ESPN

Kobe Being Kobe:
Mamba Moments


With Kobe hanging it up after 20 seasons in the NBA, we look back at 20 incredible things that made Kobe, well, Kobe.

1: The Call Of The Mamba

Talk about getting in character. Around the same time Kobe fully took on his alter ego, the Black Mamba, teammates noticed the unique way he called for the ball with a "tsssss" sound, made by clenching his teeth together and pushing air out. Close your eyes and it might as well have been a snake hissing.

For a player widely criticized for his shooting inefficiency, you have to admit that a quick hiss sound is a much more efficient way to communicate than yelling "I'm open" or "pass me the rock." - Dave McMenamin

2: Cold-Blooded Kobe

It was one of the coldest, nastiest, greediest shots I'd ever seen. And it produced Kobe Bryant's meanest quote.

Kobe wasn't content to merely snatch homecourt advantage from the Spurs by winning Game 1 of the 2001 Western Conference finals in San Antonio. He wanted more. On a night Phil Jackson was ejected in the first half and the starting frontcourt was saddled with foul trouble, when everything pointed toward "be satisfied with the split and head home," Bryant had none of it. And just to be sure, he drilled a 3-point shot from straightaway that put the Lakers up seven points inside the final two minutes.

Later, as he walked through the Alamodome toward the team bus, I caught up to him and offered a medical report on the Spurs.

"I think you cut an artery with that shot," I said.

Kobe curled his upper lip into a sneer and replied: "Let 'em bleed." - J.A. Adande

3: Kobe Can Control His Reflexes

Getting hit in the face with a Spalding would leave a mark. If you were staring at one coming at you, inches from your face, the natural instinct would be to duck, or at least flinch. Which made Kobe's wholly unnatural reaction to Matt Barnes faking a pass right between his eyes on an inbounds play back in 2010 in Orlando all the more awesome.

We've seen others dunk, we've seen others hit game winners and stockpile multiple championships, but when have we seen a player so locked in during a game that he controls his reflexes to the point of submission? Years later, Bryant was asked why he wasn't fazed at all by Barnes' fake aimed right at his nose. "He's crazy," Bryant said. "But he's not that crazy." Guess it takes one to know one. - Dave McMenamin

4: The Time Kobe Passed Up A Shot

Remember how Shaquille O'Neal reveled in Kobe's defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals, popping up in an Internet clip rapping on stage at a nightclub, requesting a backside flavor report from Kobe?

A year later Kobe had the edge, beating the Orlando Magic for his first post-Shaq championship. Shaq took the high road, congratulating Kobe and tweeting out "You played great. Enjoy it my man enjoy it. And I know what yur sayin rt now 'Shaq how my a** taste'."

I showed the tweet to Kobe on his way out of the arena that night and he didn't take the opportunity to twist the knife any deeper. He read it, smiled, shook his head and said, "That boy's crazy." Then he was off into the night to celebrate. - J.A. Adande

5: Kobe's Approach To, Uh, Leadership

This has happened numerous times throughout his career, often behind closed doors. But occasionally, the public is able to see and hear his wrath, such as when he ripped into his fellow Lakers during a December 2014 practice, saying, "You m-----f------ are soft like Charmin in this m-----f-----. God damn, is this the type of s--- that's going on in these practices? Now I see why we've lost 20 f---ing games. We're soft like Charmin. We're soft like s---."

The Lakers won their next game, beating the Spurs in San Antonio, 112-110, in overtime. "We can all criticize my style of leadership all day long," Bryant said after the game. "We really can. We can sit there and it's uncomfortable, whatever you want to say, but I've been doing that since high school, and we play this game to win championships and I have five of them." - Baxter Holmes

6: Kobe Will Compete With Anyone

Even at his peak, Kobe wasn't a high-percentage shooter. That doesn't mean it was ever a smart play to bet against him. When an injured finger kept him out of games during the 2003-04 season it didn't mean he stopped competing. He would try trick shots before games, wagering against any sucker he could find.

