Everyone knows Kobe Bryant showed mad potential as a rookie. And it didn’t take a genius to predict that the youngest Laker would blow up as a sophomore at Forum College. But, as usual, KB sped up his personal timetable and chose to truly explode in his second pre-season.
Kobe turned this year’s collection of otherwise meaningless exhibition games into his own personal highlight reel. On October 9, when most NBA players were still on the golf course, Kobe kicked off the new campaign by torching the Nuggets for 31 points in only 25 minutes. He followed that game up with at least one jaw-dropping play every night, but the stunt he pulled on October 22 topped ‘em all.
The Lake Show’s pre-season world tour had come to Las Vegas, and the Strip was the perfect place to see some of Kobe’s pyrotechnics. The victims were the Wizards (please change it back before it’s too late). Our favorite 6-6 swingman was manning the point while the clock wound down at the end of the first quarter, when things got serious. First, he beat Jimmy Oliver (there’s a reason you’ve never heard of him) with a crazy crossover and jetted into the lane. It was certainly a sweet move, and had he pulled up and sank a 10-footer over Big Ben Wallace, basketball analysts coast-to-coast would have been praising Bryant’s maturity. But Kobe and his game are not mature. And that’s what makes him so exciting.
Instead of the safe jumper, Kobe took it at Wallace like he was Muggsy Bogues. Lifting off from behind the dotted line, KB leaped over the 6-9 power forward, spreading his legs and stretching out his arms in a majestic pose. A memorable play became legendary when he completed the deed by ferociously throwing down the rock and sending Wallace onto his back.
A wild reaction was in order, and Bryant’s teammates obliged with a Nick Van Exel-led show of sideline hysteria.
And why not? It was only October 22, and they’d already seen the dunk of the year.