakers' franchise leader in points scored and this season will likely pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most games played as a Laker.
In honor of The Black Mamba turning 32 today, here are the top five games of his career:
5) Game 4 Against Phoenix in 2006
This was a game the Lakers had no business winning, in a series against the Suns the Lakers had no business winning. The Lakers were up 2-1 in the series over the favored Suns, but trailed by five with 12.6 seconds left. Somehow the Lakers rallied to within two points, then after a Smush Parker steal Kobe hit a driving, contested layup to tie the game with 0.7 seconds left.
Then, in overtime the Lakers trailed by three points in the final seconds. Bryant hit a layup to draw the Lakers within a point, and then the Lakers fouled, I mean played solid defense against Steve Nash, forcing a jump ball with 6.1 seconds to play. Luke Walton won the tip, which was tracked down by Kobe, who drove for a contested jump shot at the buzzer to give the Lakers an improbable victory.
4) "Kobe...to Shaq!!!"
The Game 7 comeback against the Blazers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals is well documented, with the Lakers winning after trailing by 15 points with 10 minutes to play. Bryant's game was good enough, with 25 points, 11 boards, and seven assists, but I had to include this game for one reason. With apologies to the Coop-A-Loop, this game features the greatest alley-oop in Lakers history.
Just one month earlier, Bryant scored 62 points in three quarters against the Mavericks, outscoring Dallas 62-61 by himself, and didn't even play the fourth quarter because the Lakers had such a large lead. But, on Jan. 22, 2006, the Raptors led by 14 at halftime. Kobe was working on a good night, with 26 points in the first half, but in the second half he simply went off.
Before Toronto head coach Sam Mitchell figured out what a double-team was, Kobe torched the Raptors for 55 second-half points, helping turn a 14-point deficit into an 18-point Laker win. It is the second-most points ever scored in an NBA game, behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point effort. Magic Johnson called to congratulate Kobe after the game, and the call was free, using T-Mobile's legend-to-legend calling feature:
"Talking to Magic after the game meant more to me than the 81 points," Bryant said. "Him calling me after the game meant more than the points."
2) 48-16 To Close Out Kings
The Lakers ran roughshod through the 2001 playoffs, losing just one game en route to their second-straight title. Kobe was at his best when given the chance to close out the Sacramento Kings. Up 3-0 in the Western Conference Semifinals, Bryant dropped 48 points and nabbed 16 rebounds to lead the Lakers to a 119-113 victory to complete the sweep.
1) Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals
Up 2-1 over the Pacers, the Lakers looked to take control of the series in Indiana, but the Pacers weren't going down without a fight. Shaquille O'Neal fouled out in overtime, but Bryant came through down the stretch, scoring in three straight possessions down the stretch, including a put back layup with 5.9 seconds left to widen the Lakers lead.
To top things off, Kobe's Game Four performance came on a sore ankle that caused him to play only nine minutes in Game Two and miss all of Game Three. The victory gave the Lakers a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, one they would win in six games for the first championship of the Kobe-Shaq era.
Given that he is only 32 years old, there is still plenty of time for Kobe Bryant to add to this list. Laker fans certainly hope he will.