Originally posted in October of 2011, we’re revisiting some of our favorite Kobe Bryant content after he became the fifth player to ever score 30,000 points last night.
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Kobe Bryant has maintained his spot as the best basketball player in the world because, even as his nagging injuries pile up and he moves into his 30s, he relies more on his skills and fundamentals than simple athleticism and explosiveness.
Don’t get it mistaken, though: Kobe can still get up every once in a while, even if some analysts and fans talk about his hops like he’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas. So in much of the same line as my 10 Best Basketball Movies, 10 Best Basketball Documentaries, and 10 Best Basketball Books, I decided to try to put together a list of the Black Mamba’s best jams throughout his career.
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10. Windmill in Utah (2001-02)
One of the Kobe’s lesser-known dunks, this one is featured in the NBA Street Series, fittingly a fleeting flash during Bryant’s lone segment in the video. It is also one of my personal favorites; with The Diesel standing by in admiration, Bryant puts down a windmill, contorting his body to the side after a steal. To finish it off, the Mamba flashes the fundamental-loving Utah crowd his guns. Ron Burgundy is in the building.
9. Baseline 360 in Utah (2004-05)
The Lakers were blown out in this game, 104-78, but who really cares? This was back when Kobe’s little wing shuffle was exploding to the rim like a firework in Chris Kaman‘s front yard. In accordance with the times — only one other guy on KB’s team even reached double-digit scoring — Bryant breaks down the whole Utah defense. First, he cleans up a teammate’s mess, and then blows by Andrei Kirilenko, jumping in such a weird position that no one on Utah even attempts to leave the floor. I honestly want to rate this one higher. It is just crazy. (Eds. note: It’s No. 7 on the video below… the original footage was deleted from YouTube.)
8. On Yao Ming (2002-03)
A game during the infamous 40-point game streak, Kobe’s night (52 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists) was overshadowed by one play near the end of the third quarter. I could pull out the old clichÃ© of climbing the Great Wall of China. But Kobe didn’t really climb it; he sort of met Yao at the top. I love it as a dunk, but Yao is like the anti-kangaroo. The funny part about this one is that Kobe was dealing with a sore knee at the time. He complained postgame that it was making certain things on the court difficult. Obviously, dunking on giants wasn’t one of them.
7. Over the MVP in the playoffs (2005-06)
Smashing on Steve Nash isn’t anything special. He has as much bounce as a baseball. But putting one down on the MVP of the league during a year where there was debate on whether your own accolades were good enough? Priceless. Kobe dropped over 35 points a game in 2005-06 while being shouldered with assassins like Kwame Brown, Smush Parker and Brian Cook. That the team won 45 games and took Phoenix to seven in the Playoffs was incredible in itself. Without Kobe, how many games would that team have won? Nash was deserving of the trophy, but L.A. fans everywhere perceived this play as the ultimate face-slap. Sip on this, Maurice Podoloff.
6. Alley-oop over the Sixers (2000-01)
You ever get that feeling that you are overshadowed? Kobe felt like that in 2000. Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson wanted him to stay where he was; Kobe wanted to push against the walls around him and elevate what people expected of him, what people considered normal. During that season, he wanted to test his own limits and see where they would take him. The late Lakers’ legend Chick Hearn said, “You could go to a basketball game for the rest of your life and you won’t see this play duplicated.” Basically. I think Kobe’s limits were accurately pushed on this one.
5. On KG and the Wolves in the playoffs (2002-03)
“He just sucked the gravity out of the Target Center.” This dunk was so explosive, so sudden that it almost did feel like a force of Mother Nature had affected the arena. It also basically ended the series and the T’Wolves season, a capper on an explosive third quarter by KB, leading to the 30-point win. After getting crammed on like this, Minnesota pretty much lost their spirit. How couldn’t they? This is definitely the best playoff jam of KB’s career, perhaps the best thing to come out of that year’s playoff run that ended soon after against San Antonio. As creative as Kobe is, no one saw this one coming, outside of Kevin Harlan: “Buckle up for…”
4. Over Dwight Howard (2004-05)
The baptizing. Before Howard became a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, he was taking it in the face from KB. You know it’s bad when you can’t even jump; DH standing there like “Oh shiiiiit.” All he could do is put up his hands at the last minute. He could see it coming, but couldn’t do anything about it. This year was probably Kobe’s worst as a professional. It was the only time in his entire career that he didn’t make the playoffs. So much disrespect that he ended up on the All-NBA Third Team, shooting his lowest percentage since becoming a starter. That all had to be eating at him as well as knowing that a second-year guard (Dwyane Wade) was now being called his superior. Sucks for Howard.
3. Over Big Ben in an exhibition (1997-98)
This dunk made Ben Wallace want to learn how to play defense. How many other times in the history of the NBA have the refs actually had to stop a game because of a play? Well, they had to here. Nick Van Exel wanted to cry and Elden Campbell was looking dazed (wait…that’s supposed to be surprising?). Even the Washington bench was up. This was the first really great dunk of Kobe’s pro career, but it still remains as the best facial he’s ever dished out. “Getting dunked on” is subjective. Everyone has a different opinion; some people say LeBron got dunked on by Jordan Crawford (remember that?), others say it was just a fly-by. Big Ben got dunked on.
2. Behind-the-back 360 on Denver (2002-03)
For the degree of difficulty, this one is like the Star-Spangled Banner: it’s so unique that you might as well forget about mastering it. Listen, just catching a baseball pass and immediately exchanging it around your waist is tough enough. But then doing a 360 with a defender right on you? That’s as hard as Denzel in Training Day. This is the type of dunk that you would save for a finale in a dunk contest. You can’t top it. How did Kobe top it? Well, he scored 51 the next night in 31 minutes against the same team. That’s why he’s Kobe and Vincent Yarbrough is still getting asked about this.
1. On Sprewell in the Garden (2002-03)
Damn, it seems like Harlan’s blowtorch voice serenades every great KB dunk. This was another in the midst of KB’s ridiculous run during Febuary of 2003 when he was scoring a gazillion points every game. The wildest part of this entire list is that Kobe’s two greatest dunks came in back-to-back games, the ultimate one up. Except in this instance, nothing can top his New York takeover, not even what he did to the Nuggets. The reason why this one is number one? Because this is my list. But also because the Mamba jumps from one side of the paint, double-pumps underneath the hoop and then finishes powerfully on the other side. All of that, even with Sprewell giving contact … in MSG. That’s good enough for the Uno spot for me.