Remembering the Black Mamba
Editor’s Note: This article was published shortly after the death of Kobe Bryant. We’ve decided to re-run it since today marks the anniversary of his death.
The sudden loss of NBA legend Kobe Bryant is impossible to grasp. When the news came rolling out on Sunday, it left many of us here in disbelief. We all thought, or at least prayed, it wasn’t true— because how could it be true? Not, long after, it became apparent that the Greatest Laker had indeed died.
Just writing those words seems unreal.
If there’s one thing many of our writers here at Goomba Stomp love more than discussing movies, playing video games, or binge-watching TV shows, it’s basketball— so much so, we’ve flirted with the idea of launching a sister site dedicated to the game and the culture surrounding it. And for many of us, Kobe Bean Bryant was, is, and forever will be, a hero.
Kobe Bryant isn’t just a legend—he seemed larger than life, and an entire generation of players grew up idolizing Kobe and mimicking both his style on the court and his Mamba Mentality. It’s impossible to watch an NBA game today and not see Bryant’s influence on today’s superstars. From Kyrie Irving to DeMar DeRozan and everyone in between, a bit of Kobe lives on.
Kobe’s story is the stuff of legends: The man won five NBA championships; was named most valuable player during a regular season; earned two Finals MVPs; appeared in 18 All-Star games and is tied for first in career All-NBA selections, with 15. When combining his regular and postseason totals, Bryant scored 39,283 points, ranking fourth in history and one can only wonder what that total would be had it not been for the two NBA Lockout years and the injuries that plagued him throughout his career. The man scored 40-plus points in a game 122 times, 50-plus points in a game 25 times, and Bryant scored 60-plus points in a game six times, including his iconic 81-point game, notching the second-highest single-game total ever! He’s the only player in NBA history with two different jersey numbers retired by the same team— playing 20 seasons for the Lakers, the second-longest tenure in NBA history for a one-team player. Amidst his high-flying drives to the net and his spectacular 360-degree dunks or his crunch-time three-point daggers, Kobe could also play defense— tied for second in career All-Defensive selections, with 12, and tied for first with nine first-team All-Defensive nods. On the court, the man could do it all.
Despite not one of us ever meeting Kobe in real life, the news of his tragic death has touched us deeply and it’s easy to understand why. You see, Kobe came into the league in 1996 and over the next twenty years we watched him grow from a 17-year-old cocky teenage kid entering the NBA and claiming he would be better than Mike— to the 42-year-old husband, father, business entrepreneur and Academy Award-winning artist who continued to reshape his life; push forward, and challenge himself to be the best at everything he could be. Over the course of his twenty-year career in the NBA, we were able to follow him every step of the way, both in the good times and the bad— and it was all so easy thanks to modern technology, the internet and the NBA expanding its now-enormous reach. We witnessed his unbelievable persistence; his ruthlessness on the court; his insane work ethic; his Mamba Mentality.
Over the years, many basketball fans including us, have found ourselves in the midst of many arguments about Kobe’s career, debating over things like where he stands on the list of greatest players and if he is the greatest Laker. If there is one thing I hope we can all agree on; it is that Kobe’s greatest accomplishment was bringing millions of people together in his final breath.
In honor of his many accomplishments, we as long-time fans, have decided to pull together and remember some of Kobe Bryant’s greatest TV moments. (Ricky D)
Our Favourite Kobe Bryant Moments
1- Kobe Bryant in the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest
The 1997 Slam Dunk competition isn’t remembered as a classic by any stretch of the imagination. It didn’t have a moment that could match the now-iconic Michael Jordan leap from the free-throw line or the Dikembe Mutombo blindfold jam— nor did it have anything as exciting as Vince Carter’s Honey Dip. It did, however, have a then 18-year-old Kobe Bryant who participated against Ray Allen, Chris Carr, Darvin Ham, Michael Finley, and the hometown Cleveland Cavaliers‘ Bob Sura.
After the first round of the competition, Bryant was sitting in 3rd place just behind Carr and Finley but as Kobe would often do, he made a comeback by passing the ball between his legs in midair and hammering down a vicious windmill dunk which helped him secure the victory and become the youngest Slam Dunk Champion.
In retrospect, the 1997 Slam Dunk competition wasn’t anything to write home about. We knew Kobe could do better since he showcased some truly spectacular dunks in practice leading up to the event, but it was just enough to claim the 1997 NBA All-Star Game Slam Dunk title, the first of many awards Kobe would go onto win.
