Kobe Bryant had one of the most decorated basketball careers in the history of the NBA. He won five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and is widely regarded as the second-best shooting guard to ever set foot on an NBA court.
However, there was one moment during the 2002 Western Conference Finals that could have changed the direction of the league as fans knew it. Today, we will go over this moment and determine what the fallout would have been under different circumstances.
A heated California rivalry
When the Sacramento Kings acquired Mike Bibby in 2001, the team was able to bring more composure and poise to the point guard position. He wasn’t as flashy as Jason Williams, but he could score, make the right passes, and keep everyone involved.
With Chris Webber leading the way the Kings had a showdown with the Lakers for a trip to the NBA Finals. The series was already viewed as must-see TV for NBA fans. It already produced an iconic moment in Game 4. The Kings were up 2-1 in the series and a misplaced tip off a rebound landed in the hands of Robert Horry, who drained a game-winning 3-point attempt to tie things up.
The Kings would go up 3-2 in the series after winning Game 5 at home and it looked like a chance at a three-peat for LA was all but over.
The legacy-defining moment
The moment that would change Bryant’s legacy happened with under 12 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. After a non-call on Bryant elbowing Bibby in the face, Kobe hit two clutch free throws to make it 105-102. Bibby took the inbounds pass and had a clean look at a game-tying 3-pointer, but he missed and the Lakers grabbed the rebound.
LA would then go on to win the decisive Game 7, and go on to sweep the Nets in the 2002 NBA Finals.
What if Mike Bibby makes the shot?
If Bibby doesn’t miss the game more than likely heads to overtime. If Sacramento pulls off the upset they go on to face a Nets team led by future Hall-of-Famer Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin.
We think that series could have gone seven games, as the Nets boasted the No. 1 defensive efficiency rating in the league, to go against the high-octane offense in Sacramento.
Would the Lakers come back in 2003 hungrier for a shot at redemption? We certainly think there could have been no stopping the determination of Kobe and Shaq and it would have led to another great Western Conference showdown against the presumed NBA Champion Sacramento Kings.
Would the Kings become the new powerhouse in the West? The legacy of Sacramento’s top players, along with Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs would have also been altered, as the 2003 Finals wouldn’t have seen the Spurs win it all.
How would we look at Kobe Bryant’s legacy?
If Kobe only has four NBA championships instead of five is he viewed on the same level as Magic Johnson? We don’t think that would have been the case. He would still be a potential face on the Lakers Mount Rushmore, but him winning his fifth title virtually made him a lock.
It just goes to show how the slimmest of margins can dramatically alter a player’s career. Luckily, Kobe Bryant always knew how to seize the moment and rise to any occasion.