Kobe Bryant has not one, but two jerseys hanging from the rafters in Staples Center. By now, it’s too late for anyone to debate which jersey should be hanging if given the choice. And it’s even too late to debate which version of Kobe was best. You’ve read all of the stats, and they’re all very comparable: 16,866 points to 16,178, eight All-Stars to nine, three championships to two, zero MVP’s to one, zero Finals MVP’s to two… are you still there? I agree, it’s so boring. And the conclusion is always the same: #24 trumps #8. Yawn…
Allow me to unveil my arguments for 8 AND 24. As I stated earlier, there’s no point in arguing which number he was best in, as both jerseys proudly hang high in the stands (that is, until the Clippers play a home game. And since they can’t hide the shame they feel for their futility as a franchise, they’ll hide the Lakers successes). No matter what I say, nobody is going to climb back up there to take a jersey down because I happen to be right again. What my argument will decide is what should (not do, should) we remember most when we look up at those retired jerseys. From his Greatest Regular Season, to his Greatest Dunk, and even his Worst Moment, I guarantee nobody has a breakdown like this one.
Before I begin, I’d like to note that all stats in each part of this series were found, as always, at www.basketball-reference.com, unless sited otherwise.
Now, to begin the epic five part series (one for each ring), I present to you, my argument for:
Kobe’s #8 jersey has delivered us some beautiful posters. During the 2002-03 season, Robert Horry follows a made Denver Nugget free throw and gets rid of the ball like it’s on fire, taking it from the net and immediately chucking it to the other side of the court. Kobe Bryant catches Horry’s beautiful touchdown pass, and eludes the Nugget defender by switching the ball to his left hand from behind his back. He finishes the amazing play off with a violent reverse slam, to which then-Laker television broadcaster Paul Sunderland speaks for all of us when he exclaims, “What did I just see?!” It’s an iconic play and certainly one of Kobe’s finest dunks.
His coming out dunk over Ben Wallace during the preseason of his second season also stands out. He’s sporting a ‘fro and a Showtime Laker jersey, so that makes it extra sweet. And where he takes off from (dotted line inside the paint) is just ridiculous to still be able to put someone on a poster. But this wasn’t even a regular season game. I want my dunk to mean a little more than that.
The year is 2006, and Kobe’s Lakers are facing Steve Nash’s Suns in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Both players are front-runners for the NBA MVP Award, with Nash having won it the season prior. The Phoenix Suns are favorites to defeat the 7th seeded Lakers, and are already up 1-0 in the series. Game 2 is in Phoenix, and the Suns are trying desperately to fight back from a 7 point deficit in the 4th quarter, with a little more than three minutes to go. Luke Walton throws up an 18-footer that falls halfway in, but rattles out hard. Lamar Odom chases down the long rebound, and, from the floor, pitches the ball out to a streaking Kobe Bryant. With the ball in his hands, and Phoenix’s bigs surrounding Odom on the floor, Kobe charges aggressively towards the rim.
Steve Nash recognizes he is the Suns’ only line of defense, and does his best to defend Kobe’s dunk attempt; unfortunately, his best is to try harming Kobe’s nuts using only his nose. His plan backfires, the aftermath of the series-changing slam-dunk leaves Nash sprawled onto the paint below, watching Kobe hanging from the rim for safety. When the smoke clears, the Suns would find themselves down 10.
The Lakers would go on to win the game, but not the series. Steve Nash would go on to win his second consecutive MVP Award. But does anyone remember a single play Steve Nash had in any game of the series? They came back from a 3-1 deficit, and yet the entire series is devoid of a single Nash fingerprint. In contrast, Kobe’s fingerprints are all over the series. On entire games and moments within each of the seven games played.
In fact, so much of Kobe’s heroics have left such a lasting impression, that if you look closely at Steve Nash holding the 2006 NBA MVP trophy, you can still see Kobe’s nuts on Nash’s proud, smiling face.
Kobe couldn’t quite get up as high as he did wearing the #8 jersey, but he still had his moments. In 2008, Kobe and Chris Paul were in a tight race to see who would finish first in not only the Western Conference standings, but the NBA MVP voting as well. The two players’ MVP journeys would finally converge in the 80th game of the NBA season. NBA fans would be treated with the Lakers hosting the Hornets in a crucial late season matchup that would heavily tip all of the scales to favor the victor.
Late in the game, with the Lakers leading comfortably, Sasha Vujacic misses a 3-pointer from the corner. The rebound is fumbled by players wearing both Laker and Hornet uniforms, and falls right into the hands of MVP-hopeful Kobe Bryant. Bryant, recognizing the moment, heads toward the rim and lifts off. But he doesn’t just dunk the ball, he reverse double clutches before slamming the ball through the rim. Staples Center erupts, and Kobe walks off to the sidelines, with the game, his team’s standing in the conference, and now the league MVP, no longer in question.
Another sweet dunk happened, against the poor New Orleans Hornets again, but the year is 2011. The Lakers, then repeat NBA champions, would return to the playoffs only to frustrate their fans by playing down to their opponents’ level. Their first round opponents were the New Orleans Hornets. Kobe would finally remedy this by taking a pitch from Pau Gasol in the post, dunking the ball right over the Hornets starting center Emeka Okafor.
This dunk is awesome, because even at an older age, when Kobe dunked on someone, he never used his off arm to create space. And this is most apparent when you watch this dunk. Kobe accepts the larger Okafor’s challenge of blocking his dunk attempt as they meet in mid-air, bounces off his body, and swings down the hammer before finally returning to Earth. The Lakers won the game, and, for the moment at least, looked prepared to defend their title once again (they weren’t).
Those are both great dunks, and the timing in which they occurred was perfect for each of them. But… I have to go with Kobe dunking on the entire city of Brooklyn in 2013.
I pose this question: What is the only thing better than someone getting dunked on? The answer is simple: Two people getting dunked on. What makes dunking over multiple people special is when it happens, multiple people automatically becomes the entire team, then the city. Need an example? The best example we have of this type of dunk is possibly John Starks dunking on Horace Grant and Michael Jordan. But we don’t know the dunk as John Starks dunking on Horace Grant and Michael Jordan. We know the dunk as John Starks dunking on the Chicago Bulls. And the city of Chicago. And Oprah. And Al Capone’s rotting corpse. John Starks got a little bit of everyone on that one. And so did Kobe.
In fact, while I recognize this is a regular season dunk as opposed to the John Starks dunk which occurred in the playoffs, I’m willing to say Kobe dunked on the city of Brooklyn more than Starks dunked on the city of Chicago. Gerald Wallace follows Kobe through the whole process of the dunk, while Kris Humphries comes from the weak side to help. Both players have an equal opportunity to block this shot and even appear to each get a hand on the freaking ball. And it didn’t matter! Again, Kobe accepting all challengers to his dunk helps make this one legendary.
When I saw this live, I jumped so high I almost hit my head on the ceiling of my living room. I couldn’t stop yelling obscenities to help myself get over the shock of seeing something so gruesome on television. The entire Barclays Center went bonkers like someone just won a rap battle. Even Wallace and Humphries give up in mid-air to high-five each other, knowing Kobe just put them on his best poster ever.
There’s no stakes, there’s no history, this dunk is just disgusting. The kind of disgusting that’s just hard to forget. And that’s what makes it memorable. R.I.P. Brooklyn.
Tune in next week, for Part 2 of my 5 part series: Kobe’s Greatest Buzzer Beater.