As you know, Kobe Bryant joined an elite group as the Lakers defeated the Pelicans on Wednesday night. With his driving score at the 1:15 mark of the second quarter, Bryant became the NBA’s fifth 30,000-point scorer, putting his name among the likes of Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Pretty special company for one of the most remarkable scorers of my lifetime, and the ultimate tribute to the way he’s been able to withstand the test of time. Indeed, longevity has become one of the most impressive aspects of Kobe’s 17-season career. Other superstars have risen since he played his first All-Star game in 1998, and it can be argued that a handful achieved a comparable level of play. What none of them have been able to do is maintain elite status for as long as Kobe Bryant, who leads the NBA in scoring at this very moment. To me, it’s not Kobe’s peak that sets him apart from his peers; it’s his durability, which is a testament to his work ethic. If there’s one thing I can appreciate about Kobe Bryant — a man who has shattered the hopes and dreams of many of my favorite teams — it’s his work ethic.
In honor of Kobe’s accomplishment, I’d like to discuss four of his 30,000 points, and the way that they impacted me as a basketball fan. Bean has made more than his share of memorable buckets, and I could run off a list with the greatest of ease… but I’d prefer to focus on a pair of shots that altered my perspective on the game that I love.
To me, the points scored in this video represent the paramount of all Kobe Bryant moments. To watch him confidently pound the ball as he weaves his way up the floor, to remember how certain I was that he wouldn’t miss… it still gives me chills. I’m presently sitting in the very same place I sat in 2006, and I remember how this game (and the series as a whole, really) changed my outlook as a basketball fan. Back then, I don’t think I recognized the significance of Kobe’s deciding shots in terms of my own attitude… but to consider it now, their impact becomes very clear.
When I was younger, I didn’t necessarily appreciate the greatness of those players I didn’t like. While I wouldn’t say that my feelings ever rendered me a complete moron, some of my personal preferences certainly developed into biases that effected my ability to look at the game in a completely rational manner. More importantly, these biases prevented me from enjoying my favorite game to the fullest. To make a long story short (and relevant), I grew up in New England. I was introduced to the game by a lifelong Laker hater and it felt pretty natural to wholeheartedly dislike Kobe Bryant — even before I had a reason, and no matter how great he was.
By 2006, I’d been a hardcore NBA fan for a couple of years. I was beginning to develop a strong set of my own opinions, and I’d adopted the run-and-gun Suns as my postseason favorite. Phoenix would meet up with Los Angeles in the first round, and as far as I was concerned I had a clearcut horse in the race. I still wasn’t overly fond of Kobe, and a strong allegiance to Tim Thomas made my give-a-shit level pretty damn high. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to see the top-seeded Suns fall behind 1-2 in the series, but I knew everything would be fine if they could win game four.
The Phoenix Suns did not win game four. Not only did they not win, they lost in the most heartbreaking way possible — by two points, in overtime, on a buzzer-beating shot by the villain, Kobe Bryant. His pull-up jumper had given the Lakers a commanding 3-1 series lead, and my horse appeared to be going down… yet I specifically remember being so overwhelmed by this unbelievable game that I couldn’t wipe the stupid grin off my face. The wonder of the moment felt absolutely surreal, and my amazement at what I’d just seen and the joy of having witnessed it simply overrode my other emotions. At that very moment, I think I had a basketball epiphany. While my love of the sport was already evolving, this was the definitive moment that truly, honestly made me a fan of the game first. Essentially, it subconsciously hammered home what I consider to be a valuable lesson in appreciation.
And it all set the stage for my guy Tim Thomas to be the hero! Man, what a fantastic series that was. Unbelievable.
Note: Big ups to Smush Parker. His role in the game-tying play always gets overlooked. How often does a guy get a steal from Steve Nash in a situation like that?