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On this date: Kobe Bryant sinks Phoenix Suns with game-winner

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After trading Shaquille O’Neal, the Los Angeles Lakers missed the playoffs in 2005 and heading into the next season, many thought they’d be out of the postseason again.

Luckily, Kobe Bryant was starting to enter his prime.

Legendary coach Phil Jackson returned to the Purple and Gold after a one-year sabbatical, and he did something he hated to even consider during his first stint with the team – give Bryant the green light.

Bryant responded by averaging 35.4 points per game that season, and he carried the Lakers to a 45-37 record and a return to the playoffs.

Their reward was a date in the first round with Steve Nash and the running, gunning Phoenix Suns.

By slowing the pace to a crawl and keeping the scores very low, L.A. took a 2-1 lead, despite everyone expecting it to go out with a whimper.

Then, in Game 4, Bryant happened.

With the Lakers trailing by five with less than 10 seconds left in regulation, guard Smush Parker unexpectedly hit a 3-pointer, and moments later, he stole the ball from Nash and Bryant hit the bucket that forced overtime.

But No. 8 was just getting started.

After Lakers forward Luke Walton forced and won a jump ball with Nash, Bryant took the ball and calmly hit a jumper from the elbow at the buzzer to give his team a 99-98 victory and a 3-1 series lead.

Although L.A. lost the series in seven games, Bryant had proven that he was much more than O’Neal’s “sidekick.”

Once the Lakers got the Black Mamba enough help two years later, he took them to three straight NBA Finals and back-to-back world championships, fulfilling his lifelong destiny.

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Lakers have asked for permission to interview Darvin Ham