For a man who measures his worth in NBA championships, Kobe Bryant never felt so great.
Bryant won his fifth ring against the arch-rival, Boston Celtics, making his purple and gold legacy glow a little brighter. Bryant reminded everyone afterwards that has has one more championship than Shaquille O’Neal, his former adversary that helped him win his first three NBA titles. For those counting, and Bryant’s likely among them, he only trails Michael Jordan’s championship count by one.
But never before did Bryant hurt so badly.
He hobbled through an injured right knee that ultimately required surgery and an innovative procedure over in Germany. Under the brightest lights and the biggest stage, Bryant uncharacteristically finished Game 7 with 23 points albeit on 6 of 24 shooting. He acknowledged afterwards in a rare moment of vulnerability that the nerves overwhelmed him.
As he proved in the 2009-10 season, however, an aging Bryant still remained a dangerous Black Mamba. His highlights, as shown in the video above, Bryant still made the most difficult shots. Bryant converted on lobs from Derek Fisher. Bryant pulled up for a 23-foot jumper over a swarming Grant Hill, a shot that officially eliminated the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals and prompted Bryant to tap Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry on the shoulder for good measure. And Bryant netted six game winners, the most any player has compiled in a single season for the previous 10 years.
Equate his heavy basketball mileage and age hurting his athleticism and explosiveness, and it’s amazing to see how Bryant still managed to stay among league leaders with 27 points (fourth) and five assists (24th) in 38.8 minutes (seventh). He still dominated with high-scoring marks by dropping at least 40 points in nine games (one playoff games) and at least 30 points in 43 games (14 playoff games). But he still allowed Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and Fisher to carry the load.
Through the bruises, swelling and fatigue, Bryant still came out of the 2009-10 season a winner. Both with his dominating play and collecting another NBA championship.
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