Milan head coach Stefano Pioli revealed he showed his players an interview with the late basketball great Kobe Bryant to try and inspire them to the Scudetto.

The Rossoneri went within one point of clinching the Serie A title with a 2-0 win over Atalanta at San Siro on Sunday thanks to second half goals from Rafael Leao and Theo Hernandez.

Boasting a head-to-head advantage over Inter, the Rossoneri will be confirmed as champions if they avoid defeat when they travel to Sassuolo for their final Serie A match of the season next Sunday.

Inter kept their hopes of retaining their crown alive with a 3-1 victory at Cagliari and take on Sampdoria are home next weekend.

Pioli explained how he is trying to keep the players focused, including showing them words from NBA legend Bryant.

"It's been a year that the fans excite me with their affection," he told DAZN. "How am I living these weeks? In a normal way, because I see the right attitude and the attention you need. And I see my players focused and serene.

"I showed them the interview in which Kobe Bryant said that at 2-0 the work is not finished... and it must also apply to us. We remain focused and determined, there is still a week left. I've forbidden everyone to make plans for tonight."

 

Atalanta kept Milan honest in the contest, having nine shots in the second half as they tried to get back into it, but the leaders stood firm.

"I am very satisfied because we played against a strong team, conceding little," Pioli added. "We were able to find solutions and create spaces.

"My players were good at not losing lucidity and to always believe in them... How do we feel? The [recent 3-1] victory against Verona has given us even more confidence and awareness, every time we try to cover up our defects and enhance our qualities."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was an unused substitute despite the 40-year-old being out of contract at the end of the season, meaning this may have been his last chance to feature in front of the Milan fans, though he has not yet confirmed his intentions.

"I needed other players on the pitch," Pioli clarified. "Zlatan wanted to play but he understood."

Paul George called on the inspiration of his "idol" Kobe Bryant after returning from injury to score 34 points as the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Utah Jazz at the Crypto.com Arena.

George had not played since a win at the Sacramento Kings just before Christmas, missing the last 43 games, but he became the first player in NBA history to score over 30 points on his return to action after having missed his team's previous 30 or more games.

The 31-year-old had suffered a torn ligament in his right elbow, but showed no signs of rustiness as he top-scored for the Clippers in the 121-115 win on Tuesday.

After the game, George credited the late Bryant, who experienced numerous injury layoffs during a highly-decorated career.

"Just having an idol like Kobe Bryant," George said. "He played through stuff like this and I always hold myself to a high standard.

"At the end of the day, when I'm finished I want to look at my career, say I gave everything I had. I wanted to help my guys.

"I didn't want to leave them out here hanging for the rest of the season. I felt good. So you know, it was alright to come back.

"I feel good. There's no pain."

Clippers assistant coach Brian Shaw was involved in George's rehab, giving him running drills that the player acknowledged helped his recovery and prepared him for his return.

"Unnecessary running, but it paid off," a smiling George said. "I trusted him. I've got to shout out to the get ready crew, I've got to shout out those guys for getting me ready to play. They battled. They tested me in practices. And it prepared me for this."

George sank six of his nine three-point attempts against the Jazz, as well as managing six assists and two rebounds.

Head coach Tyronn Lue was understandably pleased to see his star man back on the court, saying post-game: "I was like, 'OK, he's good, he's ready.'

"It's a big morale boost to have him back. Guys were getting worn down and tired. We needed that."

Stephen Curry insists he is the first person to judge how well he played after he put a frustrating January behind him in style on Monday.

Curry had 40 points, five rebounds and nine assists as the Golden State Warriors beat the Houston Rockets 122-108 to claim a sixth straight victory.

Of Curry's points haul, which included seven three-pointers, 21 came in the fourth quarter, the highest total of his career in the final period of a game.

He has now scored 20+ points in a quarter on 37 occasions across his NBA career, surpassing a milestone set by Kobe Bryant for the most of any player in the league since the 1996-97 season.

Curry has now scored 40 points or more six times this season. However, his display in Houston bucked the trend of what had been a poor month.

Prior to Monday's game, Curry had managed to score 30 points just once since the turn of the year.

While Curry acknowledged he has not been at his best, he suggested he also comes in for more criticism due to the high standards he has previously set.

"It's the gift and the curse of the bar that you've set," he told reporters.

"You get all the praise when things are going well and obviously it's something to talk about when I don't meet that level.

"It's not so much the commentary, because when I walk off the court I'm the first one to judge the way that I played.

