Lakers: The day Kobe Bryant arrived as a superstar

Lakers. Mandatory Credit: Ezra O. Shaw /Allsport
Lakers. Mandatory Credit: Ezra O. Shaw /Allsport /

Kobe Bryant may have debuted as a rookie for the Lakers in October of 1996 but the day he officially arrived as an NBA superstar was June 13th, 2000.

During the 1999-2000 NBA season the Lakers now coached by Phil Jackson and led by MVP Shaquille O’Neal had finally fulfilled their potential accumulating the best record in basketball going 67-15.

During that season Bryant had come into his own clearly becoming the second superstar on the team. Bryant upped his scoring from 19.9 to 22.5 taking on more of the offensive load taking nearly 20 field goal attempts per game.

For his efforts, Bryant was named to the All-NBA 2nd Team and named to the All-Defensive 1st team for the first time.

During the playoffs, the Lakers as a team struggled to dominate to the same extent as the regular season having to face both the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers in winner-take-all elimination games.

Despite the Lakers struggles, Bryant maintained his same level of consistency scoring 22.8 points through the playoffs leading to the NBA Finals. During the run, Kobe had his moments sinking a last game-winning shot to win Game Two of the Western Conference Semi-finals against the Phoenix Suns. In Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers, Bryant nearly recorded a triple-double scoring 25 points grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing out seven assists helping the Lakers overcome a 15-point deficit getting the Lakers to their first Finals since 1991.

The Lakers were favored to defeat the Indiana Pacers in the 2000 Finals but things took a turn for the worse in Game Two. With the Lakers leading the series 1-0 Bryant went down with a severe ankle injury after just nine minutes in the first quarter.

Bryant missed the rest of Game Two, which the Lakers ultimately won but Bryant also missed Game Three in Indiana where the Lakers lost. With the crucial Game Four looming there was a question if Bryant would be healthy to play or if he could effectively contribute on the court.

Bryant dispelled all the mystery suiting up for Game Four scoring 28 points on 51% shooting percentage. The game turned into a back and forth affair and ultimately went to overtime. This is where Bryant truly shined.

After making his first shot in overtime Bryant rose to the moment when O’Neal fouled out with the Lakers up three points and 2 minutes left in the game. Over the next two minutes, with the poise of a seasoned veteran Bryant made two 20 foot jump shots to maintain the Lakers lead.

With the Lakers only up by one and 28 seconds left in the game the Lakers had possession of the ball and needed to make a shot in order to put the game away. Brian Shaw let the 24-second shot clock wind down before taking a shot, when the ball rimmed off to the side Bryant flew in unimpeded to tip in the miss to give the Lakers a three-point lead with just five seconds left.

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A futile late attempt by the Pacers failed and the Lakers had gone from trouble when O’Neal fouled out to a 3-1 series lead with Bryant leading the team. The Lakers would clinch their NBA title two games later ushering in a new dynasty.

At 21 years old Bryant had his coming-out party for the NBA to see a glimpse of his future Hall of Fame career.