Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
VIDEO: Relive Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game in 3 minutes
> What was Kobe Bryant’s defining moment?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: He’ll probably get some love here for the championship teams he led in 2009 and 2010 without Shaquille O’Neal sharing the load. Someone might mention his MVP year or even a season in which he arguably should have won it. But to me, it’s the audacity, the brashness and the irrepressibility of his 81 points against Toronto on Jan. 22, 2006. Bryant “went” where only the great Wilt Chamberlain ever had gone, as far as points in a single game, surpassing anything his role model Michael Jordan had done. Bryant might prefer the rings, partly because they’re more politically correct as personal achievements in a team sport, but let’s face it: he was a scorer and only one guy on one night ever did that bigger – and maybe not even better, in shot selection or highlight plays – than Kobe.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinal playoff series against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City in 1997. Kobe the rookie fired up airball after airball after airball in the fourth quarter and overtime as the Lakers were eliminated. And the 18-year-old simply didn’t give a damn and kept right on shooting. That’s who Kobe has been for 20 NBA seasons — not always right, but never unsure.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: There are five of them. One on each finger. Choose a hand.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: If we mean a singular moment, then it’s his 81-point game. In terms of moment on a bit grander and more important scale, then I’d say his fifth championship. That gave him one more than Shaq, one less than Jordan.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The fourth quarter of the 2008 Olympic gold medal game. Shaquille O’Neal was the more important player in the Lakers’ three-peat, Bryant’s fourth title came in a lopsided series, and his fifth came with him shooting 6-for-24 in Game 7 against Boston. The gold medal game in Beijing was a do-or-die situation that the U.S. had worked three years to get to and one of the best games I’ve ever seen. After struggling through the first 7 1/2 games of the tournament, Bryant took over late and lived up to his reputation as the game’s best closer.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It’s nearly impossible to boil it down to just one. The title and Finals MVP he captured in 2009, his first title sans Shaq, sticks out to me. In order for him to shake the tag of being Shaq’s sidekick on those first three titles, he had to secure his legacy by showing that he could do it without the big fella. Once that was accomplished, he was elevated in the eyes of many. I think it validated all of the things he’d done up to that point and made him the unquestioned best player of his generation.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: He is going to be defined by the Lakers’ Game 7 victory over the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals. Bryant was injured and shooting poorly and yet he fought to the end, true to his character.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: So many things come to mind, but when I hear Kobe Bryant, the first thing I think of is Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals, with the series on the line, as Kobe drove the lane, pulled up for a jumper and…dished a perfect alley-oop to Shaq. To me, that play perfectly encapsulated just how great Kobe was, as well as how dangerous a duo those two could be, at least when they wanted to be.