Unfortunately, he never participated in a slam dunk competition again. (Ricky D)
2- Kobe Bryant Drops 55 on Michael Jordan
It’s no secret that Kobe Bryant strived to be as great as Michael Jordan and on Friday, March 28, 2003, Kobe made sure to leave a lasting impression on his mentor.
It was the final meeting between two of the greatest players the world has ever seen and on that night, Kobe Bryant put on a show, dropping 42 points in the first half alone, and a grand total of 55 points, in a performance that stands as the ninth-highest scoring total of Bryant’s career.
Jordan, who had just turned 40 finished with a team-high 23 points in over 40 minutes, but it wasn’t enough. The Lakers walked away with the victory, defeating the Wizards, 108-94.
At that point in his career, Kobe already had won three NBA Championships, and with him and Shaq still, together, the future looked bright. Yet despite his success, it seemed as if Jordan wasn’t ready to pass the torch, or maybe he was just waiting for the right moment.
That night, Jordan unofficially passed the torch to Kobe and less than a month later, Jordan retired, ending his legendary career.
Considering how few games the two played against each other, this was hands-down a monumental moment for Black Mamba and one of the most memorable NBA regular-season games I’ve ever watched live. (Ricky D)
3- Kobe’s Game 7 Alley-Oop to Shaq
The 2000 NBA Western Conference Finals was without a doubt, one of the most exciting playoff series for the Kobe/Shaq Lakers. It was Kobe’s fourth season in the league, and Phil Jackson’s first season as the Lakers coach. With Shaq on their team, everyone expected them to blow by Portland— only things didn’t go as we expected.
The Lakers were locked in a tight battle against the Trailblazers and were trailing Portland by 14 points going into the fourth quarter of Game 7. Portland was a deep team with plenty of veterans and lots of talent, and things weren’t looking good for the Lakers, who had already blown a 3-1 series lead.
Just, as it looked like the Trail Blazers, would mount a huge upset, the Lakers stormed back and would go on a 15-0 run. With 55 seconds remaining on the clock, the Lakers had a four-point lead and possession of the ball. They knew there was still enough time for Portland to win the game, or best, send it to overtime, only Kobe did everything in his power to make sure that didn’t happen.
In one of the most memorable NBA moments, Bryant dribbled into the lane and then connected with Shaq for one of the most iconic alley-oops that clinched the win and set off thunderous applause from the home crowd.
It was the play that marked the arrival of the Shaq and Kobe era, and it was the play that had my best friend and I jumping out of our seats. It’s a moment I’ll never forget, and it was the play that would send the Lakers to the NBA Finals in which they defeated the Indiana Pacers 4-2.
Every basketball fan, young and old, is familiar with the image of Big Diesel pointing to the sky and Kobe delivering the perfect pass. And everyone remembers Shaq running down the court pointing to the crowd with his jaw dropped wide open.
Bryant and O’Neal would go on to win three straight titles from 2000 to 2002 but of the three championship runs, this was perhaps the second most exciting game I watched. (Ricky D)
4- 62 to 61
Roughly a month before his 81-point outburst against the Toronto Raptors, Kobe Bryant went on a shooting spree dropping a whopping 62 points in three quarters against the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on Dec. 20, 2005.
As mentioned above, Kobe Bryant scored 60-plus points six times in his career but what made this game special was that he did it in just 33 minutes, on 18-of-31 shooting from the field, 4-of-10 from three and 22-of-25 from the line. Even more impressive is that he did it against a Dallas Mavericks team led by the legend, Dirk Nowitzki, and a team who had one of the best records in the NBA and would ultimately reach the NBA Finals.
By the end of the third quarter, Kobe had scored more points than the entire Dallas Mavericks team, which had just 61 in total. Phil Jackson sent assistant Brian Shaw to ask Kobe if he wanted to return to the game, but Kobe declined, reportedly saying that he’d have another night like this. And that he did!
The 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors is no doubt a historic moment but his performance here is arguably better if only because Kobe Bryant single-handedly outscored a 60-win NBA Finals team through three quarters. One can wonder how many points he could have scored had he played the fourth quarter. (Ricky D)
5- Kobe Bryant’s Record 81-Point Game
I’ve been a long-time fan of the Los Angeles Lakers ever since Magic Johnson led the team, but when the NBA announced they were expanding to Canada in 1995, as a Canadian, I couldn’t help but also root for the Toronto Raptors.
That’s why watching Kobe Bryant pass Elgin Baylor’s franchise-best mark of 71 points and dropping 81 against the Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006, is something I’ll never forget. It was my two favourite teams going head to head with my favourite player at his all-time best!
