Kobe Bryant is known for his “Black Mamba” mentality, and perhaps that was most on display on March 7, 2010.
Usually, routine under-the-basket inbounds play in the third quarter of a regular-season NBA game wouldn’t make “SportsCenter.” Usually, the in-bounder passes the ball to a teammate and the flow of the game continues.
Bryant was playing against the Magic that night, and in the third quarter, Orlando’s Matt Barnes attempted to make Kobe flinch on an inbounds pass. He faked throwing the ball right in his face, and Bryant didn’t move — at all. Most people only know about this moment from the game, but this was just a small part of the battle between Barnes and Bryant that was going on all game long.
Bryant and Barnes continuously traded elbows and were each hit with a technical foul in the third quarter after going chest-to-chest in a verbal spat. Barnes had a put-back dunk a few plays later and dangled his legs on Bryant, who extended his right arm slightly into his opponent’s chest, leading to another confrontation
As for the inbounds play, both players offered their sides in the years that followed.
“Kobe Bryant, that’s the play of the game! He didn’t even flinch!” exalted ESPN commentator Jeff van Gundy, his excited voice cracking.
Initially, Barnes didn’t know that Bryant hadn’t flinched, but once he saw it, he realized the enormity of what had transpired.
“That scared me a little. I mean, that wasn’t even human,” Barnes later told Sports Illustrated in a May 2010 profile of Bryant. “And then I saw the replay, and I was like, this close to him, and he didn’t flinch. I didn’t know what I expected, maybe something to happen, but he didn’t flinch.”
The Magic ended up winning that game, 96-94. Bryant had a game-high 34 points with Barnes scoring 10.