With an Amazon River-long list of accomplishments already to his name, it would seem that Kobe Bryant would at least be old enough to run for President, right?
Nope. Not for four more years of moment-building, anyway (by then the list could be closer in length to the Nile).
Bryant turned 31 on Sunday, August 23rd, prompting us to enlist the help of Lakers fans – via our @LakersReporter Twitter account – to amass a list of 31 highlights from the 2009 NBA Finals MVP’s career. At the end of the day, no list can fully encapsulate one of the world’s best athletes, but hopefully we detailed many of Kobe Bean Bryant’s best moments and most impressive accomplishments:
1) It began 16 years ago, with Bryant’s off-the-charts pre-draft workout for Lakers GM Jerry West. Previously, the wonder kid had destroyed the Pennsylvania high school league by averaging 30.8 points, 12.0 boards, 6.5 assists, 4.0 steals and 3.8 blocks as a senior at Lower Merion HS (including a state championship). Kobe received nearly every national honor (USA Today Player of the Year, Naismith POY, Gatorade POY and McDonald’s All-American) and subsequently dominated the summer camp circuit, earning MVP honors at the 1995 Adidas ABCD Summer Camp and the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina.
2) On July 11, 1996, the Lakers traded Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for the rights to the No. 13 pick: Kobe Bryant.
3) Pulling dunk highlights from Bryant is pretty superfluous, but this YouTube clip (video) of a teenaged Kobe rising high into the sky for a preseason thunder dunk over Ben Wallace in Las Vegas is among the best:
4) With the fans firmly in his camp, Bryant defeated Ray Allen and Michael Finley, among others, in the 1997 Slam Dunk contest (video).
5) A high moment of Bryant’s rookie season occurred when he scored 22 points in Game 3 of the First Round playoffs against Portland, the most points for an L.A. rookie in the postseason since Byron Scott dropped 26 in 1984.
6) For Kobe, there was nothing quite like facing his idol, Michael Jordan (video). During his second season, the youngster stuck 33 points in the box score at United Center on Dec. 17, 1997… But MJ countered with 36 in leading his team to a 104-83 victory.
7) At the tender age of 19, Bryant became the youngest All-Star in NBA history in 1998. The Philly/Italy product was voted into the game despite not starting for the Lakers. He averaged 15.4 points, 3.1 boards and 2.5 assists in 26.0 minutes per game in his second season.
8) With 10:28 remaining in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals, L.A. found itself down by 15 points to a tough, deep Portland squad. Minutes later, however, Bryant found Shaquille O’Neal underneath the rim with a high-arching alley-oop (video)as part of a 29-9 run to close the game and the series. In the previous round, Kobe had nailed a hanging, double-clutch, game-winning jumper over Jason Kidd and Phoenix.
9) A defining moment of Bryant’s early career came after he missed most of Game 2 and all of Game 3 of the 2000 Finals against Indiana with a badly sprained ankle, but returned in Game 4 to push the Lakers to a victory (video) and a 3-1 advantage. Despite what he then described as “throbbing” pain, Bryant scored eight OT points with Shaq fouled out on the bench, including three-straight hoops when Indiana had cut L.A.’s lead to one, not to mention a game-sealing tip in of Brian Shaw’s miss with 5.9 seconds remaining. The net result: L.A. would lock up the series in Game 6 for the franchise’s first title since the Showtime era.
10) Bryant put a 26-point, 12-rebound, 6-assist line on Philadelphia in Game 5 of the 2001 Finals to lock up a second title, setting his playoff averages at 29.4 points, 7.3 boards and 6.1 assists in 16 contests. A near-untouchable Lakers’ squad (16-1) lost but one game when Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers stole Game 1 of the Finals. Bryant was deadliest in a four-game sweep of San Antonio in the Conference Finals, posting 33.3 points, 7.0 boards and 7.0 assists in 42.0 minutes.
11) En route to L.A.’s third-straight championship to close the 2001-02 season, Bryant averaged 26.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 19 postseason games, highlighted by consecutive games of at least 30 points and 10 boards in the Western Conference Finals against Sacramento. L.A. swept an overmatched New Jersey Nets team in the final as Bryant played at least 42 minutes in each contest.
12) With 21 points in a luminary fourth quarter performance (video), Bryant led the Lakers from 30 points down at the half against Dallas for a 105-103 victory in the midst of a tough team start to the 2002-03 season. Bryant put a bow on his performance by nailing the game-winning jumper with 8.4 seconds remaining to establish the biggest comeback win in franchise history.
13) Not only did Bryant hit a ridiculous buzzer-beating three to force OT (video) in the 2003-04 regular season finale at Portland, he then dropped an even more phenomenal fall-away triple to win the game in double OT.
14) The lone bright spot of a nearly universally disappointing 2004 Finals against Detroit came in Game 2, when Bryant nailed a game-tying three (video) with 2.1 seconds left. He didn’t let up in OT, leading L.A. to its only win of a 4-1 series loss after finishing with 33 points and seven dimes.
