A look back at Kobe Bryant winning his 5th championship with the Los Angeles Lakers
Ten years ago on June 17th, 2010, one of the greatest games of all-time between the two greatest sports franchises of all-time took place. Ten years ago, the Los Angeles Lakers played the Boston Celtics in a winner-take-all Game 7 NBA Finals matchup for the ages. Ten years ago, history was made.
Although history was made on this day, there is some history to unpack to put this game into context. The Lakers had won 15 NBA Championships as a franchise, winning five as the Minneapolis Lakers with the NBA’s first superstar George Mikan, another in 1972 with Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West (the NBA’s logo), five as the Showtime Lakers with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, three in a row with Shaq and Kobe and one the previous year in 2009 with Kobe and Pau Gasol.
The Celtics won 11 of their 17 championships against the Lakers from 1957 to 1969 with Bill Russell when there were far fewer teams in the league, two more championships in the 1970s with John Havlicek, three in the 1980s with Larry Bird and one in 2008 with their late 2000s/early 2010s big three of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett.
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These histories on their own are amazing, but even more unbelievable when you examine how intertwined they are in sports’ greatest rivalry of all-time. These teams faced each other six times in the 1960s beating the Lakers every time with Jerry West never quite being able to beat the Celtics, then the Lakers got their revenge by winning two of three finals matchups during the height of the rivalry between Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics in the 1980s.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ previous failure vs. Boston
Then came 2008, when the third iteration of this rivalry began as Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo on the Boston Celtics to dismantle Kobe’s first NBA Finals appearance without Shaq on a Lakers squad also featuring Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum, beating the Lakers in six.
When the Lakers walked off the floor and Kobe had anguish in his eyes, it was clear the Lakers would be back with a vengeance as after winning three straight with Shaq, then waiting four years to make the Finals again, it was time for Kobe to prove he could win as the lone superstar.
The Lakers beat the Orlando Magic in five games in 2009 for Kobe’s fourth championship, with both the Lakers and Celtics returning to the Finals in 2010 for their 13th NBA Finals matchup and a rematch of their current superstar squads. The series was back and forth with the Lakers and Celtics mostly alternating wins, but 10 years ago on June 17th, 2010 it was time for Game 7 between the NBA’s two most storied franchises and, once again, its greatest teams of the day.
The game was an old-school defensive grind it out kind of game more similar to Jordan’s 1990s Bulls than the late 2000s uptick of the 3-point shot led by Mike D’Antoni’s and Steve Nash’s, “7 Seconds or Less”, Phoenix Suns (whom the Lakers dismantled in the previous round). Not only that, but the game featured five future hall of famers, and five of the best players of the 2000s in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen to kick off the first Finals of the next decade.
It’s important to note that not only was no one shooting well throughout this entire game, but Kobe Bryant was playing with a broken index finger, the most important finger for shooting, taped up like a mummy.
This game still had many highlights with Metta World Peace (known as Ron Artest at the time) turning his stellar defense into offense turning rebounds into put-backs and steals into layups along with Kevin Garnett’s usual intensity, mid-range shot-making, and powerful dunks. The Lakers and Celtics were both so hell-bent on winning this seventh game for the championship that they were literally scrapping on the floor for the ball-playing the entire game with as much hustle and energy as one could imagine.
The Celtics also had Rasheed Wallace, a Kobe playoff nemesis with The Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers previously, while the Lakers had Derek Fisher, the only player to win every championship with Kobe.
Andrew Bynum was an all-star center on the Lakers and considered a top 10 player in the NBA at this time having his usual low-post presence, while Pau Gasol managed to overcome the poor offensive nature of this game for some of his typical mid-range shots and low-post mastery with his 7-foot frame. However, the NBA Finals is a stage built for stars and no stars shine much brighter than Kobe Bryant as he proved on this night doing what needed to be done to get his Lakers the win.
Kobe had shot well averaging over 30 points a game for the previous six games, but in this game, his broken index finger finally began to give out as Kobe did not shoot particularly well. However, he managed to score the majority of his points in the fourth quarter of a close game when his team needed them while securing 15 rebounds during the game since he scored only 23 points, which is great for most players, but not for Kobe.
Kobe hit his clutch shots in the fourth, but after Gasol made a shot over three Celtics defenders, Kobe knew what needed to be done when the moment arrived.
With a minute to go, Kobe had the ball and dribbled to the right as Celtics defenders began to crowd him assuming he would shoot. However, Kobe jumped in the air as if he would shoot, then turned to the right and passed to Metta World Peace. Metta was open on the right elbow for a 3-point shot and as Paul Pierce began to close in with a hand in his face, Metta shot the ball and made the shot securing Kobe Bryant’s 5th championship ring.
This caused Metta to yell the iconic phrase in his press conference, “Kobe passed me the ball!”, with the playful excitement of a little kid playing with his best friend at recess.
Kobe Bryant ran across center court dribbling the ball and pointing his broken finger in the air with pride before jumping into the arms of Metta World Peace, and then onto the scorer’s table for the most iconic image of Bryant’s career as he spread his arms like an eagle surrounded by confetti facing his adoring fans cheering him on and celebrating with him.
Kobe got on stage with his teammates, his wife Vanessa, and his two little daughters Natalia and Gianna before being presented the NBA championship and first-ever Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy by then NBA Commissioner David Stern and legendary ESPN anchor Stuart Scott.
In retrospect, the celebration may be even more epic than the game itself as Kobe got to celebrate the proudest moment of his career with his daughter Gianna, who developed the same passion for basketball, as Bryant was presented his fifth and final championship by David Stern and interviewed on stage by Stuart Scott.
All four of these individuals have now passed on, but their legacies live on more than ever reminding us how fast life moves and that these are just some of the memories that live with and inspire us forever.