Apparently, it's Kobe Blog Day. It feels like it's been Kobe Blog Year, hasn't it? Ever since he started dropping Andrew Bynum fueled F-Bombs in some Applebee's parking lot, through the trade rumors, through the pouty early season, through the cautiously optimistic early going, through the greatest trade of all time, and now all the MVP talk - with all the hate and all the love out there, 2008 is Kobe's season. Let's just hope we're still saying that in late June.
Well, I haven't written about Kobe in a while. Which just goes to show you how easily one can eventually become numb to even the strongest of stimuli given a long enough time line. As Stu Lantz often cautions us, every now and then, Kobe does something that makes you stop and remind yourself, this is one of the greatest players of all time - kobe fan or kobe hater, you should always appreciate that.
But after that moment passes, you go right back to what you were doing. If you're on the other side, you're trying your damndest to find holes in his game or reasons why he's not the best player in the NBA. But around here, most of us are guilty of putting Kobe's stellar play in the bank while we pore over minutiae such as Luke Walton's suspect jumper or Phil's odd line ups or even the Bynum injury; yeah they'll all impact the Laker season in some way or another, but in the end, none of it would matter without Kobe.
So in the hopes of showing my appreciation, here are some of my favorite Kobe memories.
+ Of course the list has to start with 81. But in my eyes, this was a feat of sheer relentlessness. And as unfathomable as it was, to me, his 56 on Memphis and his 62 on Dallas were even more amazing. In the former, we saw an absolute shooting display as he dropped 21 field goals in 3 quarters of play and in the latter we saw a player take a lead into the fourth quarter over an entire team, Kobe 62, Dallas 61. The 81 was the realization of the hypotheticals posed by these two games. That is, what if Kobe played in the fourth quarter?
+ Portland, Part I. This was the last game of the 2003-04 regular season. Kobe hit a three to tie - a pump faking, arm ducking affair on the self proclaimed Kobe Stopper (Ruben
+ Kobe's Dunk on Yao. To Yao's credit, he got a whole lot of the ball. But to Kobe's credit, that was a baseline move meaning the only way he was getting to the rim was up. Over a 7'6" Chinese man.
+ San Antonio, Part I. This is referring to the 2001 series sweep in what was supposed to be a Western Conference Finals showdown. Kobe scored 133 points in this series. And say what you want about the Lakers being Shaq's team. This series was arguably the very peak of the ShaKobe dynasty and after Kobe dropped 45 points and 10 rebounds in game 1, Shaq had this to say:
I told Kobe that he was my idol. I'm serious. He's playing phenomenal. I think he's the best player in the league, by far.Yeah Shaq was the Finals MVP in all 3 of his Laker Championship seasons. But you could argue that it was Kobe that got them there.
+ The 2003 scoring binge. It started with him draining 12 threes in a game against Seattle (9 in a row at one point). And it was odd because he never really was much a of a three point shooter for his entire career. Then a month later, he scored 40 or more points in 9 consecutive games. It was really the first time that we saw what Kobe could do when he was able to let loose.
+ Portland, Part II. This game was last season. The Lakers were in the midst of a 7 game skid, the longest of Phil Jackson's career. They were losing their grip on playoff seeding. The shit was hitting the fan big time. Then Kobe comes into this game and drops 65 points on the Blazers, 33 in the fourth quarter and over time. And it was oddly reminiscent of Portland, Part I as he hit a three to send the game to OT. And then in overtime with the game tied at 108 and 44 seconds to go, he hit this insane fadeaway three pointer on two guys (pictured), to basically put the game away. As good as Portland, Part I was, this was even better. And seeing as how bright the future is for both the Lakers and Portland, this picture might be the first battle of a great Western Conference rivalry.
+ 2000 NBA Finals, game 4. With Shaq fouled out and Kobe playing on a severely sprained ankle, the Lakers pulled this game out in OT to take a 3-1 series lead. In the game-deciding stretch, Kobe scored on three straight possessions. Two were on long jumpers after each of which, Kobe trotted down court, pumping downward with open palms, as if to say, "take it easy, I got this." The last basket sealed the game (and the Championship, really), a reverse layup put back on a Brian Shaw miss. After the game Shaq sought out Bryant on the floor and gave him a hug and a thank you. And rightfully so.
+ San Antonio, Part II. Game four of the 2002 Western Conference Semi-finals. After drilling two straight threes to tie the game, Kobe comes up with an unbelievable rebound and then in one smooth motion, comes down, springs back up and sinks a soft floater over Tim Duncan and David Robinson in what turned out to be the game winner.
And this type of play, my friends, is why despite all those late game shooting percentage stats (which show other players to be more "clutch"), Kobe is the most clutch player in the game. Because there is no stat that is going to show you that this was a broken play, that everyone, well almost everyone, was frazzled. Or that he managed to score in the paint between two hall of fame seven footers, one of them the league MVP that season. There's no extra statistical weight given to the fact that this was the playoffs, on the road and that this shot gave the Lakers a 3-1 series lead and all but put it away. And there's no stat to measure how un-surprised people were by the play, given the player. This was truly an illustration of Kobe's will and resourcefulness under pressure. And this is a play that I don't think any other "clutch" player would make.
Except for one.