While Bryant will someday have plenty on display in Springfield at the Basketball Hall of Fame, a true museum to his career would surely include these moments.
Welcome to the Jam
Feb. 8, 1997 — An 18-year-old Bryant entered the All-Star Weekend of his rookie campaign averaging only 7.0 points in 14.5 minutes. But electrifying the crowd at that year’s Slam Dunk Contest provided him with his first superstar moment.
The teenager opened up with a reverse slam and followed by hammering a two-handed, behind-the-back jam to help eliminate Ray Allen, Bob Sura and Darvin Ham. In the finals against Michael Finley and Chris Carr, Bryant truly took flight by rising up for a between-the-legs throwdown, which earned him a score of 49 out of 50.
At the time: Russell was nearing his second birthday.
The First Finals
June 14, 2000 — Back when Bryant’s ring total was still at zero, he provided the defining moment of his young career to push the Lakers to the brink of a title. The 21-year-old scored 28 points and saved his best for the end when Shaquille O’Neal (36 points, 21 rebounds) fouled out midway through overtime.
Bryant — who sat out the previous game due to an ankle injury — sunk three clutch baskets, including an over-the-shoulder putback with 5.9 seconds left to extend the Lakers’ lead to 120-117 and set up the first championship of the three-peat era with the ensuing Game 5 victory.
At the time: Clarkson was a week away from turning eight years old.
Jan. 22, 2006 —It was simply the second-most spectacular scoring effort in NBA history. Only Wilt Chamberlain’s mythical 100-point game 44 years prior could top the 81 points that Bryant dropped on Toronto.
The scoring champion shot 28-of-46 from the field, while hitting 18 free throws and seven 3-pointers. His 59 points in the second half alone turned a double-digit Toronto lead into a 122-104 Lakers victory. The closest anybody has come since was Bryant himself, who scored 65 a year later.
At the time: Larry Nance Jr. had turned 13 just two weeks earlier in Akron.
At the Buzzer(s)
April 30, 2006 — His team trailing by two with 7.9 seconds left, Bryant found himself in the perfect position to add to his legacy of clutch shots. After Smush Parker stole the inbounds pass, Bryant eventually found himself with the ball and Eurostepped to the rim, where he let go of a floater to tie the game with 0.7 seconds left.
Somehow, he managed to top himself minutes later in overtime. The Lakers were down, 98-97, with 6.1 seconds left when Luke Walton tipped a jump ball to Bryant, who dribbled straight to the right elbow, where he pulled up and swished the buzzer-beating game-winner. The victory gave the seventh-seed Lakers a 3-1 lead in the opening round, but Phoenix won the series’ final three games.
At the time: Anthony Brown was a middle schooler in Orange County getting ready to attend Huntington Beach’s Ocean View High.
Revenge on Boston
June 2010 — Two years earlier, the Lakers had fallen to the rival Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals in a series that Bryant labeled as one of the turning points of his career. However, the championship rematch provided him with the crowning ring of his five titles.
Bryant averaged 28.6 points on 40.5 percent shooting to fuel the Lakers to victory in the seven-game series. In the final contest, he scored 23 points while also hauling in 15 rebounds to push L.A. to a four-point victory and earn the title of NBA Finals MVP for the second straight year.
At the time: Jordan Clarkson was a senior at San Antonio’s Wagner High, leading his school to a 38-2 record and trip to the state semifinals.