"I understand when I don't meet that level and try to deal with the frustration when that happens over a consistent period of time."

Yet Curry showed no signs of frustration against the Rockets, turning in a scintillating display as the Warriors clocked up a 38th win of the season.

"You always feel like the next shot is going to start that vibe," he said.

"It's no secret how I've been shooting the ball recently, but the confidence is always there and it only takes one to ignite a night like that."

Curry reeled off five points in quick succession in the fourth quarter to nudge the Warriors clear of Houston, who had moved to within four points.

"We've seen Steph do that a million times," said Warriors coach Steve Kerr.

"It was bound to happen even though it's been a couple of weeks or whatever. Not surprising but fun to see him shake free and have a game like he did."

The Golden State Warriors won a sixth straight game as Stephen Curry returned to form with a 40-point haul in Texas.

Golden State saw off the Houston Rockets 122-108 on Monday, with Curry finishing with 40 points, 21 of which came in the final quarter.

It marked the end of a below-par month for Curry, who had previously had over 30 points on just one occasion since the turn of the year.

Curry has now scored 40 points or more in six games this season. He made seven three-pointers to go along with nine assists and five rebounds.

He has scored 20 points or more in a quarter 37 times in his career, surpassing the late Kobe Bryant for the most by any NBA player since at least 1996-97.

Andrew Wiggins added 23 points for Golden State, while Kevon Looney had 14 rebounds.

Christian Wood offered some resistance for the Rockets with a double-double, but Houston are without a win at home in 11 games.

Sixers do the businesses without Embiid

With Joel Embiid rested, the Philadelphia 76ers nevertheless clinched a fifth straight win as Andre Drummond, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris stepped up against the Memphis Grizzlies.

All-Star Ja Morant had 37 points for Memphis, but it was Maxey (33 points) who snatched a 122-119 victory in overtime with a driving layup.

Drummond had 16 points but amassed a huge 23 rebounds, while Harris also had 31 points, with Desmond Bane's career-high 34 in vain for the Grizzlies.

Heat lose their flame

The Miami Heat lost a second straight game and gave up their place at the top of the Eastern Conference after a 122-92 defeat to the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown led Boston with 29 points, as the Celtics moved to 27-25 for the season after a fourth successive win.

The Cleveland Cavaliers posted a fifth straight home win as they overcame the New Orleans Pelicans 93-90, while Isaiah Jackson had a double-double for the Indiana Pacers in a 122-116 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Jurgen Klopp likened Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane's mindset to that of basketball legend Kobe Bryant as he assured his players will keep attempting to respond to adversity.

Salah netted against Newcastle United in December as he equalled Jamie Vardy's Premier League record of scoring and assisting in 15 consecutive games, but followed that up with blanks against Tottenham and Leicester City in the league.

Liverpool were held 2-2 by Antonio Conte's side before a 1-0 loss to Leicester, in which Salah missed his first penalty in 16 top-flight attempts and headed the subsequent rebound onto the crossbar with the goal gaping.

In the same game at the King Power Stadium, Mane wastefully blasted over a glorious chance with the scores still level, with that miss coming back to haunt Liverpool when Ademola Lookman struck later.

But Reds manager Klopp insisted that neither Salah, nor Mane, will rest on their laurels and feel sorry for themselves as he pinpointed their persistent attitude as a key to their success.

"We don't have a lot of experience of Mo dealing with crisis or whatever, because he doesn't usually have to," Klopp told reporters.

"Missing a penalty is tough, especially after the rebound going against the crossbar, that was unlucky there's no doubt about that.

"But that's it pretty much, they are top-class players who deal constantly with failure. That's how our lives work, even in some of the best games the boys play many situations don't work out.

"And then you deal with it in the game, and that's what you learn as a footballer pretty quickly. Whoever you are, no matter how good you are, often you will constantly fail in a decisive moment.

"None of us have ever succeeded in all difficult situations. It is what it is, I'm not sure but I think Kobe Bryant is still the one player with the most missed situations in the NBA history.

"He is one of the greatest players ever, you have to try it and you have to come in these situations; if you fail, no problem just go again and everything will be fine – that's pretty much the mindset Mo, and Sadio, is in."

Salah has been in fine form this league campaign, recording 15 goals and nine assists in 19 appearances, but the same cannot be said of his frontline partner Mane.

The Senegal international started the 2021-22 term brightly, netting seven times in his opening 12 top-flight outings, but has since struggled – failing to find the net in each of his last seven games.

