When you say you’re going to Staples, people don’t think of the department store; they think you’re going to see the Los Angeles Lakers ball out in a star-studded Staples Center extravaganza.
The lifetime naming rights acquired by Staples in 2019 may have been bought out for $700 million so the iconic venue will be renamed the, “Crypto.com Arena” on Christmas Day. That won’t stop fans from continue call it the Staples Center, Staples or even, “the house that Kobe built,” but regardless, the name change is here to stay.
That last name makes the most sense in many ways as Kobe Bryant dominated the Staples Center in a way we’ve never seen an athlete singlehandedly dominate one arena before. The Staples Center was born in 1999, right as Bryant was becoming one of the best players in the NBA on the way to his first championship with Shaquille O’Neal.
The Black Mamba scored more points in the Staples Center than any athlete ever scored in one arena. Therefore, this list of the top five Lakers moments in the arena will heavily feature Bryant along with the early days of Staples Center glory featuring O’Neal.
5. Nothing Like the First Time
It was Game 6 at the Staples Center on June 19, 2000, as Bryant and O’Neal had the chance to end the venue’s inaugural season with the soon-to-be legendary-dynastic duo’s first championship together and the franchise’s first since 1989 during the era of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Showtime Lakers. With 2.5 seconds left, the then-23-year old Bryant was fouled by Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers.
Bryant was already receiving comparisons to Michael Jordan after his iconic 28-point Game 4 performance in which he took over leading the Lakers in overtime and even hitting a game-winner in his first NBA Finals after O’Neal fouled out. Bryant, arguably the most clutch player in NBA history, drained the shot and jumped into O’Neal’s massive arms to celebrate his first championship and the rest is history as the duo went on to three-peat winning two more consecutive championships in the years to come.
The moment Kobe knew he earned his first championship ring 💍
(2000 NBA Finals) pic.twitter.com/qBoltDvJTm
— Kobe Highlights & Motivation (@kobehighlight) August 11, 2021
It’s no wonder the Staples Center became home to so many iconic moments when the now-legendary venue’s first season finished with a storybook ending that could only happen in Hollywood.
4. The Lob that Started it All
The previous moment never could have happened without the young Bryant leading a miraculous 15-point-fourth-quarter comeback against the Scottie-Pippen-led Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference Finals.
With under a minute remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 7, Bryant hit a mid-range jumper near the top of the key before crossing over Pippen in the same spot he had just hit the shot from and tossing an iconic lob to O’Neal, who finished of the alley-oop pass with one of his signature, thunderous, vicious one-hand slams.
"Bryant, to Shaq!"
21 years ago, Kobe and Shaq connected on this iconic alley-oop to cap off a huge comeback in Game 7 of the WCF. pic.twitter.com/tKNU3SfjGZ
— ESPN (@espn) June 4, 2021
The Lakers were up by six as they completed the comeback and won Game 7 for O’Neal’s second trip, and Bryant’s first to the NBA Finals. The rest, as they say, is history.
3. The Greatest Rivalry of All Time On The Biggest Stage
Almost exactly 10 years after this play, Bryant was back on the NBA’s biggest stage, this time to get revenge on the Boston Celtics while going for his fifth championship. By this point, Bryant and O’Neal had a messy divorce that ended with O’Neal being traded to the Miami Heat and winning his fourth championship with Dwyane Wade in 2006.
Many began to question if Bryant could win without O’Neal, especially after Byrant made it back to the NBA Finals as the 2008 MVP following a trade for his new partner in crime, Pau Gasol, to reignite the legendary Lakers-Celtics rivalry.
The rivalry is undoubtedly the greatest in the history of professional sports as the two franchises have met in 12 NBA Finals, share nearly the same number of regular-season wins and have 17 championships each. The Lakers lost to the Celtics and their new Big 3 of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in six games with O’Neal even making a diss rap against Kobe: “You know how I be. Last week Kobe couldn’t do without me.”
Bryant proved naysayers wrong by winning his first championship without O’Neal against the Dwight-Howard-led Orlando Magic in 2009. The Lakers won on a 4-1 gentleman’s sweep in Orlando, so it doesn’t make this list, but Bryant’s 40 point, eight assist, eight-rebound performance at Staples Center in Game 1 deserves an honorable mention.
2009 NBA Finals Game 1:
Kobe dominates with 40 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists. Puts on a midrange clinic. ♾
— Timeless Sports (@timelesssports_) September 30, 2020
Bryant overcame his demons with O’Neal, but still needed to exorcise his demons against the Celtics. This opportunity came in 2010 as the Lakers pushed the series to a Game 7 between the legendary franchises at the Staples Center.
Bryant struggled shooting from the field in the early portion of the game but made up for it with 15 rebounds. Other memorable Lakers from that era stepped up to make big plays including Lamar Odom with his signature all-around game, clutch shots from Derek Fisher, incredible scoring from Gasol and a shot by Metta World Peace that will always remain in Staples Center lore.
The Lakers outlasted Boston for Kobe's 5th championship 🏆
Celtics vs. Lakers, 2010 NBA Finals Game 7 – Pop Up Edition – 9pm ET on NBA TV! pic.twitter.com/NYhiTWIWrW
— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 3, 2020
It represented Bryant’s fifth championship as the Lakers finally beat the Celtics. However, Bryant was still exorcising his demons from his original partner in the Staples Center. “Just got one more than Shaq,” said Bryant in the postgame press conference.
The number alone speaks volumes as Bryant scored a jaw-dropping 81 points on a blistering 28-of-46 shooting tear on Jan. 22, 2006, against the Toronto Raptors. It was the second-highest total in NBA history and while Wilt Chamberlain may have scored 100 points in 1962, there was no footage recorded and it was primarily dunks whereas Kobe’s is the highest total ever recorded in the modern era involving an array of 3-pointers, mid-range jumpers, dunks, free throws and crafty inside finishes.
Another little known fact about this game is that although it was Bryant’s 10th season, it was the first time his grandmother came to see him play so that might have had something to do with the Mamba’s magical performance, but it certainly wasn’t the last time all eyes would be on Bryant in the Staples Center.
1. Mamba Out
Nearly six years later it feels as though Mamba Day, April 13, 2016, may not have just been Bryant’s farewell to his NBA career, but also the farewell for Staples Center. With the beginning of Staples Center coinciding with the beginning of Bryant’s prime and the end coinciding only four years after his dual jersey retirement, it feels as though the two will forever be synced, which makes Bryant’s final game the greatest moment in Staples Center history.
The exterior of the Staples Center was decorated with giant pictures of Bryant while the surrounding area felt like a theme park dedicated to Kobe that was packed with fans in his jerseys.
The arena was a star-studded affair featuring many of Bryant’s former teammates including O’Neal and some of Hollywood’s biggest superstars like Jack Nicholson, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and Kanye West. The entire evening was a tribute to Bryant, but in the last game of his career at 37 years old following a litany of injuries, he managed to give one final show-stopping performance as he scored 60 points including a game-winning jumper to put the Lakers up for good with 31.6 seconds left in classic Mamba fashion.
Finally, Kobe bid farewell to the crowd with an epic speech as he signed off by saying, “Mamba Out,” dropping the microphone and waving on the Staples Center logo, which will now become a relic frozen in time.
This may forever be the lasting image of Kobe and the Staples Center, which sounds like it may remain the name for many fans. While many have taken the news of the name change hard, fans will be cheering again once Bryant’s statue is unveiled outside the venue he dominated no matter what name it’s given… or when the Lakers win their eighteenth championship; whichever comes first