Kobe Bryant is one of the most significant athletes of the last two decades. Drafted at the age of 18, Bryant was selected out of high school as one of the rare star athletes that decided against going to college and straight into the NBA. After a couple of seasons of growing pains, Bryant became one of the brightest stars and most popular players in the league. Bryant was the first iconic superstar after Michael Jordan retired and was arguably a bigger global star as his star power and skills helped the NBA grow all over the world.
As with most legendary athletes, one of the factors in which Bryant is judged in is his ring count. Bryant has won five NBA Championships (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, and 2010) with 2 NBA Finals MVP awards for the Los Angeles Lakers. The first three titles were with Shaquille O’Neal, as they formed arguably the most dominant duo the sport has seen. Bryant’s ego would get the better of him and the two would clash thus ending the relationship despite the potential titles that could have been. Something that irked Kobe was that he was viewed as the second best player on the team as O’Neal was NBA Finals MVP all three times.
Bryant would prove his doubters wrong and win another two titles without Shaq as his new big Pau Gasol was clearly the sidekick in the new team’s dynamic. Despite the five titles, seven Finals appearances and many other countless playoff games, Bryant has never faced LeBron James in the postseason. The two biggest stars in the sport never had a showdown in the most pivotal of times and that’s a shame. Despite missing James, Bryant has played a large role in preventing many superstars from winning a NBA Championship and these are the top 15.
13 Chris Paul
Chris Paul has only had to deal with Kobe Bryant’s wrath once in the playoffs as his New Orleans Hornets were eliminated in the first round of the 2011 Playoffs by the Los Angeles Lakers. New Orleans wasn’t expected to be a contender but Paul was playing as good as any star during the series including an epic Game 4 performance of 27 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to get past Kobe’s Lakers. A few months later in the offseason, the Lakers actually traded for Paul but the deal was canceled by David Stern citing it wasn’t a fair exchange. Paul was then traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.
12 Mike Bibby
The year was 2002 and the Sacramento Kings were finally primed to get past the Los Angeles Lakers after years of eliminations by Shaq and Kobe. Sacramento acquired Mike Bibby as their new point guard and the star was paying dividends, adding a new dynamic to the team. In the Western Conference Finals, Bibby had a tremendous series, averaging 22.7 points including a game winning shot in Game 5 that had many believing the series was Sacramento’s. The Lakers would win the next two with the infamous controversial Game 6 featuring Bryant getting away with elbowing Bibby’s face and by proxy erasing his championship dreams.
13. Chris Mullin
One of the more underrated basketball stars isn history is Chris Mullin. From his college days to his pro career, Mullin always delivered on the court and was not given the proper credit he deserved until retiring. For his great play, Mullin rarely had a chance to win a NBA Championship due to his Golden State Warriors not being a contender. When moving to the Indiana Pacers in his later years, Mullin was given one very good chance at ring in the 2000 Finals. Of course, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers decided that was the year they would start their reign of terror, thus eliminating Indiana and Mullin’s last chance.
12. Latrell Sprewell
The Minnesota Timberwolves were an odd team during the Kevin Garnett era with a lack of playoff success until 2004 when Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell joined. With a new trio, Minnesota would finish with the best record in the West and hold home court vs. the Los Angeles in the Western Conference Finals. Like a true elite team, the Lakers stole Game 1 and never relinquished home court after stealing it. The Timberwolves last chance came in Game 6 at the Staples Center, but fell short despite Sprewell playing his heart out with a game high 27 points.
11 Jalen Rose
In 2000, Kobe Bryant entered his first NBA Finals as his Los Angeles Lakers would face the Indiana Pacers. A playoff constant in the ‘90s, the Pacers were led by Reggie Miller but had a new look in 2000 as Jalen Rose was given a larger role on the team. Rose was most known for college days as a member of the Fab Five at Michigan but helped add a new facet to the Pacers. The 2000 Finals featured many close games with Rose averaging 24 points but Bryant was blossoming into the superstar he became and had some big performances to stop Indiana.
10 Kevin Durant
One of the cooler first round series in the history of the NBA Playoffs featured the Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2010. It was a bit of a forecast of the future as the Thunder started making their first steps of a push into the upper echelon of the Western Conference as the Lakers enjoyed their last stand as champions. Kevin Durant captured America’s heart averaging 25 points and 7.7 rebounds in the series but fell in six games. In the closing game, Bryant delivered 32 points and got the better of a rising superstar who has yet to win a title.