He is also the worst-performing Liverpool forward in terms of finishing. Mane has underperformed his expected goals (xG) tally of 8.88, which is perhaps best explained by the fact he has only converted 11.86 per cent of chances - Diogo Jota the second-lowest among the same group with (19.23), followed by Salah (19.74).

However, Klopp highlighted the importance of Mane's all-round influence on his Liverpool side as the most important aspect of the forward's work, despite a lean run of form in front of goal.

"Sadio has no problem with confidence, but of course the momentum is not there finishing wise at the moment," he added.

"He has been playing really well, actually my analyst made a video to show Sadio how much he contributes to our game, how good he is in certain moments and situations.

"Obviously, the intention was to show that he should not be worried about the finishing not being there and that he is still an incredibly important player for us.

"As a striker, pretty much of all of them go through these kinds of things – it's happened to Sadio before and I'm positive that he will have some good chances to score again on Sunday.

"He is too important for us to just think about these kinds of things, you have to take these situations from time to time and then after he will be good again – we work on it football-wise, but there's no point talking about it and making it bigger than it needs to be."

Liverpool sit 12 points behind league leaders Manchester City, who edged past Arsenal 2-1 on Saturday, heading into their visit with fellow title contenders Chelsea on Sunday.

Wednesday marks 24 years to the day since the late Kobe Bryant made his NBA debut with the Los Angeles Lakers.

While that first appearance against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the age of 18 was nothing to write home about, Bryant went on to enjoy a legendary career.

He won five NBA championships with the Lakers in the space of a decade and was selected to the All-Star Game 18 times, placing him behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19).

Bryant tragically died in a helicopter crash last year, aged 41, but his legacy will live on for generations.

Here we look back at where it all began for one of sport's most iconic figures and pick out some other statistics from his incredible career.


STEADY IMPACT IN ROOKIE SEASON

The Charlotte Hornets drafted Bryant 13th overall in 1996 and traded him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac.

It was a move that would have a lasting impact on the sport, although it took Bryant a few seasons to really start to make his mark.

He played six minutes off the bench against the Timberwolves on his debut, failing to register a point during his short cameo; he did get a rebound, a block and a steal, though.

That appearance made him the youngest player to feature in NBA, aged 18 years and 72 days old, but he was supplanted by Jermaine O'Neal (18 years, 53 days) the following month. Andrew Bynum (18 years, six days) took the record in 2005.

 

"Rest In Peace to the late, great Kobe Bryant." pic.twitter.com/jmqQMVC2UO

— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 1, 2020 BEHIND ONLY LEBRON

Bryant steadily became more involved and made the All-Rookie second team at the end of his debut campaign.

The Philadelphia-born star scored a combined 613 points in the regular season and playoffs before turning 19, which only LeBron James (625) can better.

One record James could not take from Bryant, though, is for the youngest player in NBA history with at least 20 points in a postseason game.

Aged 18 years and 250 days, Bryant registered 22 points in Game 3 against the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference first-round series.

Bryant averaged 7.6 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 15.5 minutes on the floor during his rookie season.

To put that in some context, James averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists, albeit with far more minutes (39.5).

That is still some way below the levels of Michael Jordan in his breakthrough season, with the Bulls great averaging 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists in his first year in the league.


THE SCARCELY BELIEVABLE STATS

Bryant still went on to carve out a place as one of the greatest players of all time, receiving All-NBA honours in 15 seasons, being named in the first team on 11 occasions. Only James, with 13 appearances in the first team, beats Bryant's total.

He was also named nine times to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, matching the all-time high; Kevin Garnett, Gary Payton and Jordan achieved the same total.

In the 2005-06 season, Bryant recorded his highest points-per-game average for a single campaign, with 35.4. He led the NBA in scoring in that season and in 2006-07.

In January 2006, he scored 81 points in a 122-104 victory over the Toronto Raptors – the second highest individual score in an NBA game, behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks in 1962.

Bryant received his lone NBA MVP award in 2008, having become the youngest player to reach 20,000 career points aged 29 years and 122 days.

In his final game, on April 13, 2016, Bryant scored 60 points for the Lakers in a 101-96 win over the Utah Jazz. A fitting farewell after a phenomenal career.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has explained how the late, great Kobe Bryant made him believe he could become a superstar in the NBA.

Milwaukee Bucks talisman Antetokounmpo led his team to their first NBA title in 50 years on Tuesday, scoring 50 points – the joint-most in the clinching game of a Finals series – in a 105-98 Game 6 win over the Phoenix Suns.

