Kobe Bryant’s rise through the eyes of a rival

By Tyler Sullivan Follow on Twitter @TylerSully 

This time next year if Lawrence Tanter, the Los Angeles Lakers public address announcer, bellows into the microphone “At the other guard, wears number 24 , 6’6 from Lower Merion High School….” No one will be there. The spotlight in a darkened Staples Center would show an empty seat. A seat that Kobe Bryant once called a throne.

This time next year the NBA will be without Kobe Bryant. The lifelong Los Angeles Laker announced on Sunday via a poem on the Players Tribune that he intends to retire at the end of this season.

And while his play in 2015 thus far hasn’t been poetry in motion by any means, he is important for Celtics fans, yes Boston Celtics fans, to remember.

From the gold clashing with the green jerseys on the hardwood, to the guys that wore them. Guys like Bird, Magic, Russell, Kareem, Shaq, Pierce and Garnett. The Celtics-Lakers rivalry is special.

Kobe Bryant is a part of that.

In his 42 games against the C’s, the future Hall of Famer and his Lakers went 23-19. He averaged 25.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists.

In the Finals (2008 and 2010) his teams combined for a 6-7 record and collected one championship (2010).

Here is how a kid named Kobe Bryant became “Kobe” through the eyes of the rival Boston Celtics.

  • Boston Celtics Pre-Draft workout 1996

The Celtics had the 6th pick in the ’96 draft and worked out an 18 year old by the name of Kobe (above). Boston ended up going in a different direction and drafting Antoine Walker.

What could have been.

  • November 27, 1996: The Debut 

A Wednesday night in the FleetCenter and off the bench comes the still wide-eyed Kobe Bryant to play along side Shaquille O’Neil in his Celtics-Lakers debut. He scored only 2 points on 1-7 shooting in 20 minutes, so we’ll call it a soft opening.

Final: Celtics 110, Lakers 94

  • November 26, 1997: The First Win 

Almost a year later to the date, Kobe found himself again facing the Celtics at the FleetCenter and again coming off the bench. However, He was much more of a difference maker scoring 14 points on 5-11 shooting to go along with 5 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal in 28 minutes. His first win against the Celtics.

Final: Lakers 118, Celtics 103

  • December 20, 1999: A Changed Man 

Here we are again. The same stage, same teams, but Kobe was different now. No longer a bench player, rather a budding super star on the precipice of his first of five NBA championships. Kobe (27 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals) and Shaq (34 points and 20 rebounds) dominated, as they normally did at that time. Bryant had turned a corner and never looked back.

Final: Lakers 99, Celtics 90

  • February 25, 2000: Pierce vs Kobe Part I

In sports it is hard to have a rivalry when one of the two teams doesn’t have “a guy” to combat against the other. The Bird to one’s Magic if you will. While these two were no Bird and Magic, they had themselves some all-time battles throughout the years. And it all started with this one.

Pierce scored 19 points to go with his 3 rebounds and 2 assists, while Kobe added 17 points with his 6 rebounds and 5 assists.

They were just getting started.

Final: Lakers 109, Celtics 96

  • November 7, 2002: Early Season Showdown  

The three-time defending NBA champions roll into the FleetCenter to tipoff against one of the rising teams in the Eastern Conference, who last season had one of the biggest fourth quarter comebacks in NBA playoff history. Boston’s superstar Paul Pierce was primed to go against LA’s Bryant in a high profile Thursday night game. The two combined for 69 points with Pierce dropping 28 to Kobe’s 41.

With the game tied at 93 and under two minutes to play, Pierce hit a three pointer to give his Celtics the lead. Kobe hit a mid range shot from 19 feet out to bring them within one, but that’s as far as they’d go.

Final: Celtics 98, Lakers 95

  • February 26, 2006: Explosive Combination 

This was just one of those showdowns between two NBA greats. Sadly it gets forgotten today given bigger games with higher stakes, but Pierce and Bryant, both in their primes, would not die in this one combining for 79 points.

The game was tied at 111 after Lamar Odom sunk both of his free throws and with 3.2 second to play Pierce drew a foul from Kobe to send him to the line. Bryant got a shot off from 21 feet out with 1.7 second left, but it didn’t fall.

Final: Celtics 112, Lakers 111

  • November 23, 2007: Kobe meets the Big 3

Boston had retooled. Danny Ainge had traded for both Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to join Paul Piece and form a modern day era of the Celtics Big 3. They were now an NBA title contender who Kobe would see for the first time that night.

The game was never in much doubt with LA trailing the entire game, but Kobe (28 points on 9-21 shooting) brought his Lakers in striking distance, but to no avail.

Kevin Garnett (21 points and 11 rebounds), Paul Pierce (20 points and 9 assists) and Ray Allen (18 points) won the battle, but would they win the war?

Final: Celtics 107, Lakers 94

  • 2008 NBA Finals  

Playing arguably his best basketball and in his lone MVP season, Kobe’s Lakers went out and traded for Pau Gasol to propelled themselves into Championship contention and through the Western Conference for an NBA historians dream scenario: Celtics vs. Lakers

Game 1 – The Celtics brushed off the NBA Finals dust in Game 1 at the TD Garden and set the defensive tone in the final quarter holding LA to just 15 points while they ran ramped in the second half scoring 52 points. Kobe finished with 24 points (9-26 shooting), 6 assists, 3 rebounds and 4 turnovers.