9 Deron Williams
Today, Deron Williams is somewhat of a punch line in the NBA climate as his tenure with the Brooklyn Nets and a bad attitude has shoved his career downhill but there was a time he was in the debate with Chris Paul for the best point guard in the league. The Williams-led Utah Jazz team was a mainstay in the playoffs for a few years but fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in three consecutive postseasons – 2008, 2009 and 2010. Around the time Bryant would begin to dominate the playoffs again, Williams and the Jazz were the most frequent victims.
8 Amar'e Stoudemire
The Phoenix Suns of the 2000s were one of the best teams to never win a championship. Featuring a new style of a fast paced offense based around ball movement and scoring rather than defense and paint dominance, the Suns were a stellar team to watch but always fell short in the playoffs. In 2010, Amar'e Stoudemire had his best season before entering free agency. In what turned out to be in his final series as a Sun, Stoudemire averaged 25 points per game and left it all on the floor. Kobe Bryant’s 34 points per game and playoff experience was too much for Stoudemire’s last chance at a ring.
7 Yao Ming
In 2009, the Lakers returned to the top of the basketball world with their first championship since 2002 and it was a relatively easy route with the exception of one series. The Houston Rockets, without injured star Tracy McGrady, pushed the Lakers to a seven game series. Yao Ming was the best player on the Rockets and averaged 19.7 points and 11.3 rebounds in the series before suffering an injury himself. Ming never had a better chance than that one, as his career would be ruined by injuries.
6 Carmelo Anthony
One player that gets a lot of grief for his lack of success in the playoffs is Carmelo Anthony. As one of the most popular and highest paid stars in the league, Anthony has only gone past the first round twice in his career, one of which was in 2009. Anthony’s Denver Nuggets would face Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, the only time ‘Melo has been one series away from the NBA Finals. With the goal so close in sight, Anthony was stopped by Bryant’s stronger desire and hunger for his first title without Shaq. Bryant averaged 34 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists in the series, refusing to lose that year.
5 Dwight Howard
The player who later became Kobe Bryant’s arch nemesis was one of the stars Bryant stopped during their best chance at a title. Dwight Howard was the best player on the Orlando Magic when they faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2009 NBA Finals. With a ring that close, Bryant was too much for the overachieving Magic to handle. Howard would join Bryant’s Lakers a few years later in a trade and the two would not be able to co-exist due to their contrast in personalities and difference in desires to win. As their rivalry continues, Bryant will always have the 2009 Finals win over Howard.
4 Steve Nash
Future Hall of Famer Steve Nash was the catalyst for the rise of the Phoenix Suns and change of style in the NBA as his run and gun offensive game as a point guard will always be remembered. Nash could never win a NBA Championship for all his accomplishments. The final realistic chance for Nash and the Suns was in the 2010 Western Conference Finals. Phoenix finally eliminated the San Antonio Spurs in the series before, giving hope this was the time Nash would get his ring. Unfortunately for him, Kobe’s Lakers played the ultimate heartbreaker as they ended the Suns best run.
3 Reggie Miller
Regarded as the best shooter of all time by many, Reggie Miller was one of the most memorable stars of the 90s. Miller only made the Finals once in 2000 vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. It was truly now or never which turned into never for the Pacers legend. The one specific game that stopped Reggie Miller from winning a championship was Game 4 as Indiana had a chance to even the series at home. With Shaquille O’Neal fouled out as the game went to OT, Bryant hit the clutch shots that gave the Lakers a commanding a 3-1 series lead that was too much for the Pacers to overcome.
2 Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson had a dream season in 2001 with a regular season MVP award win and an exciting road to the NBA Finals. Iverson was the hottest player in the league but had to deal with the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. The Lakers were undefeated in the playoffs to that point sweeping every series before losing Game 1 to Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers. After the upset victory, the 76ers would lose the next four games and the series despite Iverson averaging 35.6 points. Aside from the Lakers, there was no dominant team in the NBA that season and Iverson’s hot streak may have been enough to win a title if not for Kobe, Shaq and the Lakers.
1 Chris Webber
The player who most felt the heartbreak of Kobe Bryant’s playoff success has been Chris Webber. C-Webb’s Sacramento Kings were eliminated from the playoffs by the Los Angeles Lakers three years in a row. In 2002, the Kings looked like the better team before losing the final two games after holding a 3-2 series lead. Despite the back and forth close games that felt like NBA wars, the questionable calls by the referees in Game 6 and the historical significance the series had, the most memorable image was the anguish and despair on Webber’s face as the Lakers won again. The star forward will go down as one of the most underrated players in the league because of Bryant and the Lakers stopping him from winning a championship.