If you were going to try to rank all of Kobe Bryant’s best shots from his amazing 17 years in the NBA, it would be a massive undertaking that would last weeks to get through them all and sort them in order of degree of difficulty, overall meaning, or importance.
As recently as this past season, Bryant had a memorable array of them in a single come-from-behind, overtime win over the Raptors — a game I happened to be fortunate enough to witness in person.
Bryant’s ultimate legacy will be many things, but making extremely challenging shots in the game’s biggest moments will definitely be near the top of that list.
It may be surprising, then, to learn that Bryant himself has a mere pair of free throws in a regular season game ranked as high as any on his own personal career ledger.
In the game where Bryant suffered a season-ending injury to his Achilles tendon, it was the 79th on the 82-game schedule, and the Lakers were furiously trying to complete their late-season run in order to sneak into the playoffs. When Bryant went down with 3:08 to play against the Golden State Warriors, his team was trailing by two, and Bryant was headed to the line for two free throw attempts.
Most players would have begged out of the game, realizing the severity of the injury that had just occurred. Bryant knew what had happened, but willed himself to the line anyway to calmly sink both shots. The importance of a season’s worth of hard work, along with not wanting to let his teammates down, was the motivation for the incredible accomplishment.
On tearing his Achilles tendon against Golden State …
“I haven’t watched it, but just being in the moment, I knew what happened. I knew that was it. I was done. Walking back to the bench, I tried to figure out where I could put pressure on my foot to try to minimize the pain and just try to get through the these last two minutes of the game. I tried walking on my heel and I felt like that was going to work, believe it or not, for a little bit and then it kind of just feels like the tendon in your Achilles is just rolling up your calf and I thought, ‘You know what? Probably not a good idea, but I got to shoot these two free throws.’ These last two minutes, whatever it is left, all this work that we’ve done to get to this point, I got to step up and knock these down.”
On where those free throws rank with the best shots of his career …
“I’d say in terms of a moment, it’s right up there at the top because of what we went through as a team — all the injuries we went through as a team. For me, I just felt like, just go up there and make them. You can’t let your team down. If you’re going to shoot them, you better make sure you make them. That’s where my focus was. And my teammates, I don’t think any of them really knew how severe it was. I looked at Steve. I think Steve was the one who committed the foul and I just looked at him like, ‘Dude, that’s it. I’m done.’”
Free throws might not be that glamorous, especially considering the multitude of insane shots we’ve seen Bryant get to go through the net over the years.
But given the entirety of the situation — with the game and a potential trip to the playoffs on the line, as well as the pain and limitations associated with the type of injury that had just taken place — it’s easy to see why Bryant holds those two unguarded shots he made in such high regard.