Final: Celtics 98, Lakers 88

Game 2 –  The Celtics maintained home court advantage in this one, but Bryant (30 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals) hit two free throws with just under 40 second left in the game to make it a one possession lead for the Celtics. Boston was able to maintain the lead and go up 2 games to none in the series as it shifts to the Staples Center.

Final: Celtics 108, Lakers 102

Game 3 – Other than Ray Allen (25 points), no Celtic could find the bottom of the net in Los Angeles, while Kobe Bryant shot 12 for 20 for 36 points (8 of which came in the fourth quarter). Lakers on the board in the series but trail 2 games to 1.

Final: Lakers 87, Celtics 81

Game 4 – Bryant facilitated more in this one assisting on 10 Laker shots and also scored 17 points. He has his team up by as much as 24 points until the Celtics made one of the most historic comebacks in NBA Finals history.

Kobe is one game away from elimination.

Final: Celtics 97, Lakers 91

Game 5 – Paul Piece was going for the kill in game five dropping 38 points (12 in the fourth quarter), but Kobe and the Lakers were able to stay alive at least one more night. In typical Bryant fashion with his team leading 97-95 with 37.4 seconds left and the ball, he lays in a shot a the rim to make it two possessions.  Kobe finished Game 5 with 25 points, 7 rebounds, 5 steals and 4 assists.

Game 6 – Celtics were at home and cooking on all cylinders. Bryant’s Lakers never really stood a chance in this one and he watch the green and white confetti flutter down on the parquet floor as Boston celebrated its 17th NBA Championship.

Bryant would later call this “one of the lowest moments of my career.”

  • January 31, 2010: The Game Winner at the Garden 

One of the better non-Finals games between Kobe and the Celtics came on this night. Right in the thick of both teams atop the NBA, Kobe comes into the Garden, hits that shot over tight Ray Allen defense and then stares down the Boston bench at the end.

Set up what’s next perfectly.

Final: Lakers 90. Celtics 89

  • 2010 NBA Finals 

As fate would have it, the same cast, same teams, same everything met again for the NBA’s highest prize, but the result was much different for Bryant.

Game 1 – Kobe took command early to start off the NBA Finals at the Staples Center. He scored 30 on 10 for 22 shooting to go with 7 rebounds and 6 assists.

Final: Lakers 102, Celtics 89

Game 2 – Boston countered with their sharpshooter Ray Allen in Game 2 of the 2010 finals. The marksman hit his first 7 three point attempts (an NBA record) and scored 27 points in the first half. He finished the night hitting 8 three pointers and totaled 32 points. Kobe had 21 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 4 steals.

Final: Celtics 103, Lakers 94

Game 3 – The back and fourth of this NBA Finals continued in its third game. The Lakers led for much of the game, but a late surge by the Celtics and a Kevin Garnett runner put them within 2. The next possession Kobe (29 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals) strolled down the floor hit a shot from 15 feet out and sealed the W.  It was that kind of night for Bryant. I had the pleasure of being at that game and distinctly remember him hitting an off balanced three pointer that only Kobe could hit. I looked up to my Dad and told him we were toast.

Final: Lakers 91, Celtics 84

Game 4 – Boston exploded with a 36 point fourth quarter to even up the series. Kobe had another stellar night with 33 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists.

Final: Celtics 96, Lakers 89

Game 5 – Despite his 38 point effort, Kobe was being pushed to the brink elimination again by Paul Pierce’s 27 point and Kevin Garnett’s double-double. Celtics took a commanding 3-2 series lead heading to LA.

Final: Celtics 92, Lakers 86

Game 6 – This is where the tides started to turn back to Kobe’s favor. Boston put up a dud 67 points on the night while he scored almost half that (26 points). He also ripped down 11 boards to keep him team alive and force a Game 7.

Final: Lakers 89, Celtics 67

Game 7 – In an instant NBA classic, this winner take all game came down to the final minutes. Boston led for the bulk of the game, but Kobe and the Lakers came surging back to take the lead at 5:56 mark in the fourth quarter and win the NBA title, his fifth.

Final: Lakers 83, Celtics 79

  • December 5, 2014: Breakfast with Kobe

Now the game, where Kobe scored 22 points in a loss, doesn’t actually have anything to do with this memory. It’s actually about what happened the day before.

Rumors were swirling a year ago when these two were caught having breakfast with one another. The hot rumor was that Kobe was recruiting Rondo, who was set to be a free agent that offseason, to come and join the Lakers. Ultimately these two never met up in LA. The Lakers drafted a point guard and Rondo signed with Sacramento.

Final: Celtics 113, Lakers 95

Well, here we are. 42 games down between this all time great and his greatest rival and only two more to go. On December 30th Kobe will walk on the parquet for the final time and on April 3rd he will see Celtic green for the last time in his NBA life.

Kobe wasn’t just a great basketball player, he was a historian himself and truly appreciated and embraced the Celtics-Lakers Rivalry.

“I grew up with this rivalry. In the moment, you’re so caught up in trying to beat them that you don’t understand the significance of actually participating in the Lakers-Celtics Finals. That’s crazy. For me to grow up and see that and then to actually play in one, looking back now? That’s amazing.”

The NBA will say goodbye to an all time great this season. Many can say they “saw Kobe Bryant play,” but very few had the view that Celtics fans had. It was unique, it was heartbreaking at times, euphoric at others, but it was never dull.

That’s just how Kobe was.

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