Antetokounmpo's efforts were recognised with the NBA Finals MVP award, adding to his 2020 double of the regular season MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Only Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon have also taken all three individual honours across their careers.

But Antetokounmpo's first MVP recognition in 2019 represented a breakthrough, rising to a challenge set by Bryant.

Replying to an Antetokounmpo message that said he was "still waiting for my challenge" in 2017, Bryant replied on Twitter: "MVP".

The Los Angeles Lakers great – a five-time champion and two-time Finals MVP – then raised the bar further once Antetokounmpo established himself as the regular season's best.

In a Twitter post that was shared by the NBA again on Tuesday, Bryant wrote: "My man....M.V.P. Greatness. Next up: Championship. #MambaMentality"

The league posted at the end of Game 6: "Challenge complete."

Pau Gasol, Bryant's team-mate on the 2009 and 2010 title-winning Lakers teams, added: "He did it, brother #MambaMentality #KobesLegacy"

Antetokounmpo was asked about his 2017 exchange with Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January 2020, in his post-game media duties and explained: "It means a lot. This started almost like a joke at first.

"It was a Nike ad and he was sending challenges to players, to Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan, all of that. And I was like, 'Let me just shoot my shot... what's my challenge?'

"He said MVP, and at first I was joking, I didn't think he was going to respond to me.

"But when he did, he made me believe. Kobe Bryant thinks I can do this? I can play at a higher level, lift my team and win MVP?

"I had to do it. I had to work hard. It's not necessarily that I didn't want to let him down, I had to work because people believed that I could do it.

"That's the thing, I'm a people pleaser. I don't like letting people down.

"When I re-signed with the city of Milwaukee, that's the main reason I re-signed: because I didn't want to let the people down and [have them] think I don't work extremely hard for them, which I do.

"Being able to accomplish those things in this period of time is crazy. It's unreal, freakin' unreal. I can't believe it."

Kobe Bryant's wife Vanessa paid tribute to the late NBA legend Saturday as he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, congratulating him on joining the sport's all-time greats. 

Michael Jordan escorted Vanessa Bryant onto the stage before she stepped to the microphone to speak about how much the moment would have meant to her husband. 

Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other people died in a helicopter crash in California in January 2020. Bryant was 41 years old. 

Vanessa Bryant said she did not prepare a speech for the occasion, since her husband always spoke off the cuff.

"However, I do know that he would thank everyone that helped him get here – including the people that doubted him and the people that worked against him and told him that he couldn’t attain his goals," she said.

"He would thank all of them for motivating him to be here. After all, he proved you wrong."

Bryant went straight from high school to the NBA in 1996, only the sixth player to do so, and spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. 

He made the All-Star team 18 times, was named first-team All-NBA 11 times, and led the Lakers to five NBA championships before retiring following the 2015-16 season. 

Few can match his resume, but Vanessa Bryant said entering the Hall of Fame cemented her husband's place in basketball history. 

"Congratulations, baby. All of your hard work and sacrifices paid off," she said. 

"You once told me, ‘If you’re going to bet on someone, bet on yourself.’ I’m glad you bet on yourself, you overachiever.

"You did it. You’re in the Hall of Fame now. You’re a true champ. You’re not just an MVP, you’re an all-time great.

"I’m so proud of you. I love you forever and always, Kobe Bean Bryant.”

Julius Randle is proud of the way he has followed Kobe Bryant's example with his work ethic to help lead the New York Knicks to fourth in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks beat the Toronto Raptors 120-103 on Saturday to stretch their winning run to nine in a row.

The team have had seven straight losing seasons, missing the playoffs every year since 2012-13, but are now 34-27 and firmly back in contention to make the postseason.

As all season, Randle was the Knicks' standout performer against the Raptors, scoring 31 points to improve his average for the year to 24.0. He also has 10.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game in 2020-21.

This form earned All-Star recognition and could yet see Randle selected to an All-NBA team.

Such a turnaround could hardly have been expected for a player who had averaged 16.1 points per game for his career since he was selected seventh overall in 2014 by Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers superstar's late-career industry rubbed off on Randle, though, with the forward improving this year under Tom Thibodeau, who compared Randle to Knicks great Patrick Ewing.

"That's amazing," Randle said of Thibodeau's comments. "I've actually asked him to talk about that before. He gave me an insight because he saw it first-hand.

"I'm proud of myself for my work ethic. The greats have done it before.

