Steve Remembers: Kobe Bryant, Part 3

Over the past two days, I have blogged about the tragic helicopter crash that claimed nine lives, including the life of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, along with the careful treading that I had to do to cite him as the one that inspired me to have the stance that I now do about the naïve narrative of “the law being the law, therefore it’s 100% right”. 

Today is the conclusion of my three-part series, which culminates in my reminiscing of some of the standout moments of Bryant’s legendary career, as well as a work ethic that will always be an inspiration to others involved in the game of basketball and beyond it.

Bryant’s body of work is among one of the most impressive that both the NBA and the rest of the sports world has ever seen. In it, he was an 18-time NBA All-Star, a four-time All-Star Game MVP, a two-time scoring champion, a 15-time (11 of those times on the All-NBA First Team) All-NBA Team selection, a 12-time (nine of those times on the NBA All-Defensive First Team) NBA All-Defensive Team selection, a one-time league MVP Award winner, five-time NBA champion and two-time NBA Finals MVP. And of course, he did all of this with one team (Los Angeles Lakers) over a 20-year career.

But what Bryant did to earn all of that is even more impressive, such as being a catalyst in the Lakers winning against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals.

Down by as many as 16 in that game and down by double digits in the fourth quarter of that game, the dream season for the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal-led Lakers seemed to be coming to an end, as their then-bitter rivals, the Trail Blazers, were well on their way to a third consecutive win in the Staples Center during that series. But with Bryant able to break down the vaunted Portland defense with his playmaking ability and clutch scoring, the Lakers rallied to win, 89-84, to end their eight-year drought of making the NBA Finals. Oh yeah, and who can forget Bryant’s lob to O’Neal for that epic one-hand slam in that game?

The 1999-00 Lakers were O’Neal’s team at that time, but Game 4 against the Indiana Pacers during the 2000 NBA Finals was Bryant’s biggest breakout moment in his then-young career, thus the second instance of his that really stood out to me.

Returning to that game following his absence in Game 3 via an ankle injury, Bryant methodically worked himself back into playing, by scoring 20 points in regulation. However, the game went into overtime, thanks to Sam Perkins tying the game at 104 with a three-pointer in the fourth quarter. And if that wasn’t bad enough for the Lakers, they lost their best player in Shaq, as he fouled out in overtime, by committing a loose ball foul on Rik Smits. And because of that, the Pacers were primed to tie the series at two games apiece. 

However, a then 21-year-old man named Kobe Bean Bryant had other ideas, as he scored eight crucial points to thwart any aspirations that the Pacers had to take the lead, let alone take it for good. And while Smits was punishing John Salley down low during the extra session, the Pacers decided to go for the win as opposed to the tie, by having Reggie Miller attempt a game-winning three-pointer. However, Miller’s heave rimmed out, due to Robert Horry being the closest defender to contesting that shot, as well as Bryant and Brian Shaw both converging next to Horry just enough to distract the Pacers’ all-time leading scorer from both winning the game and tying the series. The Lakers would then eventually go on to win it all in six games.

Of course, those two games stood out to me, but there was plenty more from Bryant over the next few years, following his first NBA championship with O’Neal and head coach Phil Jackson.

Among them were two more championships with both the best big man to ever play the game and the greatest postseason coach in NBA history, his ability to help the Lakers overcome serious challenges from the Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs during the years in which the Lakers won the NBA Finals or advanced to the NBA Finals, his ability to dominate games for his team following his multiple returns from the state of Colorado during the 2003-04 season, the challenge that he took on in leading the Lakers without Shaq, his buzzer-beating shot against my Phoenix Suns in Game 4 of the 2006 First Round two seed vs. seven seed series, the gutsy performance that he had in the game (Game 5 of the 2008 Semifinals against the Utah Jazz) in which he received the league MVP Award, torching my Suns in Game 6 of the 2010 Western Conference Finals, winning two more NBA championships minus Shaq, and overcoming a pitiful 6-for-24 shooting performance to help the Lakers win the latter of the two post-Shaq championships via an 83-79 Game 7 victory against the Boston Celtics. Bryant went on to amass Finals MVP honors in that series, as well as the previous NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic.