He got Elie Seckbach, the self-described "Embedded NBA Correspondent" from Israel, on the hook for 200 pushups by hitting a left-handed shot from halfcourt, then doubled down to make it 400 pushups.

In Miami he bet the Heat ballboys, forcing them to run up and down the arena stairs as a payoff. He seemed to relish these victories as much as winning NBA games.

"Isn't competition great?" Kobe beamed, as a ball boy started running. "It makes everything better." - J.A. Adande

7: The Jordan Issue

Even though he didn't go to college, Kobe arrived in the NBA with a master's degree from the Michael Jordan school of demeanor. At first he was Jordan in every way, from the way he moved to the inflection in his voice. Doug Collins, Jordan's former coach in Chicago, used to comment on the similarities all the time.

As Kobe developed into an adult he also eased into his own distinctive mannerisms. He also came to resent the Jordan comparisons that he used to practically force.

But a few years later he was the one making the link himself in an interview and defending his playing style by invoking Jordan and saying, "There's only two people that did it this way. We shoot first, he and I both. It's a street fight. We take on all five people."

By the next year, Kobe was comfortable enough to engage in long distance verbal battles with Jordan over the Olympic team generations, insisting that the 2012 U.S. Squad could hold its own against Jordan's Dream Team. And he didn't seem too concerned with how Jordan would take it, insisting: "He knows I'm a bad m----------r. I ain't really tripping." - J.A. Adande

8: Kobe ... For The Win!

The raw data suggests Kobe was pretty average when it came time to hit a game-winning shot. He has hit 29 career go-ahead field goals with less than 24 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime. His FG percentage on such shots was 28.2 percent, only slightly better than the league average of 27.5 percent during his career.

But anyone who has a memory or peruses YouTube can find evidence that Kobe could electrify an arena in the closing seconds. In Game 4 of the Western Conference first-round playoffs, his overtime buzzer-beater left the Suns in a 3-1 hole and Jack Nicholson grinning widely.

Another classic came at the expense of Dwyane Wade as the clock expired at Staples Center in December 2009, when Kobe banked in a 3-pointer over Wade to lift the Lakers to a 108-107 victory. Kobe later called it "pure luck." The celebration in L.A. on that day was pure joy.

Perhaps nothing can top what Kobe did in Portland on March 14, 2004. His difficult 3-pointer over Ruben Patterson with 1.1 seconds left to force overtime caused Kobe's nostrils to flare. His buzzer-beating 3 over Theo Ratliff caused a Lakers celebration. Game over. - Justin Hagey

9: Kobe The Facilitator?

When Kobe wanted to -- and only when he wanted to -- his laser focus became a floodlight. An onslaught of three defenders on a drive wasn't a personal obstacle course, but a signal that the court was wide-open for gift-giving. The deliveries were every bit as aggressive as his drives, and every bit the exercise in precision. He often had an open invitation to finish, but opted to whip a pass behind his back to Pau Gasol, to Lamar Odom, to Vladimir Radmanovic ... even to Smush Parker. Kobe the Facilitator fed that energy to his teammates, and then moved on. - Kevin Arnovitz

10: Kobe Bean Buckets

When Kobe caught fire, otherwise forgettable games became unforgettable. Never was that truer than when the Toronto Raptors visited Staples Center on Jan. 22, 2006. As an ESPN oral history makes clear, Kobe's 81-point game was the defining moment of his 20-year career. Kobe calls the game "a testament to the power of imagination," and he's not even exaggerating.

The numbers are ridiculous: Kobe was 28-of-46 from the field, 7-of-13 from 3-point range and 18-of-20 from the free-throw line. The Raptors led by 14 points at the half and 18 points at one point in the third quarter -- but Kobe's 27 points in the third alone put the Lakers ahead. And he just kept getting buckets, scoring 28 more in the fourth quarter to cap a 55-point second half that might never be duplicated.