"The guy that I idolised the most and looked up to - which is Kobe - his work ethic was top notch. Nobody was better at putting the time in.

"So, like I say, I'm proud of myself for my work ethic in terms of how I prepare myself to get ready for a season, how I prepare myself to get ready for games."

Thibodeau said: "It always starts with your best players. If they work like that, it sets the tone for the team.

"[Randle] is relentless. It's not an accident that he's having the type of season that he’s having.

"His commitment, I could see it from the first day I met him, just looking at the type of conditioning he had, how committed he was to turning this thing around.

"I can recall back in the '90s, when I first arrived here as an assistant, the thing that blew me away was Patrick Ewing, every morning in the offseason, he was the first guy in the building, worked like crazy, got himself ready, and the rest of the team did the same.

"I think that's leadership. It's not what you say, it's what you do. When you see an example like that, it gives you confidence and gives the team confidence."

This is now the Knicks' longest sequence of wins since 13 straight across March and April 2013, yet Randle is not content.

"We're peaking, but we can still get a lot better," he said.

"Offensively we're playing well, but defensively, for a full 48 minutes, I feel like we can be a lot better."

Kobe Bryant once called Michael Jordan the ideal candidate to present him into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The late, great Los Angeles Lakers legend will get his wish.

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame announced its list of presenters for the 2020 class on Thursday, with Jordan named to present Bryant in a fitting posthumous tribute.

The induction ceremony, delayed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, will take place on May 15 in Uncasville, Connecticut. Bryant was selected for induction as a first-year eligible in November, 10 months after he and his daughter, Gianna, died in a helicopter crash in California.

Bryant called Jordan among his biggest influences during his 20-year playing career in which he compiled the fourth-highest points total in NBA history and led the Lakers to five championships, one less than his idol won with the Chicago Bulls. When asked by Complex magazine in a 2017 interview who he would want to enshrine him into the Hall of Fame, the 18-time All-Star quickly mentioned both Jordan and his former Lakers coach, Phil Jackson.

Though their playing careers only overlapped by four years, Jordan and Bryant developed a lasting friendship that was evident when Jordan gave an emotional speech during Bryant's memorial service in February 2020.

Jordan will also be presenting Baylor women's coach Kim Mulkey during next month's ceremonies, while several other of his Hall of Fame contemporaries will be part of the festivities.

Some of the other notable presenters include David Robinson, who will induct former San Antonio Spurs team-mate Tim Duncan. Isiah Thomas will present Kevin Garnett, while Hakeem Olajuwon will be the co-presenter for his former Houston Rockets coach, Rudy Tomjanovich, along with Rockets great Calvin Murphy.

The full class of 2020 inductees consists of Bryant, Mulkey, Duncan, Garnett, Tomjanovich, long-time FIBA executive Patrick Baumann, former WNBA star Tamika Catchings, former Division II national champion coach Barbara Stevens and ex-college coach Eddie Sutton.

Milwaukee Bucks star and two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said he is not Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant after making history with a third consecutive triple-double.

Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to their fourth consecutive victory on Monday, Milwaukee topping the lowly Washington Wizards 133-122.

He had 31 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a dominant display on the road in Washington to become the first Bucks player with three successive triple-doubles.

Antetokounmpo also became the first reigning MVP with three consecutive 20-point triple-doubles since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan in 1988-89, per Stats Perform.

"I don't do that, I'm not Kobe," Antetokounmpo told reporters after being asked when he knew to take control of a game during the closing stages – the Bucks saw a 26-point lead cut to seven in the final minutes before Antetokounmpo scored the next four points to stop the rallying Wizards.

"I just try to be a basketball player. I don't look at the clock and say, 'Oh now we are up two or we're down two, let me take over the game.'

"No, I just make the right decision at the right moment. Sometimes it's going to be score, sometimes it's going to be pass."

Since 1983, only three players have had more games with 31 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists – Russell Westbrook (five), Larry Bird (five) and Luka Doncic (four).

Antetokounmpo (seven) also surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) with the most 30-point triple-doubles in franchise history.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer added: "He's been in a good place mentally.

"The way he's playing and creating for others and creating for himself and getting to the free throw line, he's in a good place. He's playing great basketball."

“Thank you, God for allowing me to enjoy Kobe Bryant for 20 years as a great basketball player, athlete, husband, father, philanthropist, mentor and teacher of the game to many men and women of all ages, best friend of Rob Pelinka, and brother to Jeanie Buss. He will always by my Lakers brother for life. Laker Nation we will always remember the brilliance, the legend, the Mamba mentality of #8/#24.”

