Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals was Kobe Bryant introducing himself to the world. Bryant missed most of game 2 and all of game 3 due to an ankle injury. But when Shaq fouled out with 2:23 remaining in OT, a 21-year-old Kobe put the Lakers on his back, scoring 8 points and securing a win without the league MVP.
That game vs. the Pacers cemented Kobe as one of the truly clutch players in the NBA. Sure, Kobe missed some last minutes shots, but he delivered when it mattered the most, both in the NBA and on the international scale.
His biggest international clutch moment came in the 2008 Olympics when Team USA has been put to the test. After winning their first seven games by an average margin of 30 points, the USA faced Spain in the finals of the tournament. Pau Gasol’s Spain seriously challenged the greatest collection of basketball talent at the time.
With 6:04 left on the clock, team USA was up by only 6 points. That’s when the Kobe show started. First, he hit the corner three, making it a nine-point game. However, Spain wasn’t going to go away, and with 3:10 left, they were only down five. Once Again, Mamba took over, hitting the most iconic shot of the tournament. He got the ball on the left-wing, jab stepped, and hit a four-point-play, shushing the Beijing crowd and drawing Rudy Fernandez’s fifth foul, making him sit out the rest of the game.
That was the decisive moment of the whole game. Spain closed the margin back to 6 points, but Kobe delivered once again, hitting a floater with 1:10 left on the clock. Dwyane Wade led the team in scoring with 27 points, but none of them were important as Kobe’s late-game buckets. He finished the game with 20 points, justifying himself as the leader of the group.
“That was the most pressure I’ve ever felt in international competition, and in that timeout, Kobe and the rest of these guys — but especially Kobe — said, ‘We got it.’ We didn’t even run a play. We got accustomed to just believing in one another. Kobe made a couple of plays, and all of a sudden, we won.”Coach K
Coach K knew, and the rest of the team knew who the leader was. A team with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony had no doubt who should take over in the fourth. When it mattered most, all eyes were on number 10 and he delivered. Kobe’s clutch numbers may not portray him as the most clutch player ever. But he was never afraid of the moment, even on the brightest stages.