Kobe Bryant’s former teammate recalls young Lakers superstar silencing his own team during NBA Finals

Zach Stevens
4 Min Read

Kobe Bryant became a Los Angeles Lakers legend and an NBA icon by winning five championships and consistently elevating his game under pressure, to the point where it seemingly took on a life of its own.

Perhaps his first legendary performance came in Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals, and former teammate Tyronn Lue remembers how the late Hall of Famer silenced his own team with the game hanging in the balance.

“Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) fouled out,” said Lue. “So, everybody kind of panicked. So they thought like, ‘Okay Shaq fouled out. We got to move the ball. We got to get everybody involved. We got to play a different style of basketball.’ So I think Kobe had missed three shots in a row. He took a couple of bad shots, whatever, and he missed three shots in a row. So guys are like, ‘Man, you got to move the ball,’ and Phil [Jackson] was on him a little bit in the timeout, and he came out, I think he might have scored 12 straight or something, and then he hit that big shot, and he’s like, ‘Relax. I got this.’ And after that series, then that’s when…it was over.”

That was the Lakers’ first trip to the championship series since Bryant and O’Neal joined forces. The prior three seasons, they had gone out with a whimper in the playoffs, and they had the habit of folding fast whenever an opponent put pressure on them.

Jackson arrived in 1999 to be their head coach, and he quickly changed the culture of the team and taught it how to win. It won a league-high 67 games in the regular season, and despite facing some danger in the first three rounds of the playoffs, it arrived in the Finals as a heavy favorite over the Indiana Pacers.

The Lakers won Game 1 easily, but disaster seemed to strike when Bryant went down with a serious ankle injury early in Game 2. He was forced to miss the rest of that contest and all of Game 3, and going into Game 4, they held a precarious 2-1 series lead over Reggie Miller and company.

Bryant ended up with 28 points and five assists in that contest as he led L.A. to a down-to-the-wire win after O’Neal fouled out in overtime. Although he had plenty of higher-scoring games in the Finals, that performance still may be the best one he ever had on that stage, especially considering his ankle was still hurting. It showed the world that he had the stuff that the greatest of the great are made of.

The Lakers then returned home for Game 6 and clinched their first world title in 12 years with a 116-111 win. It would be the first of the five rings Bryant ended up collecting.

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Zach has always had a profound love and respect for the Lakers that has inspired him to write about the franchise. He has a great deal of admiration for LeBron James, and his overall knowledge about the NBA has made him a solid addition to the Lakers Daily staff.