Those were the words posted on Facebook on Tuesday by Los Angeles Laker legend Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson on the one-year anniversary of the tragic death of Kobe and Gianna Bryant and several others in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on Sunday, January 26, 2020.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was sitting on my bed having a chat with my wife when the ‘breaking news’ alert popped up on my phone. Suddenly social media came alive. My wife’s alerts began to go crazy. I turned to Google and there it was, the beginning of a nightmare for fans of the Lakers and basketball fans across the world.

It was Magic, who reminded me that a year had passed; a year when the tears spilt uncontrollably from my eyes and the hurt of my sister’s passing a month earlier and Kobe’s tragic death became too much to bear.

It was Magic who brought me to basketball and then the Lakers.

Back then, in the late 70s, there was no cable but we had sports magazines and newspapers and in them, I developed a passing interest in college basketball and to a certain Earvin Johnson, who had just won the 1978 NCAA title for Michigan State University.

“The Magic Show,” said the headline of the Sports Illustrated magazine. The story inside made me a fan of Magic.

It was the start of what I came to see as the enduring rivalry between Magic and Celtic great Larry Bird, who representing Indiana State had gone up against Johnson in that historic NCAA final.

“While Earvin directed a balanced offence, and the defence deterred Larry Bird, Michigan State won the NCAAs. Magic, who scored 24 points in that final, declared for the NBA draft and became a Laker as the number one pick, the following year.

Bird was the sixth pick for the Celtics, the year before.

With Magic at the Lakers and Bird at the hated Celtics, the 1980s was a dream for me, the newly minted basketball fan of the NBA. Back then, the NBA wasn’t a big deal for my schoolmates, who were more interested in English League football and the FIFA World Cup.

The Lakers won five championships in the 1980s, the last of them coming in 1988 when they squeezed by the Detroit Pistons 4-3. In 1989, the Bad Boys of Detroit thrashed the Lakers 4-0 to win the title that year. They were then humbled 4-1 by the Bulls in 1991 in what marked the beginning of the Jordan era.

I drifted away from the NBA then, tired of the over-glorification of Michael Jordan and the corresponding failed experiment of Nick van Exel and Eddie Jones. The Lakers got so bad that I considered never watching the NBA ever again.

Five years passed and then news began circulating that the Lakers had acquired this teenager from Charlotte by the name of Kobe Bryant.

Magic Johnson revealed in an interview that Jerry West, ‘The Logo”, the Lakers great who suited up for the franchise between 1960 and 1974, that they had just signed the next Lakers super star. West, who was General Manager in Los Angeles at the time, had an eye for talent and he was sure that this kid, who spent a few years living in Italy, was the one.

So, it was Kobe that brought me back to the NBA.

My first impression of Kobe was that he was not very convincing. Yes, he was wet behind the ears but the incredible talent West had touted looked like a wannabe more than anything else.

A year later, I saw something that made me start to believe. It wasn’t a game-winning performance but if you were really paying attention, it was quite stark, and it came in the playoffs against the Utah Jazz.

Don Yeager writing for Forbes recalls:

“If you don’t know the story of that game, it was a pivotal moment in Kobe’s career. Most people remember it because of how spectacularly bad Kobe was that night: 4 for 14 from the floor (0 for 6 from three-point range),” he wrote.

“Now, the only reason he saw extended minutes was due to a cavalcade of Laker misfortune—Bryan Scott missed the game with a sprained wrist, Robert Horry was ejected, and Shaquille O’Neal fouled out with under two minutes left in the game.

After averaging around 15 minutes per game during the regular season, suddenly, the game belonged to Kobe.

He promptly launched four airballs in the game’s closing minutes.

After the game, as a bunch of reporters gathered around his locker, I remember several people questioning his unconscionable shooting. After all, it’s embarrassing enough to shoot one airball as a pro, much less two. But four? As your team let a must-have game slip away with each of your misses?

We all wondered how he would defend himself.

“I had some good looks,” he said. “I just didn’t hit the shots.”

That was it. He said it without a hint of regret or self-doubt; it sounded like something a decades-old veteran would say, a matter-of-fact statement about the sometimes fickle nature of the game. What he was saying, in effect, was ‘this is a chapter I have to get through in order to write a book worth reading.’

Michael Jordan would later remark that Kobe was the only one on that Laker team brave enough to take the shots.

Fast forward three years and Kobe would win the first of three consecutive titles and begin cementing his legacy as a Laker great.

