The sports world is stunned by the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant. The five-time NBA champion was killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, six other passengers, and the pilot.
Bryant was a controversial figure earlier in his career, but he evolved into being an ambassador of the game and one of the NBA's all-time greatest players. Here are the 10 greatest moments he experienced on the court.
1. The Alley-Oop in Game 7 (June 4, 2000)
The Los Angeles Lakers made their first NBA Finals of the Kobe/Shaq era after beating the Portland Trailblazers in seven games. The Lakers clinched the win and the series thanks to this alley-oop pass from Bryant to Shaquille O'Neal and went on to win their first NBA title.
2. Threepeat (June 12, 2002)
The Kobe/Shaq Lakers swept the New Jersey Nets to win their third straight NBA title. The win made them one of five NBA teams to accomplish the feat and the last one to do so.
3. 62 Points in Three Quarters (Dec. 20, 2005)
Bryant scored 62 points in three quarters in a 112-90 win over the Dallas Mavericks in a rout so big that he sat out the fourth. In fact, Bryant had outscored the entire Mavericks team 62-61 going into the fourth quarter. That's the only time in NBA history that this has happened since the introduction of the shot clock.
4. The 81-Point Game (Jan. 22, 2006)
Bryant's greatest performance arguably came later in the 2005-06 season when he scored 81 points in a 122-104 win against the Toronto Raptors. It was the second-highest scoring total in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962, when the Philadelphia Warriors beat the New York Knicks 169-147. Given the difference in the pace and competitiveness of the game today, one could argue that Bryant's performance was better than Chamberlain's.
5. Olympic Gold (Aug.24, 2008)
After the U.S. won a Bronze Medal in 2004, Bryant, LeBron James, and other NBA superstars announced a commitment to winning a Gold medal in Beijing in 2008. They delivered, beating Spain 118-107 in the Gold Medal round. Bryant went on to win another Gold in London in 2012.
6. Back-to-Back Titles (June 17, 2010)
Shaquille O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004 and the Lakers struggled for a few years in his absence. However, they returned to form, winning titles in 2009 and '10. Bryant was the leading scorer with 23 points in an 83-79 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals and won his fifth and final championship.
7. The Free Throws After Tearing His Achilles Tendon (April 12, 2013)
Bryant battled injuries in the final years of his career, but perhaps the gutsiest moment during that period came when he tore his Achilles tendon late in the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors. Because he was fouled, he limped to the line and hit two free throws before leaving the game. The shots proved to be the difference in a 118-116 win.
8. Passing Michael Jordan (Dec. 14, 2014)
With 26 points in a 100-94 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Bryant surpassed Michael Jordan on the NBA's all-time scoring list. His 33,643 points are fourth behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, and LeBron James.
9. 60 Points in His Final Game (April 13, 2016)
Bryant announced in fall 2015 that he would be retiring at the end of the season. He finished in style, scoring 60 points in his final game, a 101-96 victory over the Utah Jazz. Then he gave one of the most memorable farewell speeches in NBA history.
10. Retiring Two Jerseys (Dec. 28, 2017)
Magic Johnson recently called Bryant the "greatest Laker of all-time" and in 2017, the franchise gave him a very unique honor. Since he had worn two jerseys during his career, No. 8 and No. 24, the Lakers retired both of them. It was a true testament to what he meant to the franchise.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)