The drive brought another chilling example that Kobe Bryant’s birth certificate might be wrong.
The jump debunked the theory that a guard can’t leap over a big man.
The dunk over Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith prompted Bryant to scowl, the Lakers’ bench to rise and all the fans at Staples Center to scream.
Once the Lakers’ 99-98 victory Sunday over the Atlanta Hawks became official, hardly anyone centered talk around the team reaching the .500 mark for the first time in just over two months. Instead, everything focused on Bryant, who dropped 34 points on 13 of 27 shooting. After all, Bryant’s dunk became an instant trending topic on Twitter.
That might be dunk of the year!!!!
— Andre Iguodala (@andre) March 4, 2013
Bryant simply laughed at the irony of it all after spending recent seasons battling public perceptions that he faced a relative decline in his game stemmed from basketball mileage, injuries and age.
“I was in my coffin a few years ago,” Bryant said. “The vino is out of the barrel.”
Like a fine wine, Bryant’s aging gracefully. At age 34, Bryant’s looking like he’s playing in his prime. Bryant made a buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the third quarter that prompted him to unleash a primal rage. Bryant’s 11 fourth-quarter points included a 14-foot pull-up jumper and a driving layup that ultimately set up Bryant’s game winner with nine seconds remaining. And of course, there was the dunk where the 6-foot-6 Bryant elevated over the 6-foot-9 Smith.
“I knew I could turn the corner on him,” Bryant said. “Once I turned the corner on him, it was a matter of if the help was going to get there.”
That didn’t happen.
Lakers center Dwight Howard cleared Bryant’s way to the hoop by sealing off Hawks center Zaza Pachulia. Meanwhile, Bryant drove right and then elevated into the air just below the paint.
“It was probably an 8 or 9,” Howard said with a smile. “It was a great dunk.”
Really? Not a 10?
“I’m just messing around,” Howard said. “He probably surprised himself with that one.”
It sure didn’t sound like it.
“I got plenty in the tank,” Bryant said. “But if you all want to feel free to criticize and say I don’t, go right ahead.”
Very few people are saying that these days.
Magic Johnson recently said as an ESPN NBA analyst that he would pay LeBron James $1 million to participate in next years’s NBA dunk contest after seeing him dazzle Heat fans in recent weeks with pre-game dunks. It wouldn’t be surprising if Johnson extended that offer to Bryant. If that happened, would Bryant consider entering the contest after winning it in 1997 in his second NBA season?
“Not a chance,” Bryant said.
Nonetheless, Bryant provided a huge chance for the Lakers to win because of his dunk and beyond.
“You have to move on the next play, but for that split instant, you’re like, Wow,” Lakers guard Steve Blake said. “You know he demoralized the other team at that moment. Sometimes it can take confidecn away from the other team on the offensive end. It’s a big factor sometimes.”
It was the exact result Bryant hoped he’d accomplished after providing a thunderous highlight that proved he’s putting up a good fight against Father Time.
“It was more of a message to my team here,” Bryant said, “that you have to have that will and hunger to push through by any means necessary.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org