Getting out of the West back then was so much harder than winning the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Lakers had to overcome stern challenges from the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trailblazers and San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals.

I remember Kobe taking over the third quarters of the series against the Tim Duncan-led Spurs. I remember how he and Shaq battled back from 15 points down in a must-win game against Portland. It was nail-biting stuff but watching Kobe and Shaq rising to the occasion in the face of elimination was the stuff of legend.

Two more titles in 2009 and 2010, ensured that Bryant would go down as one of, if not the greatest Laker ever but it came with a series of challenges that would have broken lesser players. It was one of the characteristics that made Kobe great. He thrived when facing challenges.

I remember exactly where I was when the Lakers defeated a talented Boston Celtics team with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Rasheed Wallace to win their fifth title of the decade. In a way, it mirrored the beginning of my connection with the Lakers versus the Celtics.

“Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise,” Kobe once said.

“The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do. Winning takes precedence overall.”

You could argue that this mentality is what go him scoring 40 points a game each time he came back from a trial date regarding those rape allegations in 2003, a time when I was certain he was going to be jailed for a long time, but he survived that too.

He then went on to rescue his marriage to Vanessa and became a model dad to his girls.

That is the same mentality he displayed when nursing a bad knee, he scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in a 122 to 104 victory. Bryant shot better than 50 per cent in the game in which the Raptors led by 14.

Only another Laker, Wilt Chamberlain has ever scored more in an NBA game.

And who can forget his final game for LA, 60 points in April 2016 to put the cap on a magnificent career during which he scored 33,643 points, won five titles, was a two-time NBA finals MVP (should have been three), and was an 18-time All-Star.

Walking away from a successful career and being recognized as an all-time great would have been enough for most players, but that was only just the beginning for the Mamba, who would go on to coach his daughter Gianna who became one of the best age-group players in the USA, win an Oscar and a Grammy Award.

One wonders what other wonders he would have delivered had lived. Why it is so painful is that we know he was going to do even greater things off the court but we will never see what those greater things are.

How good a coach would he have been for Gianna? How much better a dad would he have become? How much better a human being would he have evolved into.

I don’t know. I don’t have the words so I resolve to borrow from Jamie Foxx to express how it feels that Kobe Bryant is no longer with us one year on.

“I know God doesn’t make mistakes but this one leaves me numb still. After a year it’s still hard to wrap my mind around this. Rest in Power. You and your precious little one will forever be remembered and cherished in our hearts and minds.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trae Young paid a personal tribute to mark the one-year anniversary of Kobe Bryant's death as the Atlanta Hawks put paid to the Los Angeles Clippers' winning streak. 

Young excelled in the second half to finish with 38 points to help the Hawks triumph 108-99 on Tuesday, handing the short-handed Clippers their first loss in eight games.

After hitting a three-point shot late in the fourth quarter, the Atlanta guard made a 24 gesture in reference to one of the two jersey numbers Bryant made famous during his illustrious career with the Los Angeles Lakers. 

"One thing I think about with Kobe is big shots, being able to close out games and hit big shots at big moments," Young told the media. 

"For me, late in the game, that was a big shot for our team - and the first thing I thought of."

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among those to lose their lives in a helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles on January 26, 2020.

His legacy lives on, however, as the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five titles remains an example for others, including Young. 

"The thing that I would probably take away the most is that he stuck to his values throughout everything, whether that was in his playing days or after," he replied when asked about Bryant.

"He was the same type of person, he attacked everything he wanted and worked hard for it. That's something that I take away, for me, the way he was a role model for so many athletes and so many players.  

"The impact he had is something I want to have as well."

De'Andre Hunter had 22 points while Clint Capela contributed 13 points and 19 rebounds on his return from injury, much to the delight of the limited number of fans who were inside State Farm Arena.

"It is definitely better for our team to have fans in the arena, knowing they're keeping it as safe as they can," Young said, with approximately 1,300 season-ticket holders allowed in to watch proceedings amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"For us, it's just about using that to our advantage. Me, I like putting on a show, so the more fans in there the more fun it is for me. I know our guys enjoyed the fans being in there."

The Clippers led at half-time but, without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George due to health and safety protocols, were unable to keep pace. Patrick Beverley also missed the game with a knee issue.

Kobe Bryant was a man whose influence reached far further than the basketball court, though his extraordinary numbers in the NBA are what made him such a legendary figure.

The Los Angeles Lakers hero was tragically killed in a helicopter crash at the age of 41 on this day in 2020.