The 81-point total might be the second most all-time behind Wilt Chamberlain’s famous 100-point mark in 1962, but in the modern NBA, scoring 81 points in a single game seems like an impossible feat. That night, Kobe Bryant pulled off the impossible and did something that hadn’t been done in over four decades.
And it wasn’t like the Raptors were trying to stop him— they did everything they could including sending multiple double-teams at him, but Kobe couldn’t be stopped. And if that wasn’t enough, he grabbed six boards, three steals, dished out two assists and even recorded a block.
It was a defining moment in his career, and some would argue his ultimate masterpiece. (Ricky D)
6- 2008 Dream Team Wins Olympic Gold
In 1992, the Dream Team dominated the Olympics with an average margin of victory of 43.8 points per game. Led by Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan, the U.S. men’s basketball squad scored 110+ points in every match except for the gold medal game in Barcelona, in which they scored 103 points, beating a talented Croatian team led by Tony Kukoc. The Dream Team set the bar so high that arguably no other team will ever reach. It is in my opinion, the greatest sports team ever assembled, and the timing couldn’t be better for the Americans since it came after the 1988 US Olympics, the first time the U.S. Basketball team did not win gold in basketball.
While it was the Dream Team’s mission to prove to the world that the United States was home to the greatest basketball players, they also helped spread the popularity of the NBA to a worldwide audience. In doing so, more players from across the globe took a greater interest in basketball and those already playing were motivated to take their game to a whole new level. As the talent pool around the world deepened, the USA Basketball team slowly began to lose its dominance of the sport, eventually finishing in third place in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. To say, the loss to Argentina in the semi-finals was a huge disappointment for the heavy pre-tournament favourites, is an understatement. It was considered downright embarrassing.
Four years later, Kobe Bryant and a new generation of superstars looked to set things right by winning Olympic Gold and placing the U.S. back on top of the basketball world.
By the time Kobe Bryant made his Olympic basketball debut at Beijing 2008, he was in the prime of his career. He had already won three NBA Championships; was the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player and he had stunned the NBA nation with his historic 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors. And while he was the last NBA star to commit to playing in the Olympics, the man ended up carrying the team on his shoulders with his fearless leadership and unmatched work ethic.
Averaging 15 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.1 steals, Kobe Bryant led his team to the finals, winning every game and reclaiming the gold medal by beating Spain, who had a formidable roster of its own.
As someone who was born, raised and still lives in Canada, it might seem strange that I would choose this as one of my favourite Kobe Bryant moments, but the reason why it’s on this list is because the 2008 Olympics proved to the world that, when compared to his teammates, Kobe, was – at least mentally— on another level.
There are many reasons why the 2008 U.S. men’s national team is remembered so fondly. The team was comprised of a group of talented young players that would go on to change the face of basketball and during the tournament, they never lost a game. But it was Kobe Bryant’s performance in the finals that lit them on fire.
Bryant was straight-up, fantastic throughout the Olympics, but it was his leadership in the Gold Medal Game that people remember best. The final marked the first time in the tournament that the U.S. team was truly tested. They weren’t up against just any Spanish team— this was a Spain team comprised of former, current and soon-to-be NBA stars on its roster, including Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, and Ricky Rubio. With just a two-point lead in the fourth quarter, Kobe decided he’d had enough. He wanted to secure a win and that he did.
Dwayne Wade might have led the team in scoring that night, but it was Kobe who carried the team through the last quarter with 13 points. More importantly, his leadership and work ethic (later dubbed, Mamba Mentality) had rubbed off on his teammates so much so, that many argue he elevated every one of his teammates to a level they may not have reached had they not played with Kobe.
7- The Game 7 Win Against the Boston Celtics
Of the five titles Kobe Bryant won, it was his fifth and final NBA Championship game that I remember most.
It took place on June 17, 2010, two days after the Lakers defeated the Celtics at Staples Center, tying the series at 3-3 and forcing a historic Game 7.
By Kobe standards, Bryant didn’t have a particularly impressive Game 7 stats-wise, but he still scored 23 points and grabbed 15 boards.
Stats aside, there are many reasons why this win was special. Not only did Kobe win back-to-back titles without Shaquille O’Neal but he got his revenge on the Big Three-era Boston Celtics who previously defeated the Lakers in the 2008-09 season to win the Championship— a devastating loss that left Kobe in tears. And unlike Kobe’s previous championship wins, this was arguably the toughest series for the Lakers to win.