Although that championship against the Celtics would be the last time that Bryant and the Lakers would get to a championship during his playing days, Bryant authored many more memorable performances, such as willing an under-achieving Lakers team during the 2012-13 season to the seventh seed in the Western Conference. And of course, he did this during late-March and early-to-mid-April of 2013, as he played at least 40 minutes in each of the Lakers’ seven games during that span to lead them to a 6-1 mark. 

The sixth of those wins was yet another Kobe Bryant signature moment, as he led the team to a thrilling 118-116 comeback victory against the then up-and-coming Golden State Warriors, by scoring 34 points on 9-for-21 from the field and 12-for-16 from the free throw line. 

By Bryant’s standards, 34 points was just another day at the office for him, except in that game his final two points of that game were free throws to tie the game at 109. And he did this while having a torn Achilles, thus that game being anything but another day at the office for him. He eventually left the court,but did so walking off under his own power.

The 2012-13 NBA season would be the last time that a Lakers team featuring Bryant would ever make the playoffs, as his final three years in the league ended with no postseason appearances at all. However, that didn’t stop him from giving all of the fans at the Staples Center and those of us watching on TV an epic career-ending performance on April 13, 2016.

In a game that had no significance to the Lakers nor their opponent, the Jazz, Bryant played as if it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals, by going 22-for-50 and 10-for-12 from the free throw line for 60 points in a 101-96 Lakers comeback victory. And while his final points came from the free throw line to extend the Lakers lead from 97-96 to 99-96, his final play came via a pass that would make quarterbacks envious, as he launched it down court to Jordan Clarkson for a game-icing dunk with four seconds remaining. The Jazz then called a 20-second timeout, which in turn had then-Lakers head coach Byron Scott taking Bryant out of the game to a standing ovation by everyone in attendance. Bryant would then go on to address the crowd via a microphone following the game and ended the speech with the words “Mamba out!” And for those of you that don’t know what that means, well Mamba was short for his nickname, which was The Black Mamba.

Despite LeBron James surpassing him for third on the all-time scoring list, there’s no question that Bryant was and always will be the best ever NBA player to go to the league straight out of high school. And despite no longer playing in the NBA, Bryant had a brief yet successful post-NBA career, by winning an Oscar for his short, entitled “Dear Basketball”.

The life of Kobe Bean Bryant was one where a man matured even more both on and the off the court, following a 2003 transgression, as well as one where a man had his dedication match his talent to the tune of all the accolades that he amassed throughout his life. It’s also a life that has impacted others, whether it was the athletes that idolized him or those who are not playing professional sports that idolized him. 

As a fan of basketball and sports in general, I was in awe of Kobe Bryant and the constant on court prowess that he displayed for 20 seasons with one NBA franchise. As somebody who has both specific visions in achieving Art Infliction deadlines and maintaining a weekly workout regimen average, Kobe Bryant was and always be the first one that comes to my mind when it comes to those two things. And as somebody who had to tread carefully in blogging about that 2003 transgression, it was Kobe Bryant that initially inspired me to have the platform that I have now in taking on social issues, whether foreign or domestic.

I never played professional sports. But based on what I’ve been able to do during my last two-plus years at my now former day job and being able to build off of that with this Art Infliction thing, well I guess that you can say that The Mamba Mentality a.k.a. Kobe’s dedication lives on through me in a way. And this coming from someone that never met Kobe personally. And I’m sure many others have Kobe living on through them in a way as well, no matter the profession and no matter if they’re famous or not. 

Kobe Bryant, his beloved daughter Gianna and the seven other people whose lives were lost in that tragic helicopter crash are no longer with us. However, The Mamba, The Mambacita (Gianna’s nickname) and those seven other people (John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser, Ara Zobayan) will never be forgotten.