There were warning signs. A month before his 81-point game, Kobe outscored the Dallas Mavericks 62-61 through three quarters before sitting out the fourth. It would wind up being one of four times Kobe scored in the 60s for a game. During his career he hit the 50s mark 24 times -- including 55 in his final game against Michael Jordan -- and scored in the 40s a whopping 121 times.

Kobe wasn't always an efficient scorer, but when he was on, few players have ever been as dangerous. - Justin Hagey

11: How Kobe Beats L.A. Traffic

Living in Newport Beach when you play for the Lakers doesn't make much geographical sense. The team practices in El Segundo and plays in Downtown Los Angeles, meaning you'd be spending most of your day in your car driving from home to the practice facility and to Staples Center. That is, unless you're Kobe Bryant and make about $25 million annually.

Bryant's seemingly never-ending 45-mile commute in traffic from his home takes only 20 minutes when he takes a private helicopter from John Wayne Airport in Santa to LAX for practices in nearby El Segundo or to a helipad near Staples Center for games. Bryant has said the helicopter rides from his home to practices and games saves him over an hour of travel time so he can spend more time with his wife and two daughters. - Arash Markazi

12: Kobe's Crossover Skills

While Michael Jordan, Anfernee Hardaway and LeBron James have celebrated sneaker lines with Nike, as Allen Iverson did with Reebok and Magic Johnson and Larry Bird did with Converse, Bryant is the preeminent basketball player to lace up best sellers with two brands. The KB8, KB8II and the KOBE from Adidas are still seen on NBA courts to this day, while the Nike Zoom Kobe IV is the shoe widely credited with making low-top basketball sneakers mainstream.

As polarizing as Kobe was as a Laker, he was able to bridge the gap with sneakerheads who notoriously loathe to cross brand lines. - Dave McMenamin

13: Kobe, Tell Us How Your Uni Tastes

Bryant told the L.A. Times back in 2013 that when he chews on his jersey, it isn't just an idiosyncrasy like MJ's tongue wag or Steph's mouth-guard munch, there's a science behind it. "It's disgusting, but my father taught me when your mouth gets dry, just suck the sweat out of your own jersey," he said. "There's no bravado to any of it; it's just a disgusting little trick."

Normally we'd see his jaw clamp down on his jersey in an idle moment - waiting to check into a game, lining up at the free throw line - but every once in a while, Bryant would take a shot with his uniform taut from being stretched up to his teeth. It was kind of like his version of a driver singing along to a Spice Girls song when it comes on the car radio without even realizing it. Strange, but excusable. - Dave McMenamin

14: What's In A Nameplate?

Maybe he doesn't notice it because it's been such a constant. Through all of the changes in his status - from contender to champion, from No. 8 to No. 24 - it has remained in place. It's the nameplate above his stall in the Lakers locker room.

It's been there ever since the Lakers moved to Staples Center in 1999. You can tell it's the original one because the typeface for the other names has changed over the years. "BRYANT" remains pressed in a taller, thinner typeface. He also has the lone stall with a combination lock; all the others are key-only. It's a silent testament to the way he became a fixture in the midst of a transitory league.

Kobe takes great pride in his longevity, so it surprised me when I once asked him about his unique nameplate and he said he doesn't pay any attention to it. - J.A. Adande

15: Even Kobe's Defenders Had A Name

The first player to embrace the title of "Kobe stopper" was Ruben Patterson, a reserve forward for the Portland Trail Blazers in the early aughts. Patterson, a former Lakers teammate of Bryant's during a brief stint in L.A. his rookie season, was given the title by Shawn Kemp when they were teammates together in Portland in 2001-02. At 6-foot-5 and 224 pounds, Patterson had the body type to match Bryant and the requisite competitive fire, but nowhere near the same skill level. There were others whom the media built up to be worthy defensive adversaries: Raja Bell, Bruce Bowen, Shane Battier, Tayshaun Prince and Doug Christie come to mind.

Who does Kobe think could actually stop him? Well, nobody. But if he had to choose someone, it would be Tony Allen, whom Bryant referred to as "the best defender I ever faced" when he presented him with a pair of signed sneakers this season. - Dave McMenamin

16: Kobe Fans!