Regardless if you were a Laker fan or a Celtics fan or a fan of another team, the 2010 NBA Finals was hands-down one of the most exciting finals in NBA history. Not only was it between two teams that arguably have the biggest rivalry in sports, but it went down to the final seventh game. As a fan, you can’t ask for more!
In the end, the Lakers won the NBA Championship and Kobe earned his second straight NBA Finals MVP.
Among his many talents on the court, Kobe got to showcase his sense of humor off the court with a NIKE ad called “#KOBESYSTEM.” The multiple-part ad puts Kobe Bryant front and center in his own seminar for being successful. He calls it the “Kobe System.” But his audience isn’t just some ordinary group of random participants wanting to be like him. Among the crowd are the likes of many celebrities such as comedian Aziz Ansari, Hall of Fame NFL star Jerry Rice, and tennis champion Serena Williams just to name a few.
Each segment of the ad has Kobe Bryant giving words of wisdom to the already-successful celebrities on how the Kobe System will make them even more successful. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Kobe is just feeding them all sorts of nonsense, and to hilarious effect. For example, Kobe tells billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson that he has achieved “Success at Success” and that he now needs to achieve “Success at Success at Success.” Kobe leaves this conversation saying, “You can do better. I know you can. Good luck to you Richard Branson. Make me proud.” Nothing needs to be said about how priceless it is to hear Kobe Bryant ask Richard Branson to “make me proud.” It’s incredible.
But the best, and funniest, part of the segment comes from Kobe’s interaction with multi Grammy-winning artist Kanye West. In the ad, Kanye asks Kobe, “What more do you want from me?” Kobe simply responds, “More.” Kanye asks, “How much more successful do you want me to be?” Kobe responds, “More successful.” Kanye then asks, “How many records can my records break?” And Kobe’s responds, “More records.” It’s a back and forth that has Kanye shook, so bad in fact that he’s visibly and audibly distraught as he reassures himself, “But… but I’m the best.” What follows is undeniably laugh-out-loud funny and must-see tv.
The “#KOBESYSTEM” ad is the perfect representation of not only the sense of humor Kobe had but the amount of respect the world had for him. Having all these celebrities gathered around to hear Kobe speak shows how much he’s appreciated and recognized for his impeccable work ethic. Sure, the Kobe System isn’t actually real, but it represents what he was all about. Kobe always strived for greatness and never settled for less. He tried to better himself every single day and wanted his own perseverance to rub that off on the people around him. But most of all, he was never satisfied. He wanted to work harder than anyone else, then outwork himself. That’s the real-life Kobe System. And no matter how successful we are, we could all use a little more of that in our lives. (Andrew Haverty)
9- Kobe Taking Two Free Throws, Despite Injury
For an athlete, there’s rarely an injury as severe as an Achilles tear. For a basketball player, they’re particularly aggravating, oftentimes robbing them of their speed, explosiveness, and athleticism. While the narrative around torn Achilles has recently shifted due to medical advancements, the typical narrative was that few players recover from them and even fewer returned to the way they were pre-injury.
In many ways, Kobe Bryant was no different. His Achilles tear, suffered against a young, Splash Brothers Warriors team in April of 2013, sent his career into a tailspin from which it never truly recovered. However, in typical Kobe fashion, his method of dealing with the injury reflected not only his intense tenacity and fearlessness on the court but also his incredible competitiveness, which defined him as a player and allowed him to win five championships in twenty seasons.
Facing the prospect of a possible career-ending injury and with his team down two heading into the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, Bryant shot both free throws and made both to give his team a chance at securing a win. And win they did, despite a young Stephen Curry’s 47-point explosion. It was this fearless pursuit of perfection that made Bryant such a special talent and an all-time great player. Despite all the noise that often surrounded his larger-than-life career, it was the quieter moments like this that defined who he was as a player: a fearless man who tried and often succeeded at doing it all by himself. (Izsak Barnette)
10- Kobe Bryant’s Final Game
On April 13th, 2016, Kobe Bryant took the Staples Center floor for the last time as a Laker, in a meaningless 82nd game against the Utah Jazz. The Lakers were 16-65, finishing off their worst season in franchise history, while the Jazz were taking the court after learning they’d been eliminated from the playoffs twenty minutes earlier. The game couldn’t have been more mundane or perfunctory; in other words, a perfect stage for a complicated icon’s final masterpiece.
