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.
> Kobe Bryant turns 37 Sunday and is heading into what could be his final NBA season. What is your all-time favorite Kobe moment?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: “Favorite” unshackles this from any requirement that it be an “important” moment, so Bryant’s 81-point performance against Toronto on Jan. 22, 2006 would seem an easy choice. But I’d be lying because I didn’t see that game – I was covering the big clash that day between mediocre Philadelphia and middling Minnesota that Andre Iguodala won at the buzzer in Minneapolis. I only could watch highlights of Kobe’s explosion the next morning, and watching a succession of scoring plays in replay captures none of the excitement they pack live. So I’m split between Bill Russell handing Bryant his first Finals MVP trophy in 2009 and the precocious 1998 Bryant waving off Karl Malone from an attempted pick-and-roll in the All-Star Game so he could square up against Michael Jordan.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: While it’s tempting and certainly valid to say Kobe scoring 81 on the Raptors, I’m going with Aug. 24, 2008. That’s the night at the Beijing Olympics when Kobe and Dwyane Wade led the USA Redeem Team to the gold medal. Bryant was a hungry, fierce, driven leader all through the campaign to put the U.S. back on top of the basketball world and he hit big buckets down the stretch to seal the gold medal. I was in the building and the feeling of accomplishment was palpable and probably as satisfying to Kobe as any of his five NBA titles.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Picking 10 favorites would be hard enough, let alone a single all-timer, and this is No. 1 for the moment because there will be more candidates to come. But if I have to choose one, let’s go with April 12, 1997, at Utah. (So many historic Laker moments intersected with Salt Lake City and the Jazz.) A rookie Kobe Bryant air-balled four shots late in the fourth quarter and into overtime of Game 5 of the West semifinals of the playoffs. Those misses, one brick after another, clinched the Lakers’ 98-93 OT loss as Utah won the series 4-1. And he was unfazed. Bryant did not flinch, not when he got the ball as the bad misses piled up and not in the visitor’s locker room afterward as he faced the media scrutiny. It may not have been the indication of what was to come on the court, but that was the clear preview of the future of the Black Mamba personality. He would back down from nothing and nobody.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: This isn’t the 81 points or a playoff moment or a Finals moment. But on the final regular-season game in 2003-04 (against the Portland Trail Blazers), Kobe made a pair of hellacious buzzer-beating 3-pointers that defy logic (they’re plays No. 2 and No. 1 here). The first happened at the end of regulation at the top of the key with Ruben Patterson (the Kobe Stopper) painted all over him. The second was at the end of the second overtime, when Kobe took an inbounds pass with one second left and turned almost completely around and splashed. He ran off the court and was hugged by Shaq, the last time that happened.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Bryant didn’t play great for most of the 2008 Olympics. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade did the heavy lifting for the U.S. through the first 7 1/2 games in Beijing, with Bryant often showing some frustration with his shooting struggles. But when things were tight down the stretch of the gold medal game against Spain, he hit the two biggest shots for the Americans, including the four-point play that essentially put them on the top of the medal stand. Considering the stakes, that was maybe the best game I’ve seen in person, and Bryant backed up his rep as the best closer in the game.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There are so many it’s hard to choose just one. But the 2003 All-Star Game at Philips Arena comes to mind because it illustrated to me what sort of a cut-throat competitor Kobe really was. It was supposed to be a celebratory send off for Michael Jordan, his final All-Star Game appearance and a chance to all of the current stars to bow down one last time to the G.O.A.T. Vince Carter gave up his spot in the Eastern Conference starting lineup and East coach Isiah Thomas had instructed his guys to show MJ the respect he deserved. Kobe, of course, ignored the memo. He wasn’t having it. He went at MJ like it was Game 7 of The Finals and didn’t let up, including knocking down two free throws to tie the game and send it into double-overtime (after Jordan had hit what could have been the game-winner for the East with 4.8 seconds to play). The Western Conference won by 10 in double overtime with Kevin Garnett winning MVP honors. Kobe could have missed one of those free throws on purpose or even decided against pulling up for the potential game-winning 3-pointer (he was fouled by Jermaine O’Neal with a second to play) and let me MJ have the storybook ending. But it’s just not who he was or is … it’s not in his blood.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: In his second season, in 1998, Sports Illustrated sent me to Los Angeles to report what would be Kobe’s first cover story. He picked me up in a new SUV and we went to an outdoor patio restaurant for an interview that went on for hours. A woman sitting next to us asked if he played for the Lakers: He introduced himself, and she said she would be following his career. Much has changed since then, but not his confidence: That night at age 19 he was predicting basically everything he would go onto accomplish in basketball.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I was there at Madison Square Garden in 2009 when the Lakers came to town. It was an early February game, with the All-Star break a few weeks away, and despite it being two marquee franchises — the Lakers! Against the Knicks! — in the world’s most famous arena, there was no great sense of anything special hanging in the balance that night. And then Kobe went for 61 points, scoring from all over the place and setting a Madison Square Garden record. Even as provincial as Knicks fans can be, I’ll never forget the chants of “MVP! MVP!” for Kobe.