15) During his 35.4 points per game season in 2005-06 (the 8th highest scoring average in NBA history), Bryant exploded for 62 points against Dallas on Dec. 20 … In three quarters. He sunk 18-of-31 shots, plus 22-of-25 free throws in 33 minutes before taking a seat to watch the fourth. His 30 points in the third quarter established a franchise record, but the beauty of the game was that Bryant outscored the Mavericks 62-61. He also amassed a franchise-record 27 games of 40-plus points that season, as well as six 50-plus games.
16) A Bryant dunk from the first round of the 2006 playoffs, when he rose, hung and followed through (video) in vicious fashion over Steve Nash, was particularly fun.
17) In Game 4 of the same series against Phoenix, Bryant nailed a buzzer-beating leaner (video) as the clock expired at STAPLES Center to put the Lakers up 3-1. L.A., however, would fall in seven games.
18) Perhaps the moment that first comes to mind for Kobe's career is the 81 points he scored (video)… in a game. His feat was the second-greatest scoring performance in NBA history (Wilt Chamberlain, 100), coming against Toronto on Jan. 22 of 2006 behind 28-of-46 shooting from the field and 18-of-20 free throws.
19) For the fourth-straight game in March of 2006, Bryant dropped at least 40 points on an opponent. Throughout his career, Bryant has reached the 40-point mark 96 times in the regular season and 10 times in the postseason.
20) From March 16-23 of 2007, Bryant amassed an absurd 225 points in four games, going for 65, 50, 60 and 50, respectively. He wouldn’t need to score that many points over the next two seasons due to the increased skill of his teammates (Pau, anyone?), and though KB would score over 50 just once in 2008-09, he still ranks third all time (Chamberlain, Jordan) with 24 games of 50-plus points.
21) Mid 2007-08, when L.A. was still trying to establish itself as a Western threat after Andrew Bynum went down and before Gasol came to town, Bryant went off for 48 points at Seattle, including an 18-footer with 4.3 seconds remaining to rescue the Lakers.
22) In the midst of a fierce Western Conference seeding race in late April of 2008, Bryant had one of his best all-around games of the season with 29 points, 10 boards and eight assists in a 107-104 victory over New Orleans to tie them for first place in the West. Bryant also may have punctuated his coming MVP award with a fierce reverse dunk in the fourth quarter.
23) Early in the 2008 playoffs, David Stern flew to L.A. to award Bryant with his first NBA MVP award as his teammates encircled him. Kobe joined three other Lakers in attaining the league’s top regular season honor: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the all-time leader, who won three times each for Milwaukee and L.A.; Magic Johnson, whose three awards came in 1987, ’89 and ’90 to tie him with Larry Bird and Moses Malone for fifth all time; and Shaquille O’Neal, who won his only award for the 1999-2000 campaign.
24) Bryant led the Lakers on an impressive and fluid run to the Finals in 2008 after series victories over Denver (4-0), Utah (4-2) and San Antonio (4-1), only to fall short against the Boston Celtics when it counted (4-2). Kobe averaged 30.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 21 playoff games.
25) After leading L.A. on a torrid 21-3 start to its revenge-seeking 2008-09 campaign, Bryant earned Western Conference Player of the Month honors for both December and January, the 10th and 11th time in his career that Bryant took monthly honors.
26) One game after L.A. lost center Andrew Bynum to a knee injury, Bryant made a personal statement of team strength by scoring an NBA-season-high 61 points at Madison Square Garden (video) in L.A.’s 126-117 victory. He made 19-of-31 shots and all 20 of his free throws.
27) Throughout his career, Bryant has been involved in hundreds of polls and contests against fellow players, but his domination of the “Sports Illustrated” NBA player poll in February of 2009 was telling: Asked which player would you want to take the last shot, 76% of the 190 pro players answered “Kobe Bryant.” In second place was Chauncey Billups, with 3% of the vote.
28) Bryant punctuated a third Western Conference Player of the Week award with a dagger three-pointer at San Antonio and 18 fourth quarter points at Houston, averaging 28.5 points, 5.0 assists and 5.0 boards as L.A. went 3-1. It was the 22nd POW award in Bryant’s career out West, though he added two NBA POW accolades prior to the award being divided between conferences.
29) Behind more than 2.8 million votes, Bryant started the 2009 All-Star game in Phoenix for the 11th straight time. He capped off the experience by earning his third MVP award alongside Co-MVP Shaquille O’Neal, then with the host Suns.
30) Bryant dissected Denver with a 35-point, 10-assist assertion of personal dominance (video)in a 119-92 Game 6 road win to clinch the Western Conference Finals. His 30.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.65 steals helped the Lakers defeat Utah (4-1) and Houston (4-3) before beating Denver in six games, setting up the Finals matchup with Orlando.
31) On June 14, 2009, Kobe Bryant was named MVP of the NBA Finals after his Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic 99-86 for a convincing 4-1 series victory. In the Finals, Bryant averaged team-high 32.4 points and 7.4 assists, plus 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks on 45.7 percent shooting. He’d also earn All-NBA honors for the 11th time in 13th seasons (All-First Team, seventh time) while making an All-Defensive team for the ninth time (All-First team, seventh time).