Kobe Bryant's extended 82–game ride into the sunset is at last coming to a close.
As we continue in our appreciation of Bryant’s remarkable career, we decided to dig up some of his most clutch moments. We’ve neatly compiled a shortlist of Kobe’s best buzzer beaters and game–winners...of which there are many.
We'll start with what is arguably Kobe's first #MambaMoment, which took place in the playoffs, 16 years ago.
May 10, 2000: vs. Suns, West semifinals, Game 2
This was Kobe’s first NBA buzzer beater, and it came against the Phoenix Suns, led by young Jason Kidd, post knee-surgery Penny Hardaway and future Survivor contestant and marijuana magnate Cliff Robinson, who scored 30 in this game. The Lakers had leaned hard on Shaquille O’Neal (38 points) all night, but gave the rock to Kobe, spread the floor and let him go to work on a Guy Fieri-domed Kidd.
Kobe, age 21, drove right, crossed back left, pulled up at the free throw line, double-clutched and found twine.
Just over a month later, the soon–to–be Lakers dynasty won its first title.
May 12, 2002: vs. Spurs, West semifinals, Game 4
From 1998 to 2010, either the Spurs or Lakers appeared in all but one Western Conference finals. In 2002, the two teams played for the right to advance to the conference finals, and the Lakers prevailed in five games. This Kobe shot on the road was the dagger that blew the series open.
This one is not pretty and almost didn’t even happen. The sequence begins with Kobe dribbling off his foot. Derek Fisher recovers in time for a jumper. And a determined Kobe crashes the paint, hauls the ball in at full extension, and finishes to prevent overtime.
April 14, 2004: vs. Trail Blazers
This one is actually two buzzer beaters rolled into one. In the final game of the 2004 regular season, with the Pacific Division on the line, Bryant followed up two missed free throws by Portland's Ruben Patterson by nailing a physics-defying, contested fallaway leaner from the top of the arc to send the game to overtime.
At the buzzer in overtime, Kobe gets free for a three and a pretty solid look at the rim. It's possible he embellishes his shot a bit by falling down, but the shot is extraordinarily impressive nonetheless.
The best part is that Patterson asked for Kobe’s shoes after this game, and got them—autographed.
Jan. 12, 2006: vs. Cavaliers
Playing with a sore right wrist and squaring off against LeBron, Bryant scored L.A.’s final six points, including the go-ahead shot with 8.6 seconds remaining. He trades buckets with Zyndrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden before finishing off the game with a final shot, taking James one–on–one, drawing a double team and hitting it anyway.
It ended with LeBron splitting free throws and then missing a buzzer-beater while he was being guarded by Kobe, for the record. LeBron was awestruck after the game, telling reporters that Kobe's performance was “just amazing.”
April 30, 2006: vs. Suns, West quarterfinals, Game 4
This one also includes two shots (in HD, no less). The first play involves Smush Parker (Smush!) somehow stealing the ball from Steve Nash off an inbounds and Kobe slicing to the rim on a fast break to tie the game. He and Smush share a gentle embrace while Kobe shouts motivational obscenities into his ear. Nash looks stunned. Crying Jordan did not exist then.
In overtime, with the Lakers down one, a jump ball won by Mark Madsen ends up in Kobe’s hands. He hits the shot over skinny Boris Diaw and Raja Bell. The Lakers take a 3–1 series lead.
Of course, the Lakers blew this series and lost the next three games in a semi-embarrassing collapse.
Dec. 4, 2009: vs. Heat
This shot over Dwyane Wade is pretty famous, even though this game didn’t mean a whole lot. Kobe, now No. 24, somehow squirts into some space and hoists a one-legged runner past Wade’s outstretched fingertips for the win. Magic.
Jan. 31, 2010: vs. Celtics
Let's give the Lakers–Celtics rivalry a little love. Here's Kobe hitting a vintage Mamba shot over Ray Allen. He gives up the ball, gets it back, drives left and pulls the classic Kobe stepback-pivot-fadeaway for the lead. If you wanted to show your kids a textbook Kobe shot, this would be a strong candidate.
March 8, 2013: vs. Raptors
Kobe always killed the Raptors, and here he kills the Raptors. By...dunking with no time left. That’s not the kind of thing you usually see in the NBA. Defenses don’t give that up. You get fouled, or something.
But the 2012–13 Toronto Raptors giveth, and Kobe taketh. Aaron Gray never stood a chance. Kyle Lowry (before he was, you know, Kyle Lowry) watches haplessly. Alan Anderson gives up. DeMar DeRozan at least jumps.
Kobe Bryant at the buzzer. Again.