It’s Game 5 of the 1997 Western Conference Semifinals, and the Los Angeles Lakers are in a close battle with the Utah Jazz. With the game tied at 89 apiece with 10 seconds remaining in regulation, an 18-year-old rookie from Lower Merion High School took matters into his own hands in an attempt to take a potential game-winning shot.
That rookie was Kobe Bryant.
Unfortunately, that decision cost Los Angeles the game (and the series), as Bryant shot four airballs en route to the Lakers’ 98-93 overtime loss to the Jazz.
With his rookie season ending in humiliation as the team returned to Los Angeles that same night, Bryant responded to the moment by working on his shot until the sun came up, and spent the rest of his offseason duplicating that routine every day.
Nearly 23 years later, and three days after his untimely death, there is not a team in this league who has avoided the vengeance of Bryant that originated on that cold night inside the Delta Center in Salt Lake City.
To celebrate the life and basketball legacy of Kobe Bryant, here is a look back at some of his best moments against the Houston Rockets.
God, I can't believe my boy Kobe is gone. May you and your baby girl forever rest in peace.— Coty Davis (@CotyDavis_24) January 28, 2020
I love you Kobe. pic.twitter.com/Jv2vJWcQEj
Honorable Mention: Kobe’s final Kodak Moment
Kobe Bryant has had a lot of memorable performances against the Rockets, and this game is on the tail end of the spectrum. On a night where he recorded 22 points (9-16 FG) and eight rebounds in a 107-87 loss to the Rockets, this game became significant as it features Bryant’s final posterization of his career.
In the midst of scoring 10-points in the third quarter, Bryant drove past Trevor Ariza to complete a one-handed slam over the top of the second-year center, Clint Capela.
Much like his performance against the Rockets on this night, the dunk over the top of Capela is far from Bryant’s most legendary posters. But at 37-years-old on the brink of retirement, Bryant added one more astonishing dunk to his everlasting highlight reel.
Outplaying the Great Wall
Ten years earlier during the 2006 season, Bryant was having arguably the best year of his pro career. As a result of scoring 62 points in three quarters and 81 points a few weeks later, Bryant was in the midst of becoming the first player to average over 35.0 points for an entire season since Michael Jordan accomplished the feat in 1988.
Most importantly, he was on the verge of leading the Lakers to their first playoff appearance since the departure of Shaquille O’Neal during the summer of 2004. While trying to improve their playoff position on a Sunday afternoon in early April, Bryant put together one of his most efficient scoring performances of the season.
As he led the Lakers to a 104-88 victory over the Rockets inside the Staples Center, Bryant registered his 23rd game of the season scoring 40 or more points, putting up 43 (15 coming in the third quarter) as he connected on 59% of his shots from the field.
Although the Rockets suffered a 16-point defeat, Houston’s star big man Yao Ming added 33 points (16-25 FG) and 16 rebounds in the loss.
He can’t guard me! There is no such thing as the “Kobe Stopper”
The Los Angeles Lakers came into Game 2 of the 2009 Western Conference Semifinals trailing the Rockets 1-0 in the series. After recording the second-best record of the regular season with 65 wins, Bryant’s legacy was on the verge of taking another significant blow, following a disappointing Finals appearance to the Boston Celtics one year earlier.
In an attempt to avoid going down 0-2 heading back to Houston for Games 3 and 4, Bryant put on what many consider one of his greatest playoff performances of his career.
After pouring in 15 points during the first 12 minutes of the game, he scored a series-high 40 points (16-27 FG, 2-3 3PT, 6-7 FT), as Bryant led the Lakers to a 111-98 Game 2 victory over the Rockets to even up the series.
Following the win, Bryant went on to average 27.4 points to eliminate the Rockets in seven games, en route to his fourth NBA title over the young-and-talented Orlando Magic.
Who can forget after every shot, Bryant yelling at Doug Collins saying, “He Can’t Guard Me!” Referring to the rumors that Shane Battier was the “Kobe Stopper.
Rockets become Kobe’s latest victim (Bryant’s 50 pt. performance part I)
Before James Harden’s historic streak of scoring 30 or more points in 32 consecutive games, there was Kobe.
During the middle of the 2002-03 season, Bryant went on his own historic scoring spree, posting 40 or more points in nine consecutive games. He went on to average 40.6 points per game the entire month of February, as the Rockets became Bryant’s sixth victim in a double-overtime classic.
With Shaquille O’Neal out due to an injury, the Lakers took a 106-99 victory over the Rockets behind a 52-point performance from Bryant — who shot 50% from the field and a perfect 11-for-11 from the charity stripe.
Bryant’s 2003 performance against the Rockets would have been his best moment against Houston, if not for what took place just three years later.
Down 21, Kobe sparks L.A. comeback (Bryant’s 50 pt. performance part II)
His most memorable game against the Rockets took place during a 112-101 double-overtime victory in December of 2006. After trailing by 21 points at the half, Bryant led the Lakers to an extraordinary comeback victory with 53 points (20 coming in the second half) inside the Staples Center.
In addition to scoring his highest point total versus the Rockets, this game became remembered for what could be the best all-around performance of his career — as Bryant registered 10 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals in the win.
As he sat on the podium during his post-game press conference, Bryant’s performance in the Lakers improbable comeback is the purest example of why his legacy is forever cemented among basketball immortality now and forever.
Since receiving the news of Kobe’s passing, there has been an emptiness inside me, and I am having a tough time accepting the fact that my childhood hero is no longer with us. I could not wait to see what the future had in store for his daughter, Gianna Bryant, who I dubbed my favorite female basketball player less than three weeks ago.
My heart goes out to his wife Vanessa and his remaining three daughters, as well as the families of the other victims who perished alongside with him early Sunday morning. The way I feel is nothing compared to the amount of hurt and grief all of these families are feeling about this terrible tragedy. To me, Kobe is an icon, but to them, that’s family.
I love you Kobe. May you and your baby girl rest together in peace.