It was an event which led to an outpouring of tributes for one of the all-time greats.

"I don't think any of us will ever forget that day," Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, reflecting on when his team were starting a practice as the tragic news broke.

"Everything stopped. The music stopped. The players stopped. Nobody said a word.

"A lot of guys dropped to the floor and started crying. Nothing happened for 10 minutes. We all just sat there in silence. It was one of the worst moments of all our lives."

Bryant's list of achievements over a 20-year career with the Lakers are the stuff of legend and his numbers stack up against the best to have played the game.

Here we take a look at Bryant's scarcely believable statistics with the help of Stats Perform data.

 

5 - Bryant won the NBA championship five times with the Lakers, in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010.

2 - He was twice named MVP in the NBA Finals, in 2009 and 2010.

18 - Bryant was a fixture in the NBA All-Star team, named to that side in 1998 and then each year from 2000 to 2016, the year that he retired. Those 18 appearances put him second on the all-time list, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing in 19 of the games.

4 - Bryant was four times the NBA All-Star Game MVP, in 2002, 2007, 2009 and 2011.

1 - He received his lone NBA MVP award for the 2007-08 season, during which he became the youngest player to reach 20,000 career points, at the age of 29 years and 122 days.

33,643 - He sits fourth on the NBA all-time list of points-scorers with 33,643 from 1,346 games. Only Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and LeBron James are ahead of him on the list.

35.4 - In the 2005-06 season, Bryant recorded his highest points-per-game average for a single campaign, with 35.4. He led the NBA in scoring in that season and in 2006-07.

81 - On January 22, 2006, Bryant scored 81 points in a 122-104 victory over the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center. That is the second highest individual score in an NBA game, behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100 for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks in 1962.

60  - In his final game, on April 13, 2016, Bryant scored 60 points for the Lakers in a 101-96 win over the Utah Jazz.

15 - Bryant received All-NBA honours in 15 seasons, being named in the first team on 11 occasions. Only LeBron, with 13 appearances in the first team, beats Bryant's total.

9 - He was named nine times to the NBA All-Defense first team, matching the all-time high. Kevin Garnett, Michael Jordan and Gary Payton achieved the same total.

17 - Bryant was an NBA player of the month 17 times, and 32 times the player of the week.

2 - Bryant's success was not limited to NBA action either. He won Olympic gold medals with the United States in 2008 and 2012.

1 - He won an Oscar too, after his playing career ended, landing the Best Animated Short Film prize at the 2018 Academy Awards for Dear Basketball.

It was something only Kobe Bryant could have done.

At the end of an illustrious 20-year career that included five NBA championship wins, 18 All-Star selections and All-NBA First Team honours on 11 occasions, Bryant said farewell to the Los Angeles Lakers with a Hollywood ending.

He produced one of the most memorable final appearances the league has seen against the Utah Jazz on April 13, 2016.

On the anniversary of his death alongside 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash, we look back at one of the finest moments of his career.

POINTING THE WAY

After Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea's bizarre rendition of the United States' national anthem, the 18,997 fans inside Staples Center were treated to something far more familiar.

Bryant racked up 60 points against the Jazz, which was the most scored by a player in a single game in the NBA that season. However, it was the first time he had gone past 50 since 2009, when he poured in 61 against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Bryant was 6-of-21 from three-point range and had plenty of joy in the paint, where he accumulated 22 points. He scored a total of 16 unassisted points, with his final seven baskets coming via his own work.

SHOOT YOUR SHOT

If you don't shoot you don't score, and Bryant did his utmost to get points on the board. His 50 field goal attempts eclipsed the record of 49 set by the great Michael Jordan against the Orlando Magic in 1993. The 2008 MVP took 15 more shots than the rest of his team-mates combined.

Bryant nailed 18 of 40 shots with a defender within 3.5 feet against the Jazz and despite his record-breaking number of attempts he still took care of the ball, committing just two turnovers.

SLOW START, STRONG FINISH

It was not immediately clear the game was going to go so well for Bryant. He missed his first five shots and did not have a make until after the first six minutes of the game.

However, he eventually found his rhythm and was flying by the time the fourth quarter came around, scoring 13 unanswered points after the Jazz moved 96-86 ahead with two minutes and 35 seconds remaining.

His final act was a length-of-the-floor pass to Jordan Clarkson – his fourth assist of the game – for a dunk to seal an iconic 101-96 victory that underlined his legacy as an all-time great.

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