It goes without saying that Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players of all time. His impact on and off the court and his influence in the previous, current, and next generation of NBA superstars can be felt every time the ball bounces on the hardwood.
But, like many former greats of the game, Kobe had to earn his stripes. He was called out, criticized, cursed out, you name it, but he never backed down or hesitated to demonstrate the world that he was a different breed, especially when things went south.
Kobe won 5 NBA Championships throughout his illustrious career. He dominated every aspect of the game and never stopped working on his craft and today, we’re going to honor him by talking about and breaking down his first and last ring.
Kobe Bryant’s First Ring
It’s pretty safe to state that Shaquille O’Neal was the main guy at Staples Center during the 1999-00 season. The Lakers had hired Phil Jackson to try and replicate his success with the Chicago Bulls in Hollywood and it didn’t take long before the Zen Master delivered.
With a prime Shaquille O’Neal anchoring the paint, Kobe and the Lakers finished with a league-best 67-15 record. Kobe was an up-and-coming star on his fourth season in the league and averaged a career-high 22.5 points per game to compliment Shaq’s 29.7
The Lakers had quite a tough path to the 1999-00 NBA Finals. First, they got past the Sacramento Kings in 5 games, then beat the Phoenix Suns 4-1, and eventually took the Portland Trail Blazers down in an epic 7-game series. Then, it was time to face Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers.
Shaquille O’Neal had already been to the Finals but couldn’t get past Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets. This time, he wasn’t going to be denied, and he averaged 38.0 points, 16.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals, and 2.7 blocks per game on 61.1% shooting.
Kobe was way more modest with averages of 15.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.4 blocks, and 1.0 steals per game on 36.7% shooting but made some huge plays down the stretch. Obviously, Shaq was the well-deserved Finals MVP.
Kobe Bryant’s Last Ring
A lot of things happened between Kobe’s first and last ring. Shaq left the Lakers after the three-peat and the Lakers struggled to compete at the highest level without him, even though Bryant stepped up as arguably the most unstoppable scorer the league had seen since Michael Jordan.
It took him four years to go back to the NBA Finals but the Boston Celtics got the best of him. Then, in the most Kobe Bryant fashion, his never-ending drive and grit made him work even harder, taking the franchise to the Finals the very next year.
Kobe and the Lakers beat the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic in 2009 but, as you may know by now, Bryant was far from satisfied. Somehow, someway, he got even better next season as he vowed to win his second three-peat, just like Jordan did.
The 31-year-old Black Mamba averaged 27.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.5 steals per game on 48.8% from the floor to lead the Lakers to a 57-25 record. They got past the Oklahoma City Thunder in 6 games, then swept the Utah Jazz, and later took down the Phoenix Suns in 6 games.
Then, Kobe had the ultimate shot at glory and revenge. He faced the same Boston Celtics team that beat him in 2008 and was at his best with averages of 28.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.7 blocks, and 2.1 steals per game on 40.5% from the floor, beating them in 7 games instant-classic and earning the Finals MVP honors for the second time on his career.