Kobe’s last game began with him making zero shots in the first six minutes; his first two jumpers, in particular, were absolute bricks – a fitting tribute to his own tribulations as an 18-year old rookie, when he threw up a handful of airballs in a 1997 playoff game against the Utah Jazz. Turnaround jumpers hitting the opposite end of the rim, fadeaways falling short; Kobe’s 37-year old body briefly channeled his adolescent self as the magnitude of the moment fell upon him His first basket came on in transition a few moments later, following a block by Bryant on the defensive end; lest we forget, Kobe was a 12-time All-Defensive Team player.
What followed in the second and third quarter were as complicated as Kobe’s public arc in his early prime; though there’s obviously no basketball comparison to admission of sexual assault, the sheer amount of distance and strain Kobe put on his body during the middle portion of the game is fitting for the gauntlet Bryant, and his decisions, put him in through his career. Facing a deficit, you could see him pushing himself to the physical limits to drag himself through the sludge of a deservedly marked reputation.
The volume of shots, the determination to put himself at the center… it was Kobe at his best and worst, fighting through his old body (reminding me of that game Kobe shot a bunch of left-handed jumpers), isolating himself from team play in what felt like some of those later Kobe years, the ones where the pursuit of his personal athletic milestones overshadowed the team’s goals and development. He made some nice plays, missed some obvious shots, and made it very clear this was not a Lakers vs. Jazz game, this was a Kobe vs. Father Time showdown.
It bordered on selfish at times, glimpses of Kobe at his most difficult: defiant, isolated, angry, taking bad shots when he didn’t trust his teammates, pushing himself inward to protect against the onslaught of criticism he faced during his public breakup with Kobe, and subsequent legal issues.
The fourth quarter, however, reflected the end of Kobe’s career – and unfortunately, his life – in an evocative, powerful way. With the Lakers still trailing the Jazz, Kobe turned the last 9:42 of the game into the absolute defining moment of his career; he took leadership of the young, inexperienced team around him, refusing to fade into the night and commit the cardinal sin of losing. In that drive, came Kobe’s legendary sense of passion; the part of his personality he eventually learned to channel, as the Lakers faded into mediocrity, and Kobe faced the debilitating back-to-back injuries of a destroyed Achilles tendon and a shattered kneecap.
In those years, Kobe faced a personal reckoning; with his wife, the Lakers organization, and the American public. Forever stained by the Colorado rape case (and particularly, his defense team’s treatment of the victim), Kobe Bryant found himself at a crossroads: let his bitterness and regret drive him to madness, or figure out how to be a better human being.
Which, to his credit, Kobe Bryant did: there’s a reason so many players today look up to Kobe rather than Michael – Kobe was there for LeBron, Wade, and everyone who came up in the mid-aughts generation. He became a mentor to Kyrie Irving, channeling his self-admittedly insane dedication to success into making himself, and the people around him, better human beings.
The game culminates in 90 seconds of basketball that will take your breath away (and in 2016, made me completely forget the Golden State Warriors were winning their record-breaking 73rd game on the next channel); Kobe took over one last time, going 4-4 and showing off the full range of what he did best; absolutely dominating the basketball court. Sure, he was taking all the shots (46 to that point, to be exact), but it didn’t matter: everyone in the Staples Center was there to witness Kobe… and witness Kobe they did, as he somehow willed his team to a 101-96 win, after facing a 10-point deficit with 2:36 left. 50 shots, 60 points, and one superstar transforming himself into a father, a leader, and a legend right before our very eyes.
Those 48 minutes of basketball will always be the defining memory of Kobe Bryant’s career for me; he took all the shots, accepted his failures, and put on full display, to the world, the man it turned him into. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a more profound final chapter for the NBA’s most complicated legend. (Randy Dankievitch)
14 Special Mentions:
The time Kobe Bryant put on a show at the legendary Rucker Park.
The time Kobe dropped a dozen threes in a game.
The time Kobe went behind the back and threw down a monster reverse jam.
The time Kobe Bryant embarrassed Ben Wallace with that spectacular dunk.
The time Kobe Bryant scored 61 points at Madison Square Garden.
Kobe Bryant’s 4-game 50-point streak.
Kobe Bryant winning an Oscar at the 90th Academy Awards.
The time, S.I. kid reporter Max Bonnstetter interviewed Kobe Bryant.
The one-on-one interview with Shaquille O’Neal.
Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant sat down with Rachel Nichols of The Jump.
Kobe Bryant’s First NBA Championship win against the Indiana Pacers.
Kobe Bryant’s Second NBA Championship win against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Kobe Bryant’s Third NBA Championship win against the New Jersey Nets.
Kobe Bryant’s Fourth NBA Championship win against the Orlando Magic.