There were two things that were certain when Bryant got fouled in the act of shooting during the second half of his career -- he would shoot free throws, and he would be showered with MVP chants. It was a slow, melodic chorus with a slight pause between every letter. Bryant, if the mood was right, occasionally bobbed his head to the beat before attempting a free throw.

The chant was a rallying cry by Bryant fans for two seasons while he was the league's scoring champion before he finally won his first and only MVP award in 2008. That's right, a player who became synonymous with the MVP chant at home and on the road during his career retired with only one such trophy to his name. - Arash Markazi

17: Kobe Beef

The Shaq-Kobe feud has its own Wikipedia entry. What more is there to say about it? Like any great rock band, the two suffered through creative differences and a nasty breakup. They seem to have gotten past it in recent years, and Kobe even offered this self-assessment: "I was an idiot." Shaq wasn't Kobe's only soap opera. The Mamba's list of enemies stretch nearly as long as his career. Kobe feuded with teammates Karl Malone, Smush Parker and Dwight Howard at one time or another. But Kobe didn't confine his battles to teammates -- he also squabbled with Ray Allen and, bizarrely, rapper Master P. Kobe's beefs will always be part of his legend. - Justin Hagey

18: Story Time With Kobe

Kobe had unfiltered, humorous and thoughtful media sessions, during which he unspooled long, behind-the-scenes stories (often sprinkling in vitriol here and there) about everything - rivalries with certain teams and players, clashes with teammates and coaches, the physical pain he endured and more. His postgame sessions have lately become "story time with Kobe."

One session that stood out during his farewell season -- and there are many -- came after Kobe's final game in Chicago. He was asked about his former teammate Shaquille O'Neal and whether there was more he could've done to save their relationship. "Yeah, but there was always the challenge of, 'Kobe can't win without Shaq,'" Bryant said. "And so if I would've went my whole career [with him as a teammate], we would've won championships [and] god bless you [media], but you [media] would be saying at the Hall of Fame speech, 'He won with Shaq.' And I don't want to hear that. I don't want to hear it. Because I knew that I had the determination to do it and it was either going to be sink or swim. So at some point, I was going to have to take that challenge. And it was either going to be you [media] would write it or I'm going to write it, but I had to take that challenge." The answer was classic Kobe. - Baxter Holmes

19: 19 And Sure Of Himself

When the Lakers visited Chicago in December 1997, a 19-year-old Kobe came off the bench for 33 points on 12-for-20 shooting in a 104-83 loss to the Bulls. I spoke to him before the game, asking if his goal was to become the league's best player. "Yes," he said. I asked him how far away he was in his mind. "Not even close," he said. Then I asked when he'd know if he got there. Kobe smiled and said, "The whole world will know it." - Justin Hagey

20: The Many Quotes Of Kobe

The many moods of Kobe - combined with his lack of filter - brought us too many memorable quotes to count. But we'll leave you with five for the ages.

Feb. 18, 2015: "I've shot too much from the time I was 8 years old. But 'too much' is a matter of perspective. Some people thought Mozart had too many notes in his compositions. Let me put it this way: I entertain people who say I shoot too much. I find it very interesting. Going back to Mozart, he responded to critics by saying there were neither too many notes or too few. There were as many as necessary."

May 2012: "I don't give a [expletive] what you say. If I go out there and miss game winners, and people say, 'Kobe choked, or Kobe is seven for whatever in pressure situations.' Well, [expletive] you."

January 3, 2013, on why the Lakers looked tired: "'Cause we're old as sh--. What do you want?"

Dec. 14, 2014, on his warm reception for passing Michael Jordan on the all-time scorer list: "I'm used to being the villain, so to have moments like that, like when you're not expecting a hug and you get a hug, you're like, 'Man, this actually feels pretty damn good.'"

June 28, 2015: "Friends can come and go, but banners hang forever."

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